The Archimedes Project is a not-for-profit organization that believes the most intractable problems in water and sanitation can be solved using market-driven approaches. Our goal is to end water-borne disease by supporting the design and launch of scalable and financially sustainable clean water and sanitation social enterprises around the world.
The Archimedes Project believes the world already has the technology, resources and expertise necessary to get water and sanitation to those who need it. All that’s missing is a little leverage.
The Archimedes Project co-founds revenue-generating enterprises that utilize existing cost-effective technologies and establish local partnerships to eliminate water-borne disease once and for all. We bring together visionaries, thinkers, makers and doers from across sectors in hackathon-style Ideation Labs to create lean, collaboration-driven social enterprises that can scale across a country.
We are a launchpad for scalable clean water and sanitation enterprises that leverage existing technology, knowledge, and partners, by collaborating with an entrepreneur in all aspects from developing an idea to launching and growing the business.
Cultural and linguistic fluency is essential to an understanding of the environment that their enterprise will operate within.
Women are often responsible for water and sanitation and health. Female leadership allows the company to be more responsive.
There are hundreds of existing water and sanitation products and services. We focus on business model innovation.
Clean drinking water and dignified sanitation underpin nutrition, health, education and gender equality.
We build customer-first, human-centered enterprises from the first stage of research to fully staffing and scaling.
We identified 25 countries with a high need for clean water and toilets, and relative political and economic stability.
Archimedes Project works with entrepreneurs to develop for-profit social enterprises that leverage existing technologies to increase clean drinking water and sanitation access for bottom-of-the-pyramid households. This is achieved through a four-stage venture building process, during which a specific problem is defined, a solution is generated, and the solution is validated and tested.
Research is an essential first step to designing a smart social enterprise. It is essential to understand the challenges in the water and sanitation ecosystems, the needs of potential customers, and the local economic climate. The resulting research and contacts are utilized throughout the venture building process.
The main goal of the research stage is to clearly define a clean water or sanitation problem in the target country and develop local connections. The research stage consists of two segments. The first segment, pre-departure research, lasts for one to two months, during which the initial in-country plan is developed. The second segment, in-country research, lasts for 12-weeks, during which, the entrepreneur researches the current state of the water or sanitation ecosystem in the target country. The goal of the research stage is to develop a clear picture of the problem and potential solutions.
The goal of the pre-departure period is to prepare for the 12-week in-country period by establishing contacts, gathering guidance from in-country contacts, and setting up meetings for the in-country period. The entrepreneur begins by working closely with the Archimedes Project team to develop an initial contact list of individuals in the target country and contacting them by email and phone. These conversations provide a preliminary understanding of the water, sanitation, and social enterprise ecosystems in the target country. They will also utilize these contacts to gather additional introductions and schedule meetings for the in-country period.
The goal of the in-country period is to research the water, sanitation, and social enterprise ecosystems in the target country. The entrepreneur answers a series of questions about the local ecosystems using the information gathered and the contacts developed during the pre-departure period, as well as additional contacts cultivated during this phase of the research stage. First, the entrepreneur identifies the existing actors providing drinking water and/or sanitation products or services. They then determine which challenges, both specific to the actor and common to all actors in the ecosystem most significantly hinder those actors’ ability to thrive. The entrepreneur also examines the wants and needs of potential customers and how they are currently being met. Based on the collected information, the entrepreneur identifies how and if a social enterprise could be designed to circumvent the actors’ challenges and better meet customer needs. This gives the entrepreneur the opportunity to formulate and vet very early stage ideas about, and components of, solutions. The research and contacts developed during the research stage are utilized throughout the rest of the venture building process.
Using the insights gained in the research stage, ideation brings together professionals from across sectors and the knowledge of target-country experts to generate an actionable and scalable lean startup business model canvas that utilizes existing technology and based on local partnerships.
The main goal of the ideation stage is to generate an actionable idea, presented in the form of a business model canvas, which results from the entrepreneur’s research and the experience of a diverse group of professionals and experts. During the ideation stage, Archimedes Project hosts an ideation lab lasting two to three days or an ideation workshop lasting one day.
At the beginning of the ideation lab or workshop, participants are divided into teams. These teams are tasked with creating a business model that addresses a water or sanitation problem in a target country. Participants first attend a panel discussion or a series of short talks by ideation mentors, during which the target country, the local water or sanitation situation, and previous efforts to solve the problem are examined. This discussion is followed by a Q&A where participants are further familiarized with the scale, scope, and nature of the problem.
