Startup of the Week: Tern Water to Tackle the Drinking Water Crisis Faucet by Faucet

Tern Water’s Know Your Water testing kit. Photo via Twitter

Editor’s Note: We are happy to announce that Startup of the Week is back! The weekly feature showcases the inner workings of startups across Philadelphia’s broad and booming landscape. Email “Startup of the Week” pitches to

Some startups succeed because of a brilliant product. For others, it’s all about the right timing. Tern Water can claim both.

The startup was born in early 2016 out of two Drexel students’ shared commitment to providing communities with access to clean, sustainable water. Although Tern hasn’t been around for long, the importance of its mission has risen steeply as the public health crisis around America’s drinking water is still roiling in cities like Flint, Michigan and right here in Philadelphia.

Snapshot: Tern Water

Start Date: Early 2016
One Sentence Pitch: Products and services to help users get access to smart, sustainable, and healthy water.
Employees: 4 full-time; 2 part-time
Founders: Mohamed Zerban, 22 (founder & CEO); Connor White, 24 (co-founder & chief creative officer)
Origin: Baiada Institute Incubator, Drexel University
First Failure: “I feel we fail every day in a sense, but they’re tiny failures we keep on learning from. We haven’t done the big failure yet,” says CEO Mohamed Zerban.
Investments: Tern received a six-figure investment from real estate developer Cross Properties in January 2017.
Fun Fact: Founder Mo Zerban was born in Egypt, grew up in England, and moved back to Egypt for high school before coming to Drexel as an undergraduate.

The team’s first clean water awareness project—“Know Your Water”—is already underway. Pre-orders of their smart-phone controlled Tern Faucet, which will filter water and educate users on their home’s water quality, will launch this fall.

Mo Zerban, the 22-year-old founder and CEO of Tern Water, has been working on sustainable innovation since his high school years in Alexandria, Egypt. Before arriving at Drexel, he had already completed a solo project funded by Intel in which he designed and constructed an in-home “biodigestor” that transformed biodegradable waste into fuel. It was this project, says Zerban, that inspired him to continue searching for ways to improve sustainability within the home.

“I dream that we’ll live in a world where homes are so much more efficient than they are today,” he says. “I think the home plays a bigger role in improving sustainability than what we anticipate.” Zerban’s interests led him to the engineering department at Drexel, where, as a student, he conducted his six-month co-op fieldwork with Philadelphia’s Water Department.

Zerban recalls his surprise upon realizing during his co-op how little so many people in the city knew about the source and composition of their water, as well as the actions they could easily take to better understand how to access and create cleaner water. “I realized that there is a bigger awareness problem than there is a technology problem,“ says Zerban.

Fast forward to Tern’s inaugural public project – nearly four years after Zerban first met co-founder and chief creative officer Connor White at a Drexel TEDx event – and Zerban’s sharp focus on awareness has remained a key element of his work. The “Know Your Water” campaign is offering Philadelphians a low-cost opportunity to have their home water source analyzed for contaminants and evaluated according to drinking water standards. For $20, Tern will mail you a small capsule to fill with water from your faucet before shipping back.

Using quantitative lab-certified testing procedures, Tern compiles a fast and accurate report detailing both the levels of contaminants in your water supply, and, based on factors like the age of your children, a rating of how safe your water is for your household to drink.

So far, Tern has tested over 200 Know Your Water capsules during the service’s pilot phase, and expects many more customers once they begin to aggressively publicize the project in the coming weeks.

Tern Water’s “Know Your Water” testing kit. Photo via Twitter

The Know Your Water test is notably cheaper than similar services, in part because Tern has much more than revenue to gain from the campaign. The tests allow the company to construct a database of private water supplies in the area, provided by the people who will likely become their first customers when the Tern Faucet is available for sale.

“At the end of the day, we want to make sure that the users understand their problems but are also able to fix them with a product or a service that we’re offering,” says Zerban. “[Know Your Water] is helping us directly understand what the consumers want.”

What consumers want, explains Zerban – citing the years-long tragedy over undetected lead in the Flint, Michigan drinking water – is reassurance.

“All they see on the media right now is this crazy water,” he says. “They don’t know whether they should fear lead or anything. Should they just be cautious? Should they do more? [Know Your Water] helps transition the cloudiness of information that’s being thrown at them into something that’s organized and data-driven.”

The capsules they’ve tested show that Philly water has two contaminants: chlorine and fluoride. “Generally not at dangerous levels, but it depends on a million things,” says Zerban.

Trump’s recently proposed budget for the Environmental Protection Agency threatens to strip organizations of already limited resources that support the push for clean drinking water in every home.

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, 77 percent of Americans are served by a water system that has violated at least one drinking water rule, and in 2015, only 13 percent of more than 80,000 violations nationwide of the Safe Drinking Water Act resulted in formal enforcement by state government or the EPA. The budget cuts could put even more Americans in danger of consuming contaminated water.

