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Local inventor's effort shows marketing can be harder than creating (April 10th, 2008)

After investing five years and $2 million, Gangadhar Bathula is hoping the world is ready for cleaner, better-tasting water.



After investing five years and $2 million, Gangadhar Bathula is hoping the world is ready for cleaner, better-tasting water.

"It's a hot time with the anti-bottled-water sentiments," Bathula said, referring to the environmental movement that encourages consumers to stop importing bottled water from exotic destinations. And people are paying a ton for the bottles, he added.

Water from the tap is much less expensive, after all.

But it may not as safe is it could be, the Glen Allen resident said. Pipes are aging throughout the country, which can lead to harmful contaminants in tap water, such as lead.

Bathula, a chemical engineer, has developed SteriPure, a filtered-water pitcher with an ultraviolet light that kills microbes. He recently received certifications to sell the product in the U.S. SteriPure sells on his Web site, www.steripurewater.com, for about $100.

Creating the invention may have been the easiest step in the entrepreneurial process. Bathula is struggling to overcome unexpected challenges.

SteriPure is already on sale in India, where it's manufactured. Bathula, who was born and educated in that country, said he's selling 100 to 200 units a month there. But Indian consumers want something cheaper and a container that can hold more water.

The American market, on the other hand, is thirsty for a more advanced, table-top filter/pitcher, he believes. But after years of fine-tuning the product and marketing materials, Bathula is still trying to find a way to get the product into U.S. stores.

Adam Marquardt, a professor of business and entrepreneurship at the University of Richmond's Robins School of Business, said most new products fail for two reasons: the product isn't different enough from existing ones or too few consumers know about the product.

Bathula said the SteriPure is definitely different, in part because a UV lamp zaps microbes and a "smart system" alerts the user when the water is safe to drink by illuminating an indicator light. Accessories such as solar panels make it portable.

However, converting users of existing water-purifying systems or generating new demand for filtered water might be difficult, Marquardt said.

"People know the Brita name. They see it costs less, and there's got to be a reason why they want to look at this new product even if it's the same price."

Spreading the word, meanwhile, can be costly. "Companies just expect people to stumble across a new product. That just doesn't happen," Marquardt said. He said that if Bathula can show the product's virtues -- perhaps by setting up a demo stand -- word of mouth can help spread awareness.

Libby Brown, who co-founded This End Up Furniture and helped market the now-defunct retailer's crate-style chairs and sofas, said Bathula might have a hard time selling the unit at $100.

"People want pure water up to a point, but the greater degree of purity costs 2.5 times as much" as a Brita, which is about $35, said Brown, who has written a book on entrepreneurship called "Making Waves."

"What you're trying to do is get a value equation where the customer's eyes go 'boing.' If you get a lot for what you spend, that's a great value."

Bathula has sought out lots of help.

He hired Stu Neal, a small-business owner and consultant in Richmond, several years ago to help "Americanize" the appearance and wording on the package.

"We have specific laws, rules and regulations," Neal said. "We have a litigious society, and the American consumer is very different [from the Indian consumer], especially for a high-end product."

Sally Feltner, a business counselor with the Greater Richmond Small Business Development Center, spent 35 hours helping Bathula get the certifications he needs to sell in America. Assistance from the center is free.

"One of the reasons it's taking him as long as it has to get the product to market is the lengthy certification process," Feltner said, adding that potential distributors were concerned about product liability.

Despite the setbacks, Bathula is optimistic. He has been talking with several potential distributors, and a new Web site allows him to sell the product directly to consumers.

"My goal is to have one on every dining room table and protect the health of all people."

Contact Name: Gangadhar Bathula

Contact Address:

US OFFICE

5904 Brilland Springs Pl
Glen Allen VA 23060
Ph: 1-510-681-4614
Fax:1-801-749-2446.

INDIA Factory

# 179, 1st Floor
MPR Estates
Old Bowenpally Checkpost
Bowenpally
Secunderbad-500011
Andrapradesh, India
Phone:+91 40 65199585

AARON KREMER
Ganga Enviro Systems Inc
www.steripurewater.com/
info@steripurewater.com