In the spring of 2015, Eric Roy ’04 said he got a tip from an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) retiree about high lead levels in the water in Flint, Mich. This was before the people of Flint fully understood what was in their water. And way before Flint became a public health crisis.
A chemist trained in water quality, Roy decided to find a solution.
He built a high-capacity lead filter for Flint—and created Hydroviv, an LLC, in July of 2015. “Our lab was the bathroom sink,” said Roy, who did pressure and leak testing along with prototyping for the first Hydroviv filter in his studio apartment in Washington, D.C., with a friend. Two months later, he shipped the first filter to a children’s organization in Flint that he found on social media.
From his apartment, Roy continued to ship water filters to Flint, funded by his personal savings and credit cards. To donate more, he created filters for Washington, D.C.’s water, which he sold to raise money for Flint. Overall, Roy said he donated more than a hundred of the devices. In an article in the Chicago Tribune, Hydroviv was recognized for its work in Flint, among other tech companies. Another article by the BBC titled “The man helping Americans access safe drinking water,” detailed Roy’s efforts during the crisis.
And as he saw the need and the demand for water-specific filters beyond Flint, he turned this charitable act into a profitable business. A chemistry major (and baseball catcher) at Colby, Roy traced his interest in being a scientist and an entrepreneur directly to Mayflower Hill.
At Colby, Roy closely worked with Whitney King, the Dr. Frank and Theodora Miselis Professor of Chemistry, doing water quality work and measurements. This was his first experience with water research. It was also then he learned about King’s scientific instrument company, Waterville Analytical. “That was really the first time I had ever seen a scientist have their own company,” Roy said.
While Roy discovered the possibility of entrepreneurship within the scientific world, his professor observed his potential in both.
“He was starting on the baseball team, he was a chemistry major, and he was working forty hours a week at Subway,” said King about Roy’s time at Colby. When Roy used King’s instrument, which measured iron in minute levels in the ocean, Roy could make measurements ten times more precise than most, King recalled. “He also had that sort of entrepreneurial capacity,” King added. “He has what we refer to as good hands, which means that when he goes in the lab and touches stuff, it works, as opposed to not working.”
Following Colby, Roy proceeded with water research as a Ph.D. student in oceanography at the University of Maine. “Right out of my Ph.D., I was part a [startup] company that spun out of the University of Maine.” Orono Spectra solutions, he said, worked with the EPA and Department of Defense to develop technologies identifying explosives and pollutants in water. From there on, Roy worked in building different tools for various industries, like the equipment used in TSA checkpoints.
His latest venture, Hydroviv, is based on the idea that “water quality across the country is different and that the filter should match the water,” and uses data from municipal, state, and federal sources to deliver the most effective water filter to its customers. The company also tests individual homes and creates their own database. “You’re actually able to get much better information using our approach than you could if you just measured one sample,” said Roy, “because water varies.”
To learn more about Roy’s Hydroviv filters, check out ABC’s Shark Tank at 10 p.m. EST on Sunday, April 14.
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