When I say “early stage entrepreneur,” whom do you picture? A hungry young person in a hoodie, eating Raman noodles and cranking out code? While this might be the prototype, more and more social entrepreneurs are looking more like Jim Smith. Jim is an academic and a scientist. He spends most days in deep research and in the classroom at the University of Virginia. However, thorough a series of synchronous events, Jim was jarred into the world of hands-on entrepreneurship in some of the most underserved communities of the world.
Jim Smith is an advisor and serves on the board of PureMadi, where they developed a sustainable, ceramic water filter. They built a factory in South Africa where they engage local women potters. Therefore, not only are the water filters effective, but they create a revenue stream for women.
Today Jim is the Cofounder and Chief Scientist at MadiDrop PBC (Public Benefit Corporation), bringing a safe drinking water solution to communities throughout the world.
Growing up on Long Island, Jim enjoyed the typical suburban life. His father got up early in the morning and rode the Long Island Railroad into the city. However, when Jim was around 10 years old, his father lost his job. This incident drove Jim to look for a discipline that seemed to produce steady employment and security. His older brother was an engineer, and influenced his decision to focus on environmental and water resources engineering.
Jim admits that his world views was primarily focused on the US and he was not really fully aware of the global challenges with clean water security. He became interested in remediating polluted water systems using natural soil microorganisms. He was primarily working on remediating industrial pollutants in groundwater and doing academic research when he received a call from Robert Marquez who was interested in using ceramics to purify water in developing countries. This work opened Jim’s eyes to difficulties with clean drinking water around the world.
Around this same time, Jim began to develop a course for Princeton University on water supplies in refugee camps. This led to a course that is still taught by Jim today at the University of Virginia called “Water for the World.”
It was from this course that PureMadi was born. Eventually, Jim saw that while PureMadi is a very good solution, one he continues to support, a second solution was required, one that was light weight, inexpensive and easily transported.
The MadiDrop is a small ceramic tablet embedded with silver. It is inexpensive, small and durable. It can be easily shipped anywhere in the world. When placed in a household storage container and filled with water, the MadiDrop releases silver ions, disinfecting the water and making it safe to drink. Unlike the PureMadi water filter, the MadiDrop is produced in Charlottesville, Virginia.
In this episode of the Social Entrepreneur podcast, we discuss:
- What is a public benefit company?
- Jim’s story of how he became a water resource engineer.
- How a set of serendipitous encounters changed the course of Jim’s life.
- What a trip to Guatemala taught him about how most of the world consumes water.
- PureMadi and how they empower women in rural villages to create water filtration systems and produce an income.
- How Jim ended up launching MadiDrop, a Public Benefit Corporation.