But Zerban is confident that the best way to combat these changes will be awareness and personal action. He wants his startup to provide a means to both. It’s a mission ingrained in their very name. Tern comes from the word “pattern,” “and at Tern,” explains Zerban, “we are working to keep clean water in the normal pattern of life.”

Follow @HaleySWeiss on Twitter.

Philly Entrepreneurs, Now’s Your Chance to Get on Shark Tank

Shark Tank casting call at XFinity Live! Photo by Fabiola Cineas.

The dream of making it before the sharks on ABC’s hit show Shark Tank is very much alive for budding innovators and this week, Philly-area entrepreneurs will get the chance to vie for a spot on the critically acclaimed show.

On Wednesday, Shark Tank will hold an open call presented by Comcast Business at Xfinity Live, where participants will have to deliver a 1-minute pitch of their business, product, or idea. They’ll have to wow a member of the Shark Tank casting team to advance to the next level.

This will be Shark Tank’s third time hosting an open call in the region, and last summer, Shark Tank supervising casting producer Scott Salyers realized the show ought to get to Philadelphia more often. Entrepreneurs from New Jersey, Delaware, and Pennsylvania were previously forced to travel to casting events in New York City, but Philly’s growing prominence as an entrepreneurial hub, has led the casting team back, Salyers said. The show also routinely holds casting events for the local university community at schools like Temple and Penn.  Read more »

Mary Alice Malone Is Still the Richest Person in Pennsylvania

Mary Alice Dorrance Malone

Mary Alice Dorrance Malone’s Iron Springs Farm from VirtualGlobeTrotting

For the third year running, Mary Alice Dorrance Malone has been named the richest person in Pennsylvania by Forbes. At age 67, Campbell’s Soup Co.‘s billionaire heiress is worth $3.8 billion, thanks to a hefty inheritance from her grandfather John T. Dorrance. He earned a degree in chemistry before inventing Campbell’s classic recipe and running the company for much of the early 1900s.

As Campbell’s largest shareholder, Malone owns 17 percent of the company. She is #193 on Forbes’ list of the wealthiest people in the country, and #555 on their list of world billionaires. Within the state, Malone’s spot at the top is secure – she’s worth nearly $1 billion more than Pennsylvania’s second richest person, tobacco entrepreneur and Phillies co-owner John Middleton of Bryn Mawr.  Read more »

For Ryan Howard, It’s VC Spring Training

From left: SeventySix Capital partner Wayne Kimmel; SeventySix Capital partner Ryan Howard; and Villanova Law’s Moorad Center for Sports Law director Andrew Brandt at the University City Science Center Quorum space.

Former Phillies slugger Ryan Howard really sees a future for himself among entrepreneurs. Last month, we learned that the former National League MVP and World Series champion is officially a partner at SeventySix Capital. Thursday evening, he sat down for the first time before the public as a VC with fellow SeventySix Capital partner Wayne Kimmel and Villanova Law’s Moorad Center for Sports Law director Andrew Brandt.

Coming off an abrupt end to his minor league contract with the Atlanta Braves organization, the former first baseman told the audience how he plans to balance his push for the big leagues with his new role at the firm. And in case you were wondering how he’ll be useful to budding business magnates, he gets into that also explains why there’s ample room for him in the growing sports business and innovation field. Here are some highlights from the discussion: Read more »

Opening Date Set for Former Trump Taj Mahal Casino

Rendering of Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

This week, Hard Rock International announced plans to reopen the former Trump Taj Mahal casino by Memorial Day weekend 2018, following what will be a months-long overhaul of the defunct property.

The company says it will begin demolition in July and move into full construction by August, according to the Press of Atlantic City. The estimated $500 million renovation will swap the casino’s 4.2 million square feet of Indian palace theme for Hard Rock’s rock ‘n’ roll casino and hotel.

Hard Rock International has previously announced its desire to open the space for the summer 2018 season, but the more definite projection of Memorial Day weekend came when the group came before the Reinvestment Development Authority board to apply for an entertainment retail district around the property this week.

The entertainment retail district designation would make the company eligible for tax breaks, the Press reports, including a rebate on sales and use taxes on building construction materials and also the luxury tax from hotel room fees. Read more »

I Love My Job: McDonald’s Owner Tanya Holliday

Tanya Holliday. Courtesy photo.

Whether you eat at McDonald’s or feel sick at the idea, franchise owner and operator Tanya Holliday wants to dispel some misconceptions about the classic American brand, namely that working there doesn’t count as a “real job.” She’s been with the global company for 38 years now, starting out as a part-time crew member and eventually working her way up through 13 different positions during 27 years on the corporate side.

