It may surprise Max Ben-Hamoo’s former classmates to learn that he recently launched a bottled-water company, given his opinions about the industry when he was an undergrad at the University of Denver.
“I was strongly against bottled water,” Ben-Hamoo says. “I didn’t allow my friends to drink it because of its harm to the environment. I didn’t allow my parents to have it in their home. Why would you drink water from a bottle that you pay for when you can get it out of the tap for free?”
Ben-Hamoo (BA ’09, MBA ’09) had long been concerned about the environment, from his upbringing in Aspen, Colo., to his work with various environmental science professors at DU. During his childhood — which was full of outdoor activities such as camping, hiking and skiing — he saw firsthand to what extent human carelessness can corrupt nature.
Ben-Hamoo’s primary problem with bottled water was the number of the plastic bottles in landfills (more than 70 percent of all plastic bottles used in the U.S., he says), and their adverse effect on the ecosystem. So with the help of his friend Chip Kalnow, Ben-Hamoo pulled the ultimate if-you-can’t-beat-’em-join-’em by creating WorldLife, a bottled-water company that puts its product in a 100-percent biodegradable/recyclable container.
“[Chip’s] mother, Kris decided to fund us in starting this business. It was largely her idea,” Ben-Hamoo says. “We found someone who was making biodegradable plastics, and we ran with it.”
Although WorldLife is Colorado-based, Ben-Hamoo quickly learned that, because of mining and fracking issues, he and Kalnow would have to go outside the state for their raw materials. Their search led to them a family-owned aquifer in Georgia, one whose water quality Ben-Hamoo calls “incredible.”
With the environmental credibility of their product solidified, Ben-Hamoo and Kalnow next did what any young entrepreneurs do: They started pounding the pavement, hustling the merchandise. They since have found multiple businesses to carry WorldLife, particularly in Ben-Hamoo’s hometown of Aspen.
“It’s a tough, tough market. You go into any grocery store and there can be hundreds of [bottled-water] options,” he says. “We’ve found success in more nontraditional markets — the smaller retailers who can choose which water to carry. We’re also getting good reception in Aspen with the face-to-face meetings. And who doesn’t want to take a nice business trip to Aspen once in a while?”
Like Ben-Hamoo, Kalnow hopes the product will have lasting impact.
“Our whole goal is to step up to the plate where big industry hasn’t,” he says. “It may not be a silver bullet for the next generation, but it’s a step in the right direction. Maybe it can cause the industry to change for the better.”