How to Build a Smarter Water Cooler: The Bevi Story

Xconomy Boston — 

This startup has a little of everything. Software, hardware, Internet of Things. Consumer tech, enterprise sales, even environmental impact. All in a neat package that looks like a high-tech vending machine.

Boston-based Bevi (formerly called Refresh), makes an Internet-connected kiosk machine that dispenses customized drinks using tap water. On a touchscreen interface, you can select still or sparkling water, with a choice of flavors like orange mango, grapefruit, and pomegranate. The startup is testing other flavors, such as unsweetened lemon, and is working on adding things like vitamin C.

Co-founder and CEO Sean Grundy has a simple goal: “Get rid of bottled water,” he says.

First of all, I can attest that the product tastes good (I liked the unsweetened flavor best). On a recent visit, the Bevi machine at Greentown Labs in Somerville, MA, was in heavy use by residents of the co-working space. Grundy (pictured above) opened it up to show me its inner workings, but we kept being interrupted by people wanting to pour a drink.

Investors are betting that that kind of popularity will translate to office workers everywhere—and appeal to people’s desire for healthier and more sustainable options than sodas and plastic bottles.

Bevi raised a $1.5 million seed round earlier this summer, led by Tamarisc, a West Coast venture fund focused on energy efficiency and environmental startups. The company’s other investors include Rochester Angel Network and TechU Angels.

Outside experts see the startup as going after a viable market. “I think the in-office beverage space is going to be a big place for disruption of the next few years,” says Ben Einstein, managing director at Bolt, a hardware-focused venture fund and workspace that’s not involved with Bevi. “Manufacturing is tough for any first-time hardware team, but low-ish volume and working with commodity parts and processes takes much of the risk away.”

Grundy originally came at the business from the sustainability side of things. After studying philosophy at Princeton, he worked in data analysis at a DC-area conservation nonprofit. Then he went to MIT Sloan School of Management and got hooked on entrepreneurship.

He first met Bevi co-founder Eliza Becton in 2012 through a Sloan School friend. They met up at a Starbucks in Copley Square. Grundy was expecting a short meeting and planned to go work out afterwards. “I showed up with my gym bag,” he says, “but we ended up brainstorming for two and a half hours.”

Over the next few months, Grundy says, they concluded from market research and competitive analysis that “significantly upgrading the office water cooler was a big opportunity.” As his MBA graduation approached, Grundy says, he had to make a “decision to stop doing homework and work on the company.”

Becton previously worked at Vinely, a wine delivery startup out of Redstar Ventures. Grundy also pulled in Frank Lee, his best friend (and roommate) from Sloan, as a third co-founder.

The trio went through the Techstars Boston accelerator program in 2014, the last class managed by Katie Rae, with the company named Refresh. The bootcamp experience, Grundy says, taught them how to really work hard together and hold each other accountable.

At the beginning of this year, the startup changed its name to Bevi. “We wanted something shorter and more distinct,” Grundy says. (It seems pretty hard to name a startup these days—topic for another time.)

Bevi machine pouring a drink

Here’s how the technology works. You put your own cup under the nozzle and make your selection on the touchscreen. Each machine has a system of pumps and valves that takes tap water in from a hose and funnels it through a choice of flavor mixes and carbonation processes. The whole thing weighs on the order of 200 pounds.

But the software behind the scenes is actually more interesting: Using a console, Bevi tracks the status of each machine, how much … Next Page »

Single PageCurrently on Page: 1 2