Clean living: Drink it up, she says
Battling waterborne bacteria put entrepreneur on the health bandwagon
Date: Sunday, May 27, 2001, 9:00pm PDT
Everyone knows water is a basic necessity for sustaining human life. Lynne Leahy learned firsthand about its potential to kill.
And she’s made it her business — literally — to keep other people from finding out how drinking tainted water can harm the body. As president and CEO of Hayward-based AquaPrix Inc., Ms. Leahy oversees distribution of water purification units to supply clean water to Silicon Valley businesses.
“I started AquaPrix, and I got into the water business. And eleven months after I was in this business, I started coughing up blood,” says Ms. Leahy.
After she got sick in the late-’90s, doctors discovered that she had been infected early in the decade by a waterborne bacteria known as Mycobacterium avium. Subsequent tests revealed the toll it had taken on her system.
“They discovered I had this hole in my lung about the size of a golf ball. And so this bacteria had taken residence in me about 1990-1991, and very quietly had done its damage unbeknown to me,” she recalls.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that one in 100,000 people is infected each year by the bacteria. Despite being on antibiotics, Ms. Leahy still faces an 80 percent chance that the infection, which can be fatal, will flare up again.
Her personal struggle gave her renewed perspective about her business.
“I became much more passionate about this,” she says.
Her initial interest in the business was sparked by attending a computer industry trade show. After she saw a display featuring Innowave Inc.’s distillation units, she formed AquaPrix and became the exclusive Bay Area distributor of the units. Innowave is a subsidiary of health insurer Mutual of Omaha.
AquaPrix now distributes 18 varieties of Innowave water purification machines. One type filters water and uses ultraviolet light to kill any potential bacteria buildup in the filters, according to Ms. Leahy.
AquaPrix also distributes water distillation units, which boil the water and recapture the rising steam, Ms. Leahy says. This process kills and separates bacteria in the water.
Should the water purification systems malfunction, they are outfitted with a safeguard, she says.
“Any type of technology can fail. If our systems are not working properly, they shut down,” says Ms. Leahy.
AquaPrix has distributed more than 2,000 units throughout the Bay Area. Ms. Leahy says she expects AquaPrix and its staff of 15 employees to generate $2 million in revenue this year.
In the valley, AquaPrix distributes purifiers to Philips Semiconductor, Affymetrix Inc., Compaq Computer Corp., 3 Com Corp., Palm Inc. and Nortel Networks Inc.
Ms. Leahy was instrumental in Philips Semiconductor’s decision to install Innowave purifiers in 14 of its buildings throughout the valley, according to Philips director of facilities Greg Stuck.
“She helped to execute and coordinate the implementation program,” says Mr. Stuck. “She was indeed very committed to her product, very knowledgeable of the product itself.”
Ms. Leahy says she wants to make pure water part of a company’s benefits culture.
“In the corporate world, we want to move water into the wellness community. We think that a corporation should look at water the same way they look at a fitness club for their employees or health benefits,” says Ms. Leahy. “It’s exactly the same.”
In recognition of her entrepreneurial efforts, Ms. Leahy was among the nominees for this year’s Women’s Fund Women of Achievement award and has received the Entrepreneurial Excellence Award from Working Woman Magazine.
“I like to work with other women in business,” says Ms. Leahy. “I just want to be an inspiration to other women who want to succeed in their business career.”
In addition to the water systems, AquaPrix also offers a coffee cup washer that cleans a cup in 30 seconds using microbiological formulas, according to Ms. Leahy.
“It helps to prevent disease from spreading in the office. And it also eliminates all the waste created by Styrofoam and paper products,” Ms. Leahy notes.
She says such products are a logical extension of AquaPrix’s water purification distribution.
“We’re really focused on health and the environment,” Ms. Leahy says.