Harvard dropout and brother launched H2Ok for factory sustainability
Harvard dropout and brother launched H2Ok for factory sustainability

David and Annie Lu, siblings, co-founders of H20k Innovations

Photo courtesy of David Lu and Annie

Lu Anni She was a student at Harvard when Covid-19 brought the world to a standstill, including her own college experience.

“I remember in March 2020, I was basically kicked out of campus and everything went virtual,” Lu, 22, told CNBC in a video interview in June. At the end of the spring semester of 2020, when Lu was a sophomore, she did not return to school.

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She hasn’t looked back since.

That’s because Lu and her brother david25 years old, founded his own company and is currently growing, H2Ok Innovationwhich uses a combination of hardware and software to increase plant efficiency by reducing fluid usage.

“I can’t say what’s going to happen, but I can say it was an easy decision for me to make, and it was an obvious one,” Anne told CNBC. “The trade-off is pretty much nothing.”

It might seem like a surprising move to leave Harvard and join your older brother obsessing over factory efficiencies.

But there are deep family ties between them: Anne and David’s grandfather started a factory in China producing specialty fine chemicals, and their father worked in the family’s chemical manufacturing business. The same goes for Anne and David’s uncle. They are proud of it. “As with every family business, everyone is involved in the family business,” Anne told CNBC.

David was born in Saskatoon, Canada, and moved to the Bay Area when he was a year old, where Annie was also born. Their parents are immigrants from China.

Lu Anni visited her family’s factory in China when she was young.

Photo courtesy of Lu Anni

When Anne and David were young, their grandfather was passionate about chemistry, teaching them about chemical reactions and how various industrial equipment works. As children, Anne and David would visit their family’s factory and learn about chemical plant components, such as distillation columns. The concept of “lean manufacturing” is also a topic of discussion in the family.

“I remember spending summers in elementary and middle school visiting factories and touching large industrial equipment and learning how it works. We grew up in this industry,” Anne told CNBC. “I would say that’s where our inspiration comes from.”

Since the official launch of the sister company in March 2021, H20k Innovation Has raised $6.8 million from investors, including construction capital, Flybridge Capital, technology star, 1517 Fund and 2048 Venture Capital.The company is headquartered in Greentown Lab Based in Boston, booking revenue.anne and david are considered to be 2022 Forbes 30 Under 30 In March, H20k Innovations was recognized at the Unilever Annual Supplier Summit and awarded “Best Startup of the Year Award”.

Annie and David Lou at an event at the Harvard Innovation Lab while they were still conceptualizing it.

Photo courtesy of Annie and David Lou

The duo started the company at a time when Covid-19 has disrupted global supply chains and brought the importance of manufacturing into focus.

“The pandemic has exposed disparities within manufacturing and industry … was the inspiration to launch H20k,” said Anne. “This is a fantastic opportunity.”

From Techstars in Minnesota to opening shop in Boston

Annie and David moved to Minneapolis for Fall 2020 Techstars Farm to Table program, which accepted them based on previous projects.

“Annie and I love programming and building things together,” David told CNBC. “We work really well with each other. We built a lot of projects as we grew up.”

Annie and David Lu form the TechStars accelerator on the farm.

Photo courtesy of Annie and David Lou

They came to Techstars with the idea of ​​developing a low-cost technology to identify contamination in natural waterways and drinking water. But as part of the program, Annie and David reached out to 120 executive leaders across food tech and asked them what their biggest headaches were.

Ultimately, they decided to focus on improving the efficiency of the liquid used in the manufacturing process.

“Liquids and fluids are at the heart of production processes in many different industries,” Anne said, including food and beverage, pharmaceuticals, semiconductor manufacturing, and cooling of commercial buildings and factories. “It’s such a big empty space, and there are a lot of gaps.”

At the end of Techstars, Annie and David defined the vision for H2Ok Innovations and started to execute.

They came up with the idea of ​​using a combination of physical sensors and software to measure and optimize the use and composition of liquids and fluids in manufacturing. Their process involves collecting this data and using their software to combine the liquid data with other plant and facility data, what Anne calls a “very, very general purpose” IoT system.

Traditionally, data collected at the factory remains on-premises. “We’re basically unlocking previously untapped data streams,” Anne said.

Improving the efficiency with which liquids are used in the manufacturing process reduces waste and product loss, which means that factories are also operating more sustainably.

In 2021, David and Annie are working together in Boston on a project called “The artisan shelter about six months, then move in Greentown Lab.