Participants receive detailed information about the plan for the lab or workshop and what is specifically expected from them. They learn about business model canvases, lean startup operations, and human centered design, all of which guide the ideation process and shape the business models developed. Teams begin by identifying who their social enterprise serves, what problem it solves, and what technology and partnerships could be used to solve the problem. Next, they apply their expertise and the information learned to develop an initial business model canvas. During this time, mentors circulate between groups to provide guidance and assistance. Once the teams have an initial business plan, they prepare one-minute draft pitches to be presented to all participants. Draft pitches are followed by a break where participants can discuss their business models with participants on other teams. This allows participants to hear outside input and other people’s assumptions, have their assumptions questioned, and reevaluate the viability of their social enterprise.
Teams utilize the feedback they received to rework their business plans. They then finalize their business model canvases, write one-paragraph summaries, and create five-minute pitches. Each team presents their pitch to the judges individually and the judges select the top three ideas. These three teams present their pitches to all of the participants and the participants then select the winning plan. The ideation lab or workshop closes with commitments to the implementation of the selected plan from participants, mentors, and judges as well as closing remarks from the organizers. The selected plan is considered for advancement by the entrepreneur and Archimedes Project during the development stage.
Once an enterprise idea is generated, the entrepreneur enters a six- to twelve-month development stage. Archimedes Project creates an enterprise development team to help the entrepreneur vet the viability of the idea, develop an operating and launch plan, identify key performance indicators, prepare a financial model, and secure startup funding.
The main goal of the six-month development stage is for the Archimedes Project supported enterprise development team to work with the entrepreneur to establish an actionable launch plan to test product-market fit and the business model. This assists entrepreneurs in obtaining startup funding, a process which occurs throughout the development stage and into the launch stage.
The development stage begins with the team identifying and reaching out to potential implementation partners to gather ecosystem information, collect market data, determine realistic pricing, analyze the competition, identify and challenge assumptions, and receive feedback. The team also works with these partners to vet the business plan and gain a better understanding of who the customer is, what their daily life is like, what their income is, what they need to know about the enterprise’s product or service, and how they would use the product or service.
Once the enterprise development team has identified potential implementation partners and vetted the business plan, they develop an operating plan. This includes the establishment of a supply chain for the production and/or transportation of the product or service, development of a strategy for maintaining customer relations, definition of key hiring needs, and solidification of recruiting and training processes. The team also develops a site visit rubric, key performance indicators to measure profits, new customers, repeat customers, and organizational growth, as well as the enterprise’s brand and initial marketing strategies. The enterprise development team, with the assistance of in-country partners, outlines a financial model for the first two years of operation, taking operating costs, future funding, and projected income into consideration. Using optimistic, realistic, and pessimistic scenarios, the team estimates potential future profitability, develops a sustainability plan, and identifies required funding to reach the desired scale.
Throughout the development stage the entrepreneur researches and narrows down potential funders, drafts proposals, gathers and submits applications and necessary documents, and secures initial funds. They utilize the business plan and financial model to further polish this funding strategy. As the development stage reaches completion, the enterprise development team will continue to work with implementation partners to refine the operating plan and financial model, as well as formalize legal and tax documentation for in-country operations. This process will continue into the launch stage.
During the three- to six-month launch stage, the entrepreneur and the enterprise launch team test the minimum viable product for product-market fit with the “first 100 customers.” They begin by training staff and launching pilot sites, which are used to test business and product hypotheses and iterate as needed.
The main goal of the three month launch stage is for the entrepreneur and enterprise launch team, with support from the enterprise development team, to test the minimum viable product, determine if there is product-market fit, and quickly gain feedback from the “first 100 customers.” The initial customer base may vary depending on the business model but should provide a substantial opportunity to determine customer attitudes towards the product or service.
During the first two weeks, the launch team gets familiarized with the local ecosystem, prepares to launch the pilot sites, and recruits and trains staff. Successful staff introduction to enterprise operations, procedures, and best practices is fundamental to the enterprise’s success. Training curriculum is therefore periodically reviewed and optimized. Design thinking is used throughout training to vet both the staff and the business model.
By the end of the first month the enterprise’s first site is operational. The launch team utilizes real-time feedback, tracking systems, and key performance indicators to further vet the business model, iterate the product or service, and adjust operational procedures. To test hypotheses regarding enterprise and operational viability, additional sites with varying characteristics, such as wealth, demographics, or access to resources, are identified.
