Today, we’re interviewing Fernando García-Torrubia, the Co-Founder and CFO of Agua NEA. The Barcelona-based startup Agua NEA was founded in 2019 and their flagship product is a 100% plastic- and BPA-free Mineral Water. Together with his partners, Fernando successfully participated in the accelerator program of GBSB Global Business School. The program was running online during the pandemic and welcomed several very promising startups based in Catalonia.
In 2020 G-Accelerator by GBSB Global Business School has been awarded a grant from the Government of Catalonia and The European Social Fund (European Commission). GBSB Global Business School supports innovation and entrepreneurship at all levels. Students are able to launch their own business ventures as part of the MSc Entrepreneurship program, or test their disruptive ideas and participate in open innovation challenges as a member of the G-Accelerator training program.
Fernando, please give us a brief introduction to Agua NEA. How was the business idea born, and how did the project develop since its launch?
Launched in 2019, Agua NEA became the first 100% plastic- and BPA-free Mineral Water brand in Spain, offered as an alternative solution to massive plastic consumption in the hospitality industry.
Since then, the brand has grown into a decentralized organization with a lean structure, reaching out to the best global talent at each level.
The idea was born as an environmental project, where myself and my fellow colleague joined forces, eager to come up with a sustainable business solution in response to plastic pollution. We were able to detect an important area of improvement – providing a recyclable and circular solution for the consumption of water bottles across various social events within the hospitality industry around the globe.
The business has been profitable ever since the beginning, with the only capital invested being the initial contributions from us, the two founders. We are already present in 3 countries (Chile, Costa Rica and Spain) and are in advanced negotiations with another two, which we are hoping to land within the next 6 months.
Our product is high-quality mineral water in the most sustainable package in the market. Together with this we devote great resources to our environmental action to develop marine restoration projects. As of today, we have launched a successful coral restoration project in Costa Rica, and are in the final stages of kicking-off our second one, in Europe, by the end of 2021.
The initial motto was to create a brand that inspires people to live more sustainably tapping into universal love for the ocean. Then we discovered that we could go much further, and we’ve created a product that is also a tool to interconnect humans with the ocean, and wherever they are, make them feel part of ocean conservation projects.
We eliminate plastic.
We plant corals.
We raise awareness.
How does your target market and your typical customer base look like, and through which channels are you reaching your customers?
We operate within the realms of a massive canned water industry – the natural alternative to the more than 1,000,000 plastic bottles, which are being opened worldwide every minute.
We work B2B, encompassing any company that wants to make a step forward towards a greener environment by joining forces on the fight against plastic pollution.
Among our customers we have luxury hotels and resorts, all kinds of events, music festivals, catering, nightlife and entertainment venues and more. Some of the big names we have worked with include Marbella Club 5* GL Hotel, Cirque du Soleil group, Wanderlust, and Nike, to name a few.
Agua NEA improves its marketing spending by channelizing it to maximize the environmental impact through coral restoration projects, using social media content creation to leverage marketing exposure, offering the end-user not just the usual marketing product impact, but a marine conservation experience as well.
We are more than just a product. We are a mission.
What would you say is Agua NEA’s main value?
Agua NEA is truly a social enterprise addressing one of the most crucial environmental issues today, namely plastic pollution. We operate in line with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, aiming to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all across the globe. It is estimated that there is more than 150.000.000 tons of plastic in our oceans right now. What’s more concerning, is that the rate at which plastic is being dumped into the ocean continues to increase ever so rapidly. At Agua NEA, we aim to provide a sustainable business solution for the consumption of water on-the-go, while making a real environmental impact, helping raise global awareness and getting more and more people involved to fight for the common goal.
How do we create value?
We provide a high quality mineral water in one of the most sustainable packages on the market as an alternative to the plastic bottle, reducing the plastic pollution.
We develop important marine restoration projects to bring life back to our damaged oceans, especially coral damage, where more than 50% of the coral reefs have died in the last 20 years.
We actively raise awareness about the existing, urgent environmental problem faced globally, and propose various innovative solutions set on inviting everyone to join in and contribute towards a safer future.
And your competitive advantage?
We are a legitimately sustainable company, where every action we take puts our planet and the environment first, and our customers love that. We recognize an important link between our company, the product we make, and the conscious customers that consume it.
We run very lean operations, outsourcing the best talent from around the globe, allowing us to be competitive in pricing challenging the plastic pollution giants such as Coca-Cola or Nestle.
Lastly, we are extremely devoted to our customers and their satisfaction. We oversee every delivery to the minimum detail and are available to contact 24/7 for any queries our customers or partners may have.
Who are your key partners and how are they involved in growing Agua NEA as a company?
Our current and prospective partners are organisations and people who are passionate about the ocean.
Distributed across different branches of the company, we have several allies to help us develop the environmental projects. These include Oceanic Global and Coralive, with whom we work on incorporating technology into coral restoration in order to scale the coral plantations to a global level.
We also partner up with smaller NGOs and foundations to help develop the coral plantation projects across different locations. We aid their initiatives through providing financial and marketing support set on expanding their exposure and global reach.
We seek collaboration with various global brands as key commercial partners, interested in being related to our brand image throughout their events, offices, campaigns etc.
How did revenues develop over time and are you looking to raise venture capital for Agua NEA in the future?
The company has grown 100% year-on-year, even during the pandemic. We expect exponential growth through 2022–2024, as the majority of the key industries in which we operate get back to normal (i.e. tourism, events, nightlife, hospitality etc.).
There have been conversations with potential investors, where our current strategy is to consolidate further growth throughout in the nearest future.
We are always open for new strategic partnerships and invite investors to join us on this journey.
Any key milestones to be reached?
This is an easy question!
- Grow our international presence in 10+ countries;
- Secure large supply agreements with the world’s top hotel chains, event organizers and promoters, and product distribution leaders;
- Become the most referential beverage brand in terms of environmental impact, with more than 10.000 corals planted in multiple locations around the globe.
How has GBSB Global’s G-Accelerator helped develop your project?
Being part of the G-Accelerator program was an incredible experience, which I would recommend to any starting or established company, wishing to develop their operations.
The knowledge, both theoretical and most importantly practical, and the professional network that was made available were simply amazing, and the program was instrumental in helping us cope with the Covid-19 outbreak, from a strategic and financial perspective.
G-Accelerator mentorship sessions with various industrial experts helped us pinpoint our vision, and develop the company’s mission much further than being just another water brand. By the end of our training, we were able to establish a complete circular system to effectively deliver our environmental actions.
Where do you see Agua NEA today and what are the next milestones you’re aiming to reach?
Since entering the niche market in 2019 with virtually no competition, our customers were eager to try the alternative to plastic bottles.
After a challenging year following the global pandemic, we are now extremely glad to be fully back on track, growing at exponential levels and looking at a promising future.
As we continue to expand our international team, always seeking new talent across sales, marketing and operations, and with new strategic agreements with large partners and customers being landed, we are hoping to provide stability and ongoing economic resources availability for coral restoration and plastic elimination on a much larger scale.
Our main goal is to be able to one day plant up to one million corals in the ocean, and we cordially invite everyone who resonates with our mission to join, and become part of the process. Visit our website for more information and get in contact if interested.
And for anyone dreaming of becoming an entrepreneur or making their innovative vision come to life as part of a team of professionals, we would highly recommend exploring GBSB Global Business School’s offerings, to help you set off on the right path with all the necessary tools and business acumen in place, preparing you for a successful business future.