Annie and David Lu with members of the H2Ok innovation team at Unilever’s Ben and Jerry’s factory.

Photo courtesy of Annie and David Lou

In fall 2021 and early 2022, Annie and David will be attending 100+ accelerators The program is a virtual accelerator program run by Unilever in partnership with AB InBev, The Coca-Cola Company and Colgate-Palmolive.

“The goal of the 100+ Accelerator Program is to rapidly accelerate the growth of startups developing sustainable solutions, including reducing the energy used in supply chains. Through this partnership, we work directly with entrepreneurs to refine and test their new technologies in our business, accelerating their solutions and positively impacting our sustainability goals.” Sandeep DesaiUnilever’s chief product offering officer for ice cream told CNBC in a written statement.

“These startups are working in a number of areas, including new packaging technologies, digital and geospatial solutions, and new ways to upgrade product ingredients that would otherwise be considered waste,” Desai said.

As part of the partnership, Unilever tested the H2Ok Innovations solution at Ben & Jerry’s in Waterbury, Vermont.

“In our Waterbury ice cream procurement unit, our partnership resulted in an 18% reduction in downtime during cleaning, increasing productivity and reducing supply chain costs. We also saved 40% in cleaning cycle water consumption by using the technology,” Desai said. Unilever is working to implement the H2Ok solution at other non-ice cream factories in the US and Brazil, Desai said.

In Spring 2021, Siblings raised its first round of funding, with additional funding in Summer 2022. H2Ok Innovations currently has 17 employees.

For investors, H2Ok’s value proposition is especially timely as more manufacturing is returning to the U.S., and those facilities face increasingly stringent efficiency standards.

“The U.S. is reemerging as a manufacturing powerhouse, compressing the normal technology lifecycle adoption curve for industrial companies and driving innovation and efficiency amid decades of intense global competition,” Jeff Bussgang of Flybridge Capital told CNBC. “U.S. manufacturers have strong climate and sustainability mandates forcing them to use fluids and energy with greater precision.”

In addition, some investors believe that the sensor technology used by H2Ok Innovations is inevitable.

“We find H2Ok’s vision of replacing holistic based water measurements with a multitude of sensors very compelling. Our thesis is that all measurements and data will be available in real time and used to optimize operations in factories, data centers, etc.,” Alex Iskold from the company 2048 Venture Capital told CNBC. “That’s exactly what H2Ok is building for.”

Annie and the H2Ok innovation team are at a customer factory to demonstrate their technology being deployed in a factory.

Photo courtesy of Lu Anni

strong brotherhood

All of the investors who spoke to CNBC said they were impressed by Anne and David, which is to be expected for investors who love their portfolio companies, but the glitzy accolades stood out nonetheless, reflecting the siblings’ belief in building in a field their family has worked for generations.

“They’re exceptionally smart, visionary and courageous, founders that investors would dream of backing,” Iskold told CNBC.

Construct Capital’s Dayna Grayson told CNBC: “We invested because they are incredible founders. Annie and David are persistent and incredibly smart, and that’s the culture they’ve built at H2Ok. They’re the right and rare combination of customer and problem orientation, and they’ve excelled at building solid technology solutions that fit their customers’ needs.”

“The founders are brilliant technologists and visionaries,” Flybridge Capital’s Bussgang told CNBC.

Being siblings brings a level of built-in trust that is valuable to both Anne and David, who have been close to each other and family throughout their lives.

The H2Ok innovation team is based in Greentown Labs in Boston, where it is currently headquartered.

Photos courtesy of David and Anne Lou.

This trust is invaluable because running a business with employees, partners and customers can be stressful.

“There were some tough conversations to have,” Anne said. “We can have these tough conversations in a very, very comfortable way, holding each other accountable and pushing each other to be better.”

“We know how to fight, we know how to have tough conversations. We’ve fought all our lives,” David said.

Thinking of this, Anne and David both giggled. It was a bit of a joke, they said, but it was also serious. Getting through difficult conversations is “critical to the success of the business,” David said.

Their complementary skills are also a huge boon.

David said Anne was creative and a “particularly unconventional thinker”. Anne says David is very good at identifying patterns across disciplines and executing technology development.

They also shared ideas on how to interact with people. They acknowledge that they are young and that it is important to listen to others.

“I think this aspect of authenticity and having every conversation with clients, users, mentors, etc., with a deep sense of humility and empathy is critical to who we are as a team, and especially who we are as founders,” said Anne.

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