H2Ok Innovations, a tech startup founded by Harvard dropout and brother, raises $6.8 million to conserve liquids in factories
In the entrepreneurial world, they say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, and that’s certainly the case for Annie and David Lu. They both hail from a family with a rich heritage in manufacturing, where their paternal grandfather set up a successful factory in China, churning out specialty, fine chemicals. Even their dad played a crucial role in the family’s chemical-manufacturing business. Creating things is definitely in their DNA.
With a rich background in chemistry and insights into lean manufacturing principles, gained through summers spent touring factories and learning the intricacies of industrial equipment, Annie and David found themselves well-prepared to embark on their entrepreneurial journey.
Armed with this impressive background, the dynamic duo, with Annie being just 22 and David at 25 in 2021, decided to dive headfirst into the startup scene. They gave life to their brainchild, H2Ok Innovations, a startup company that ingeniously combines hardware and software to revolutionize the way manufacturing factories operate.
How it all started
When 2020 rolled in, Annie Lu was a bright-eyed student at Harvard, eagerly embracing her college journey. Little did she know that the world was about to be turned upside down by the relentless onslaught of Covid-19. The pandemic hit with full force, bringing everything to a screeching halt, including her cherished college experience. It was a time of uncertainty, unexpected challenges, and the need to adapt to a new normal that no one saw coming.
“I remember in March of 2020 basically being kicked off campus and everything going virtual,” Lu, 22, told CNBC in a video interview in June. Then as the spring semester of 2020 drew to a close, marking the end of Lu’s sophomore year, she made a significant decision. Instead of returning to school, Luchose a different path for herself. The world’s circumstances and the pandemic’s impact on education prompted her to take a new direction, embarking on a journey that would lead to exciting opportunities and uncharted territories.
Ever since making the bold decision to leave Harvard, Annie Lu has been blazing a trail of her own, and she hasn’t looked back since. Alongside her older brother, David, aged 25, she embarked on a thrilling journey by launching their very own company, H2Ok Innovations. This visionary startup utilizes a powerful blend of hardware and software to revolutionize factory operations, enhancing efficiency by minimizing liquid usage.
When asked about her choice to step away from the traditional college path, “I can’t speak to what would have been, but what I can say is it was such an easy decision for me to make and it was so obvious,” Annie told CNBC. “The trade-off was virtually nothing.”
Making a decision to leave Harvard and immersing yourself in the pursuit of enhancing factory efficiency alongside your older brother may appear to be an unexpected decision. However, their connection to manufacturing runs deep in their family roots. “As with every family business, everyone is involved in the family business,” Annie told CNBC.
David was born in Saskatoon, Canada, but when he was just one year old, their family relocated to the Bay Area, where Annie was born. Both Annie and David’s parents are immigrants from China, bringing with them a rich cultural background and a strong work ethic.
During their early years, their grandfather played a significant role in shaping their interests. His profound passion for chemistry led him to teach Annie and David about chemical reactions and the inner workings of industrial equipment.
Even as kids, they had the opportunity to explore their family’s factories, gaining insights into various chemical factory components, such as the intriguing distillation towers. The concept of “lean manufacturing” also became a recurring topic of discussion within the family, sparking their curiosity about streamlining production processes. These early experiences laid the foundation for their future endeavors and ultimately contributed to their current success in the realm of improving factory efficiency.
“I remember in elementary and middle school spending summers touring factories, and having exposure to large-scale industrial equipment, understanding how they work. We grew up in the sector,” Annie told CNBC. “That’s where our inspiration germinated from, I would say.”
Since its inception two years ago, H2Ok Innovations has been making waves in the industry, turning heads and catching the attention of some major investors. Their brilliant idea and dedication have helped them secure $6.8 million in funding from heavy hitters including Construct Capital, Flybridge Capital, TechStars, 1517 Fund, and 2048 Ventures. Their headquarters, located at Greentown Labs in Boston, has become the epicenter of their innovative endeavors, with the company already generating revenue.
Annie and David’s accomplishments have garnered significant recognition in the business world. In 2022, they were honored by Forbes, earning a coveted spot on the prestigious “30 Under 30” list. Their remarkable journey reached another milestone in March when H2Ok Innovations was acknowledged at Unilever’s annual supplier summit, where they were bestowed with the esteemed “Start-up of the Year Award.” These achievements are a testament to their hard work and dedication, solidifying their position as rising stars in the industry.
You can read the rest of their story here.