Last year, Nadya Nguyen started eating better, exercising and feeling better.
But Nguyen couldn’t shake the headaches. She eventually, through a medical-student friend, tracked them to drinking too little water during the day.
“Drinking water is one of the best things we can do for our health,” Nguyen said. “But with daily distractions, millions of people simply forget.”
Nguyen, 23, a 2014 business school graduate of the University of Minnesota, also tapped an idea for a business at the intersection of water and personal technology. She enlisted three friends, all in their early 20s and university graduates, to help her flow the concept from idea to production.
The foursome, including an engineer and designer, took third place in the 54-hour Google Startup Weekend with their working prototype in the competition at the U’s Carlson School of Management last September.
HidrateMe was born. And it’s had quite a life so far.
The foursome developed the technology and concept for HidrateMe over the winter while they each worked other day jobs.
In March, they were one of 10 promising start-ups selected for a three-month-long business development program in Kansas City by the “Sprint Mobile Health Accelerator powered by TechStars.” It also included a $120,000 award.
They launched a Kickstarter campaign on June 1, with a goal of raising $35,000. As of June 17, HidrateMe had raised $335,000 from 4,400 backers.
“We truly believe we can make an impact on peoples’ lives and how good they can feel,” said Nguyen. “We work until as late as midnight every day because we enjoy it. We have a lot of fun. It doesn’t feel like working. We’re chasing our dream. If we make money, that’s a by-product of doing what we love.”
The four co-owners, all of whom have since quit their day jobs to plan and launch HidrateMe, are living on salaries of $2,000-a-month.
Nguyen quit a consulting job with Deloitte earlier this year that paid her nearly three times what she’s paying herself to pursue the Hidrate dream. The daughter of Vietnamese parents who immigrated to Russia, Nguyen moved to Minnesota from Moscow to attend the university on a “global excellence” scholarship that covered part of her tuition and board. She also worked campus jobs to support herself during the school years.
The product, which probably will retail for about $49, is a stylish “smart water bottle” with a sensor that tracks water consumption, lights up when it’s time for more, and connects to your phone. Each customer programs the system with a simple input that includes gender, height, weight and variables such as exercise level and duration, heat and humidity, depending upon whether you’re spending the day in Minnesota or Mississippi.
The HidrateMe bottle is a 24-ounce reusable, high-test plastic water bottle. HidrateMe will begin manufacturing this fall.
“The most important thing we’ve formed is the community dialogue around this product,” said founder Alexandra Feeken, 23. “We’ve got 6,000 people on Instagram and [4,400] on Kickstarter. We’ve been successful so far because we listen, we’re passionate about what we’re doing and we each come from different backgrounds at the university.”
Alex Hambrock, a university-trained engineer, more or less hosts the HidrateMe business in his apartment. The team is looking for a small office, perhaps in one of those shared-space start-up incubators.
“It’s never been easier to take your garage invention and turn it into a business,” said Hambrock, despite the long hours and low pay of the past several months. “I’m 24. I’ll have time to make money later.”
Each Kickstarter donor will get at least one bottle, depending upon the level of investment, plus other goodies for those who paid in above certain amounts.
“People don’t know how good they can feel if they drink enough water,” said Cole Iverson, 23, a fourth co-founder. “It’s completely different based on gender, age, weight, height, activity level, temperature, humidity level and elevation. Our app factors in all of that.”