Startup focus: Lentus-H wants to change the world through water [update]

Update: correction on Hippo Water Roller pricing.

Water in developing countries is problematic. The availability and cleanliness of this resource are just some of the challenges people face. For the makers of Lentus-H, the problem of transporting clean water is one they hope to answer.

Globally, 783-million people do not have access to safe, clean water, with 37% of those living in Sub-Saharan Africa.

With statistics this high, there are a number of organisations and programs focused on improving access to clean water. These initiatives take time and while plans are hatched, alliances negotiated and the occasional pipe laid, there are women and children walking over 6km a day, carrying 20kg jerrycans on their backs and heads.

The long-term health impacts of this kind of physical exertion over an extended period of time include permanent neck and spine damage. Someone who has to live with a permanent, and inoperable spine condition due to years of carrying this weight on her shoulders and head, is the co-creator of Lentus-H, Antonio Junior’s grandmother.

“Although I was born in Angola, I grew up in New York, where going to get some water means walking three paces to the sink. I was completely shocked when I realised how time-consuming, exhausting and back breaking the work of collecting water was,” said Junior.

After spending time with his grandmother at her smallholding in Angola in 2012, and experiencing first-hand the daily trek to bring water back to the house, Junior wanted to take action. “My grandmother was old, too old to be doing this. I couldn’t believe no one had fixed it already. And then I knew, I had to do something,” he said.

It took three years for Junior to find a partner to work with him on the project. In 2014, he and Capetonian game designer Jarred Robertson, having been friends since school, founded Emika Studios. Their business designs and develops products, as well as video games for social media platforms and apps for mobile.

Together they decided to take on the challenge of creating something that could serve as a multi-purpose food and water transport, be hygienic, cost-effective and easy to manufacture. Two years later, the Lentus-H prototype was completed in 2016.

It’s essentially a 30-litre plastic container on wheels with an adjustable handle – think jerrycan meets luggage. To ensure the strength of the materials and weight support system, the device has been put through rigorous tests, including a walk up Table Mountain.

Currently, it is made out of 30% recycled plastic although the aim is to increase this to between 50 and 70% and to include the use of recycled metal.

Now, the team wants to take the Lentus-H prototype into mass production, and this takes requires funding. On 10 June, the duo launched a Kickstarter project to raise the required R550 000 needed to produce and distribute the Lentus-H throughout Africa.

The startup’s competition is minimal, with the only other available product being the 90-litre Hippo Water Roller, which launched into the market in 1991. Approximately 46 000 Hippo Rollers have been distributed in 20 countries and this has exclusively been through CSI and social good projects. The roller retails for US$125 in South Africa, with free shipping to the country. Live outside South Africa though? Then the price could potentially increase up to US$298 due to shipping, depending on which country you live in – a prohibitively high cost for the average household.

“We have worked hard on getting the material to be strong enough to handle Africa’s conditions but not too expensive,” said Junior.

“We want this product to be in as many homes as possible and that means it needs to be something that people can afford and not something that has to be given to them by corporates or NGOs. Our aims is to keep it under R500 and with just a bit of funding, we can probably drop it to R250 per Lentus-H.”

“What we really want is to have a Lentus-H for each family. It has the potential to make life so much easier for people, especially women, and we want to see that happen,” Junior concluded.

At the time of publishing, Lentus-H has raised just under €1413 (R23 500) from 21 backers, a far cry from the needed €31 892 (R532 000). They can only hope that they reach the fabled tipping point of 30%, which massively increases their likelihood of being funded.

Disclaimer: Sarah Rice is a communications consultant to Workshop 17, of which Emika Studios is a member.

Sarah Rice


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