Broni-Mensah with GiveMeTap products
Broni-Mensah with GiveMeTap products

Pitching your business idea to the US President is beyond the expectations of most people. For Edwin Broni-Mensah, this opportunity came just five years after launching his start-up.

Back in 2010 it was his stringent fitness regime that led to the birth of GiveMeTap, a social enterprise that funds clean water projects in Africa, which is growing in the UK and has now launched in the USA.

The former mathematics student was walking from the gym to a lecture hall at the University of Manchester in the UK following a vigorous workout. He popped into a café and asked the owner if he could refill his drinking bottle. The owner was reluctant, suggesting he buy a bottle of water instead.

“I saw the irony and I didn’t like it,” the 31-year-old says. “People in some countries don’t have any access to water while the UK has perfectly clean tap water that café owner didn’t want to give me.”

He was inspired to combat this attitude and in doing so, help communities access clean water in Africa, where his parents were born.

Working out of his family’s home in Edmonton, north London, Broni-Mensah put together a business plan. He started with a big idea, a prototype bottle and a hand-drawn label. 

A chance encounter at a Shell event led to funding from Shell’s LiveWIRE programme, which helps young entrepreneurs around the world with their business ideas.

Children enjoy water from a GiveMeTap funded well
Children enjoy water from a GiveMeTap funded well

“Shell LiveWIRE helps young entrepreneurs translate their ideas into businesses,” says Anna Haslam, Head of UK Social Investment at Shell. “I am incredibly proud to see our winners achieve international recognition and success.”

Today, GiveMeTap sells reusable stainless steel bottles which entitle owners to free tap-water refills from hundreds of participating cafés and restaurants in the UK including chains such as Pizza Hut and at the University of Manchester campus. Profits from sales have already funded 17 projects across Ghana, Malawi and Namibia, bringing clean water to over 15,000 people, with more developments on the way.

GiveMeTap has also won an award from financial services company Virgin Money, which Broni-Mensah used to expand product lines and improve the bottles. The company is now expanding in the USA after hearing of a phased ban by authorities in San Francisco on selling plastic water bottles.

It has not all been smooth sailing. Despite building a website for the company quickly, it was months before he made a sale. “Putting it simply, I didn’t know how to turn a website into a business,” Broni-Mensah says. The tide finally turned when he was featured in a mainstream British newspaper. “My stock sold out almost immediately. People had to wait for up to eight weeks.”

But the company’s greatest success so far came in June 2016, when the team was personally selected by President Barack Obama as part of a Google initiative aimed at promoting entrepreneurs. Sanum Jain, GiveMeTap’s Head of Operations, delivered the pitch.

“It was the most surreal experience of my life,” recalls Jain, who presented via webcast from Campus London, Google's workspace for start-ups. “I stood inside a big gold booth, looking at a video screen, knowing that at any moment the US President would appear.”

Jain was the first to present of the four start-ups. As she explained their business model, Obama summarised the scheme as a “free ticket to fresh drinking water wherever you go.”

“Michelle has been focussed on healthy lifestyles and healthy eating,” Obama added. “If you hook her up with a couple of those bottles, I wouldn’t be surprised if she uses them.” It is something the company plans to follow up.

This means that as President Obama prepares to leave the White House next year, the family’s packed belongings could include four GiveMeTap bottles. Each will have a direct link to lifesaving water projects on the other side of the world, and all because of a young man’s mission to get fit.

 

By Sarah Kempe

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