By the end of the third month, the enterprise establishes new sites and reaches its “first 100 customers.” The “first 100 customers” receive more attention from the staff and provide vital feedback on critical aspects of the enterprise and product-market fit. Additionally, the newly hired permanent staff address the challenges identified through experimentation within and between sites, improve operations and the supply chain, and identify additional potential sites.
By the sixth month, the enterprise operates independently, with Archimedes Project shifting to an advisory role. The enterprise continues to test hypotheses on customer needs and respond with product iterations, as well as minimize operating costs by regularly reviewing existing practices and potential alternatives. This ongoing review of operations and expenses enables the enterprise to increase their profit margin, raise more investment funds, and continue to scale. If customer feedback indicates that the business is unable to establish product-market fit, the entrepreneur can work further with Archimedes Project, return to an earlier venture building stage, and identify the necessary changes to effectively pivot the business.
Archimedes is a Greek mathematician who discovered leverage - the phenomenon by which a larger, seemingly impossible-to-move object can be moved by a much smaller object. He is credited with having said, “Give man a long enough lever and a firm point on which to place it, and he can move the world.” At the Archimedes Project, we believe that by leveraging existing technology, resources and business ideas, we can solve the world’s toughest water and sanitation issues.
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Archimedes Project Founder Faith Wallace-Gadsden traveled to Haiti two weeks after cholera hit the impoverished Caribbean nation. Then completing her PhD in molecular microbiology, Faith established a research partnership with a hospital located at the epicenter of the nascent outbreak. She quickly realized that the international community, despite all of its technology, resource and expertise, was failing to stop cholera before it got out of control. In an article for Crowdfunder Insider, Faith recounts her frustration with the intensifying situation in Haiti in 2010:
“The beer I had finished was brought in from the capital and could have made its way over the bumpy roads to every corner of the country. Women selling brightly colored packets of sweets sold products made by manufacturers hundreds or thousands of miles away. If there are supply chains that cross the country, why can’t they be used to deliver this life-saving product that people were so desperate to have? And why can’t the people desperate for work be the ones to deliver it? Not just in a Haiti, but across the world?”
— Faith, Crowdfunder Insider
Cholera kills over 120,000 people every year. Diarrhea kills 2 million children under the age of 15 per year. We think this is unacceptable. Inadequate access to safe water and sanitation not only impacts individual livelihoods, particularly those of girls and women, but also greatly affects national productivity. Diarrhea causes the loss of $260 billion of economic productivity each year.
It is absolutely crucial that water and sanitation be treated as a crosscutting issue that affects every other major development challenge, including education, health, and unemployment.
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The people our social enterprises seek to serve are people who are already budgeting and spending their money, in many cases on an expensive and imperfect solution to the problem. By charging for a product or service, a social enterprise is forced to participate in the market and compete with existing products and services by offering better value, lower prices, or both. Charging for a product or service is the only way to be financially sustainable while maintaining a close link to the end user.
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Archimedes Project is not an incubator or accelerator. We are a venture builder (a.k.a. startup studio or foundry) and the only one focused on social enterprise solutions for customers at the bottom of the pyramid. We also distinguish our venture builder through our nonprofit structure and our focus on clean water and sanitation, female leadership, local fluency, and the use of existing technology.
Archimedes Project works with an entrepreneur to create enterprises from scratch starting with market research and continuing through development and launch. In contrast, an incubator provides the resources and conditions for an existing idea-stage venture to grow, and an accelerator provides investment, mentorship, training, and pitch competitions for early stage ventures that are looking to grow a lot in a short time.
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We have identified the following 25 countries as priorities for enterprise development: Bangladesh, Bolivia, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Côte d'Ivoire, Ethiopia, Ghana, Haiti, Honduras, Indonesia, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Myanmar, Nepal, Niger, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, and Zambia. This list changes from time to time depending mostly on the safety and security situation.
Our first enterprise was launched in Haiti in 2014, and since then we have done research and ideation projects in seven additional countries. To learn more about these projects, please visit our History page.
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Social enterprises have customers, not beneficiaries. As participants in the impact, they have to agree that they want the product or service in order for the enterprise to be successful. The growth of sales and fulfillment of the mission are inseparable. If the enterprise does not solve the customer's problem, they won’t buy it and the project will fail.
Social enterprises operate as businesses, which are responsible for covering their costs with the revenues from selling their product or service. This financial model is an alternative to a less reliable and higher maintenance model that obtains revenue from grants and donations. Social enterprises also contribute to economic growth by creating jobs and contributing to market competition, instead of injecting free goods or services that undermine the market.
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