OwlSpark | Rice University Startup Accelerator | TeamWise: AtmoSpark
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TeamWise: AtmoSpark

AtmoSpark is developing a portable atmospheric water generator for sailboat owners who need fresh water while making multi-day cruises. Their technology takes atmospheric water, captures it, and purifies it into clean drinking water. The team is made up of students Tejus Mane (Rice University ‘12, Lamar University ‘17), Damilola “Dami” Runsewe (Lamar University ‘17), Matthew Bukovicky (Lamar University ‘17), Aniket Khade (Lamar University ‘18), Jiujiu “Joey” Lou (Rice University ‘19), and Kaarthika Thakker (Rice University ‘20).

The idea for an atmospheric water generator was formed in a social impact class that Tejus and Aniket took at Lamar University. The pair wanted to work on a project where they could make an impact. For example, Tejus’ family (who lives in India) are only able to receive water at certain times of the day because of poor infrastructure and government regulations. This rigid schedule manifests in residents planning their day around retrieving water, and then planning and rationing it. Tejus and Aniket decided to tackle the issue of how to make sure people get the water they need, and avoid government interference. When the semester ended they decided to continue the project, adding Dami for product development and Matt to handle the business side of things. When the team joined OwlSpark, Joey and Kaarthika came on board for the summer, who have proven a natural fit with the team’s positive, get-stuff-done-but-have-fun dynamic.

Coming into the program, AtmoSpark’s mission reflected the social impact goal they developed in their early ideation phase. However, when they started analyzing this market segment and talking to potential customers they realized they would not be able to jump straight into working with non-governmental organizations (NGOs), as they had initially hoped. Because potential partners are looking for an established company with very little liability risk, AtmoSpark realized they would have to prove their technology in another market before taking the NGO route. First they looked to the oil and gas industry, but they quickly learned that there wasn’t a pressing need for their technology in current processes, and a longer B2B sales cycle was not sustainable for their young startup. However, during the process of customer discovery, AtmoSpark found the consumer boat accessory market. Through interviews with yacht owners, the founders learned that they needed a smaller, more efficient solution than is currently offered on the market. AtmoSpark knew they could get their start there, then later expand into other markets.

“Interviews are a whole lot more helpful than just doing a Google search and making an assumption from the comfort of an office somewhere,” said Matt Bukovicky. The team admitted that the first 10 to 20 interviews were awkward and they felt shy about talking to potential customers, but it soon became second nature for the founders.

“You don’t realize at first how important it is to actually talk to people, you have to do it to build relationships,” Dami explained. “Having a relationship helps them to open up to you, which then helps you probe for the data that you’re actually looking for. This process is crucial because as we’ve found, sometimes you pivot based on what you learn talking to real people.”

When the founders aren’t working hard on their business, they’re usually out doing things as a family.

We actually went out to dinner last night as a team to Urban Eats. We have a night planned to watch Doom together, it fits us a little bit more. We hope we don’t sound boring, we’re all like an old married couple, some of us live together, we work, we fight, and we go out shopping and to dinner together.