Holliday is the first black woman to own and operate McDonald’s restaurants in the City of Philadelphia. She owns nine restaurants in the region, including all of the locations on the Main Line and still finds time to be president of the National Black McDonald’s Association for the Northeast Zone. Yes, we do own restaurants, Holliday says. She’s even hired 15,000 employees throughout her career. In this interview, the entrepreneur tells us why after almost 40 years, she’s eaten McDonald’s almost everyday (sometimes two or three times a day) and how she isn’t sick of it. She gives us the scoop on the elusive Hamburger University, her connection to Uber Eats, and shares her best advice for those looking to advance professionally. Holliday also details her fight against the stigma of being educated and working at McDonald’s and ends with her idea of the American Dream.

I grew up in … Richmond, Virginia. I split my time growing up between there and public housing in West Philly on 52nd and Girard. I attended 1st through 7th grade in West Philly.

I currently live in … Media, Pennsylvania. Read more »

Chef Jean-Marie Lacroix’s Brûlée Catering Finds New Owner in Comcast Spectacor

From Left: Barry Gutin, president of GuestCounts Hospitality; Chef Jean-Marie Lacroix; and Matt Levin, executive chef for Brûlée Catering at the National Constitution Center at a 2014 event to honor Malala Yousafzai. Image by HughE Dillon.

Chef Jean-Marie Lacroix’s Brûlée Catering — the hospitality group with exclusive caterer status at top Philly destinations like the Museum of the American Revolution and Dilworth Park — is set to undergo some welcome expansion. The company announced on Wednesday a deal that will allow it to fold its services into Comcast Spectacor’s portfolio.
And with the acquisition comes a new name for the James Beard Award-winning chef’s catering empire: Brûlée by Spectra.

The name change won’t be immediate and the company will continue to operate as is for some time, a Brûlée Catering spokeswoman told Philadelphia magazine. And though financial terms of the agreement weren’t disclosed, Comcast Spectacor president and CEO Dave Scott says the deal is a big win for both parties and their respective clients.

For Comcast Spectacor, which is the parent company for Spectra’s Venue Management, Food Services & Hospitality and Corporate Partnerships divisions, as well as the Wells Fargo Complex and the Philadelphia Flyers, Brûlée’s services will diversify its holdings and boost Spectra’s off-premise catering capabilities. Read more »

Why Zara’s Second Pa. Store Is Coming to King of Prussia Mall

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Amid economic shifts in the world of fast fashion and retail, popular industry frontrunner Zara will open a two-level store at King of Prussia Mall next year, has said.

As clothiers like the local Urban Outfitters say the retail landscape is oversaturated, Zara has managed to avoid the ramifications of the glut. The installation of the 30,000-square-foot flagship store aligns with the Spain-based retailer’s business strategy, outlined last week in the Wall Street Journal. Thanks to an early mastery of the Internet marketplace for budget apparel, the company has remained generally unscathed in the online shopping boom of the past few years. Its parent company, Inditex SA, recently reported an 18 percent increase in net profit from first quarter last year. Read more »

Comcast Rolls Out Xfinity Mobile to All Stores Across Philadelphia Region

General views at the Comcast Xfinity Store Thursday, June 1, 2017, in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania. (Jeff Fusco/AP Images for Comcast)

If you plan to ditch your Verizon or AT&T phone bill for a Comcast one, you can now do so at your local Xfinity store. Comcast announced on Wednesday that it has officially rolled out Xfinity Mobile at all stores across Philadelphia, the surrounding suburbs, New Jersey, and northern Delaware.

Comcast began selling Xfinity Mobile online and through call centers in all of its service areas on May 17 after months of testing the new service. The hybrid model relies on Verizon’s 4G LTE network and Comcast’s Wi-Fi network of around 17 million hotspots nationwide. Read more »

EO Philadelphia Unveils New Accelerator for Entrepreneurs

Entrepreneurs’ Organization Philadelphia convening. Courtesy of EO.

Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) Philadelphia — the organization that claims a global network of more than 12,000 business owners in 163 chapters across 52 countries — announced on Tuesday that it is launching the organization’s Accelerator program in Philadelphia. The goal: Get more Philadelphia startups to $1 million in annual revenue.

“When you’re an entrepreneur and you start a business, for some reason your first goal is to hit $1 million. And typically it’s the hardest number to hit,” Tim Devers, president of the Board of EO Philadelphia, told Philadelphia magazine. “Once you hit it, you blow by it and you shoot for $10 million. And we want to encourage and support entrepreneurs who want to get at that level.

EO says the program, because of its explicit focus on helping companies reach the $1 million mark, will be the first of its kind in the region. The 18-month accelerator will provide mentorship and peer learning experiences focused on four areas: money, strategy, people, and sales and marketing. Each program session will be held at a different locations across the city, Devers said, with speakers coming in from EO chapters around the world.   Read more »

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