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Eco Vessel

by Eric Peterson on October 19, 2014, 10:42 am MDT

www.ecovessel.com

Boulder, Colorado

Founded: 2008

Privately owned

Employees: 7

Founder and President Jonathan Fox has leveraged strong demand for safe, reusable water bottles into a business that's growing at a clip of 50 percent or more annually.

After opening Whole Body Balance, a holistic wellness center that offers acupuncture, massage, and chiropractor services, in Boulder in 2004, Fox started manufacturing and importing water ionizers, filtration systems, and other alternative health products under the NewCell brand.

That soon led to another opportunity, catalyzed by research that indicated a serious health issue with traditional water bottles. "Around 2007, BPA plastics were in the media and I was in the right place at the right time," says Fox.

He started Eco Vessel in response to a "personal search" for a reuseable water bottle that didn't have BPAs -- which mimic estrogen and increase the risk of cancer and other health problems -- that came up empty.

"I decided to use some of my experience in manufacturing and importing to bring safe, reusable drinking vessels to market," says Fox.

Using a combination of U.S.-made product and Chinese imports, Eco Vessel has filled the market void and grown at a rapid rate in the time since. "We've grown anywhere from 50 to 100 percent a year," touts Fox. The company's growing retail distribution includes Whole Foods in Colorado and other regions, Sportsman's Warehouse, and REI, with distributors in Australia, Singapore, China, and Europe.

The attraction isn't exclusively about health -- many people want a reusable water bottle to shrink their environmental footprint, as disposable ones contribute significantly to the waste stream. "80 percent of plastic water bottles end up in the landfill," says Fox, noting that San Francisco recently banned them.

Eco Vessel's catalog includes bottles made of stainless steel and BPA- and phthalate-free plastic, as well as insulated bottles, filtration bottles, and products for kids and babies. Sizes range from 12 ounces to the 45-ounce Bigfoot. The company also makes BPA-free containers for food storage.

Introduced in 2011, the insulated bottles include a vacuum-sealed second layer of stainless steel that reduces its conductive properties, dubbed TriMax. "We say 36 hours cold or eight hours hot," says Fox.

More recently, Eco Vessel released a line of reusable all-glass bottles in summer 2014. Notes Fox: "Glass is generally considered the purest material for beverages."

The products are premium priced, ranging from about $10 to $40 retail, with an average adult bottle coming in at $25.

The company strives to make an impact that goes beyond the fiscal bottom line, he adds. "We partner with a Denver-based nonprofit, Water for People," he explains. "We donate a minimum of 1 percent of our gross revenue to them." The money goes to support water and sanitation projects in 11 developing countries.

Challenges: Keeping up with growth that has seen sales double in a given year. "Managing that level of growth is difficult," says Fox. His keys: organization and hiring people with experience in mass-market retail channels. Another challenge is "having enough product to serve demand," he adds. "I think the market's there, for sure."

Opportunities: "Managing a big product line, we've got opportunities all over the world," says Fox. Most notably, he points to "natural foods stores like Whole Foods," and also highlights possibilities for growth with Eco Vessel's kids' line. "We're one of only a few companies with high-quality and insulated products for kids," he says. "We see big opportunities for people looking for a higher-quality, safe alternative."

Needs: Outside capital. To date, Fox has funded the company's growth through his own investments and banks. "To really grow at the rate we can grow, we'll need some outside investment."

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