Student entrepreneurial product H2O-Pal reminds users to stay hydrated

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State student start-up Out of Galaxy has just ended pre-orders for H2O-Pal, a water intake tracker that uses Bluetooth to pair up a water bottle with an app available on both iOS and Android.

The journey of H2O-Pal started on a hot summer day in Brezje, Slovenia, when Penn State incoming freshman Matej Marjanovich and his brother rushed their mom to the emergency room after she lost consciousness at work.

As it turned out, her blackout was only due to dehydration.

“All she has to do is to drink more water. And she would have if she had something to simply remind her throughout the day,” Marjanovich, now a junior working toward a degree in electrical engineering, said.

The brothers searched for a product that would help their mom stay hydrated. When they failed to find the perfect solution to satisfy their need, the idea of H2O-Pal first came to their minds.

Into the second semester of his freshman year, Marjanovich — together with another Penn State student, Matt Reading, and his brother, Igor Marjanovich, a graduate student in biomedical engineering back home in Slovenia — started to pursue their idea.

“You have to learn a lot about marketing and business, thinking from a consumer-centered point of view in order to be a successful entrepreneur. If you just want to be an engineer building things, you will need to focus on finding the right company or start-up that fits into your own values.”

— Junior Matej Marjanovich on entering the start-up world as a student

“The Bluetooth technology just came out, and we see the possibility of turning our idea into the reality,” Matej Marjanovich said. “This has been basically what I’ve been working on every summer back home.”

As an electric engineering major, he found his academic knowledge very helpful in designing the prototype. He was also able to outsource additional help in making the prototype into products that could be manufactured. His brother and Reading have been in charge of manufacturing.

Suitable for different kinds of bottles with its stretchability, H2O-Pal can be attached to the base of a water bottle using vacuum and magnetic connection. With the help of an accelerometer and weight sensor, it monitors the water level in the water and sends it to the app via Bluetooth Smart technology, allowing the app to analyze measurements, track a user’s daily water intake and report updates through a visually appealing interface.

While enrolled in ENGR/IST/AG BM 497B, a class focused on advanced entrepreneurship teambuilding taught by faculty members Elizabeth Kisenwether, Lisa Erickson and Mark Gagnon, Marjanovich was able to set his business on the right track. And in February, H2O-Pal was able to run a stress test through 10 THON dancers, gaining valuable feedback from them about how it helped the students stay hydrated during the 46-hour dance marathon.

“The course uses lean start-up approaches developed by Steve Blank (Stanford) and the business model analysis process in the Business Model Canvas,” Kisenwether, assistant professor in the School of Engineering Design, Technology and Professional Programs and co-director of the Lion Launch Pad, explained. “We push students to ‘get out of the classroom’ and talk with at least 10 potential users or customers each week, and to add five new contacts in the professional or mentoring network each week. Teams also develop one or more minimally viable products in the course. All of these activities are design move a product from concept toward commercialization.”

Erickson, a lecturer in the College of Informational Science and Technology and Undergraduate Studies Entrepreneurship academic program coordinator, added, “One of the purposes of the class is to help students move their businesses forward. Matej did some great testing of H2O-Pal by getting it down on the dance floor at THON. It’s great to have the opportunity to provide entrepreneurial students like Matej with the opportunity to build their businesses and to be part of that journey with them.”

Marjanovich noted common barriers for his peers who may be entering the start-up world, adding that he has learned many things from his experience.

“You have to learn a lot about marketing and business, thinking from a consumer-centered point of view in order to be a successful entrepreneur,” he said. “If you just want to be an engineer building things, you will need to focus on finding the right company or start-up that fits into your own values.”

Navigating the path of an entrepreneur as a college student isn’t easy. Marjonovich admitted there were times he thought of giving up.

“If I would have imagined how much effort I would have to put into this, I’m not sure if I would be able to start again,” he said. “But each day it’s getting one step closer. And that’s the most rewarding part of the experience that keeps me going.”

Utilizing different resources available on campus also has helped Marjonovich accelerate his business. Through involvement with student entrepreneurship club Innoblue and local entrepreneurial hub New Leaf Initiative, he was able to connect with people who pointed him in the right direction.

The efforts the team has put in didn’t end in vain. The product has gained support and interest around the world. H2O-Pal was launched in January when Marjonovich went to meet with a potential distributor, and he also demonstrated it at the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. TechCrunch also featured the product last October during H2O-Pal’s Kickstarter campaign.

“If I would have imagined how much effort I would have to put into this, I’m not sure if I would be able to start again. But each day it’s getting one step closer. And that’s the most rewarding part of the experience that keeps me going.”

— Marjonovich

H2O-Pal has generated positive feedback from many users, serving as a wake-up call for many as hydration is often overlooked in daily lives.

“I really loved the product and the idea behind of it,” said Shawnee Kelly, an instructor in the Department of Nutritional Sciences. “Water is a big part of our lives for everyone who wants to lose weight or just to stay healthy. The research really showed us for people who want to make behavior changes, self-monitoring is a big part of it. For a lot of us, we need that reminder because usually when we realize we are thirsty or dehydrated, it’s already too late.”

The end of pre-order has marked another important step for Out of Galaxy, helping the team stay motivated and determined as they further develop details in manufacturing.

“We are looking forward to seeing where opportunity will take us next,” Marjonovich said.

Last Updated June 26, 2015