A Rogers startup is looking to turn the restaurant supply industry on its head and a group of MBA students from Columbia University in New York have been on hand for the last week, helping Recycled Hydro Solutions develop strategies to turn its concept into a must-have piece of equipment.
RHS President and Founder Chris Gilreath's product that he believes could be a game changer in the restaurant industry is the RinseWell, which he said is an alternative to the decades-long standard drip well seen in many ice cream and coffee shops.
According to the company's website, its technology "is a plug and play on demand rinse and sanitize station used primarily in ice cream shop settings." In short, it eliminates the continuous flow of water that can often be among a restaurant's highest bills outside of food and beverages.
Gilreath said real-world testing at some Shake's locations in Northwest Arkansas have shown promising results.
"Average dipper wells (use) about a quarter-million gallons of water per year. So our aim was to try to reduce that substantially. Our approach and design was to do a plug and play system so that the true total cost was just in the unit itself. No retraining, no retrofitting, no electrical. So we were able to achieve that. Shake's was our beta tester and we reduced water consumption by 80%."
With such a high reduction in the amount of water used, it is easy to see how the units could be easily marketable to restaurants and small shops across the country.
KEEPING IT CLEAN
But the unanswered question for Gilreath was how clean are the utensils using the RinseWells versus traditional dripper wells. E. coli (escherichia coli) is a form of bacteria that lives in the intestines of people and animals, but can become toxic outside of the intestinal tract. The Centers of Disease Control estimates that 48 million Americans a year get sick from foodborne illnesses, with about 3,000 illnesses resulting in death each year.
Gilreath got his answer after testing was done at the University of Arkansas and the results for the elimination of E. coli were equally as stunning as what the beta tests showed in terms of water usage.
"They did it in different intervals and so like at 5 seconds, RinseWell eliminated 99.64% of the E. coli as compared to 8% of the traditional dipper well," he said, adding that the tests "proved to be really efficient at sanitizing, too, and those numbers really kind of surprised m that they were that good."
The results of the testing will be published in the International Food Control Journal, which is likely to bring attention to a company that has been Gilreath's side passion during the last three years.
COLUMBIA BUSINESS SCHOOL SUPPORT
But this year, Gilreath left his corporate job and has poured himself full-time into the hobby that has been fully funded out of pocket. In that time, his company has gained traction and was been chosen to participate in the MBAs Across America program.
The team, which consists of four Columbia Business School MBA students, has been in Rogers for the last week as it travels across the country, using expertise gained in the classroom and the real world to help businesses like RHS reach their full potential.
Columbia student Jasmine Ainetchian said the program is a non-traditional internship program in its inaugural year, where eight teams of four MBAs from five different business schools embark on a six-week journey to help "small businesses and entrepreneurs who are in areas outside of the typical big, coastal cities and more in areas where they're really helping to revitalize their hometowns and their home communities."
Another member of Ainetchian's team, Elizabeth Pfeiffer, said working with RHS allowed the group to partner with a company working in the "environmental space."
As for what the team can do during a one-week visit to Northwest Arkansas, Pfeiffer said it was working with Gilreath to think through how to take RinseWell from concept and beta testing to the market.
"What we've been helping Chris do is think through commercialization of the product," she said. "So he's had the RinseWell technology at Shake's and we've been thinking through how to take (the product) into production and how to get a prototype into more stores to kind of measure that impact of the machine beyond just one store."
‘COMMUNITY OF ENTREPRENEURS’
The team's goal in its week with Gilreath and RHS is to leave him with the tools he needs to make the startup a success, student Guillaume Cazalaa said.
"Really, the idea is to leave every entrepreneur, especially Chris, with a roadmap essentially of what to do starting Monday. So whether that is a six-week plan, a six month plan, a six year plan," he said. "It's really just trying to put ourselves in his shoes and either help him understand the decisions he has to make starting next week or start to give him some of the resources or tools that he needs to make those decisions."
Pfeiffer said part of the long-term goal of MBAs Across America is to bring individuals like Gilreath into the larger entrepreneurial community where he can take advantage of some of the best business minds in the world.
"MBAs for America, as a program … Chris will become part of that community of other entrepreneurs. It's one week where we're on the ground, but it's also bringing Chris into the fold of these other entrepreneurs and he'll have our contact information and he'll be part of this and if he has questions or wants to throw (out some questions), it's a community of people because it's going to be eight teams working with six different entrepreneurs across the country and entrepreneurs in different places can learn from each other and that's kind of what we want this cross-market to be."
‘DISRUPT THE INDUSTRY’
As for what the Ivy League-educated business students think of Gilreath's concept, they said the potential is there for RinseWell to "disrupt the industry."
"There's this movement to think about water and the environment," Pfeiffer said.
"There are countless, countless industries that were launched that are kind of getting disrupted by the smaller companies just because of resource allocation and time. And that's not uncommon at all," student Atif Qadir added.
Gilreath, who did not want to disclose product prices before a formal launch, said while the future looks bright, it is hard to know a timetable for when RinseWells may start showing up in restaurants across the region, much less across the country.
"A lot of it sort of depends on that road map and the approach. We've got a pretty good idea, but until … once we gather later on and get that definite roadmap, it could be pretty quick. The importance is getting to the market. It's not going to be a long process. So much work has already been done, design's been done. There's a little bit of redesign to do, but it's (a) pretty nominal time investment on the redesign."
And while Gilreath admits that his invention is far from a "sexy" product, it is getting interest from not only the Columbia students, but also from Silicon Valley. Gilreath was in San Francisco in late June to compete in the Clean Tech Open, where he's a semi-finalist.
"It's an international incubator for clean tech companies," he explained of the competition that began in 2006 by a group of Silicon Valley executives. "Sixty percent of the companies get third-party funding at an average of $2 million. They've had outside funding since 2006 of $950 million. So the success rate is pretty good."
Depending on the outcome, Gilreath may get to production faster than anticipated. But he said being flexible is all part of being an entrepreneur.
"It's very possible as I go through this process, I may have some pivots, you know? So to answer your prior question, it's unknown the timeframe (for production launch) because I may pivot into something else and have a different scheme."