Ben Kander was just 22 years old in 2012 and a graduating senior at Emory University, when his mother, Ellen Weiss Kander, died of liver cancer. The younger Kander missed his graduation ceremony in Atlanta so that he could be with his mother at the end of her life.
“It was a difficult time for me,” recalled Kander, who was raised in Pittsburgh and attended Community Day School and Shady Side Academy.
Following his mother’s death, Kander, who concentrated in sustainable business and energy efficiency at Emory, was New York City bound to begin a new job in sales and marketing; but he was also focused, he said, on ways he could honor the values of his mother, an entrepreneur and philanthropist who co-founded the Steeltown Entertainment Project — a nonprofit organization that brings Pittsburgh-born entertainment visionaries back to the city — and Cancer Be Glammed, a website that provides advice and easy access to stylish products to women who are undergoing surgery and treatment.
“My mother was the role model in my life, not only as an entrepreneur, but in doing things that help others,” Kander explained. “I also wanted to start something that matters.”
Just three years later, Kander may be doing just that through his creation of the WELLY Bottle, an environmentally friendly, reusable bottle that filters drinking water to improve both its quality and its taste.
The bottle is called WELLY, he said, in part as a tribute to his mom, whom his father called “Elly.”
Kander launched a Kickstarter campaign at the beginning of May seeking $50,000 to get his project off the ground. In just a few weeks, more than 900 backers — many from his hometown of Pittsburgh — have helped him exceed his goal. The campaign will continue through June 18.
The bottle’s filter, made entirely from coconut shells, strips away chlorine and other “impurities” that may affect the taste of water, according to Kander’s Kickstarter page. Each filter lasts about two months, he said, and replaces about 300 disposable plastic bottles.
“The environmental benefit from this bottle is huge,” Kander said, noting that when fewer disposable bottles are produced, demand for oil goes down. Another environmental benefit, he said, comes from WELLY’s hand panels, which are made of bamboo, an easily renewable resource because of the rapid growth rate of the plant.
WELLY is in the prototype stage, Kander said, with the production and marketing stages soon to follow.
Each WELLY will be priced at $35 and will include one filter. One dollar from every sale will go to Charity: Water, a nonprofit that works to help those among the 748 million people worldwide who have no access to clean water.
“What I learned from my mother’s philanthropy was that I wanted to give back,” Kander said.
But another lesson he learned from his mother, he said, is to be “mindful and aware of what I put in my body.”
“We don’t know the cause of a lot of cancers,” Kander observed. “But there are so many things I feel have to be harming us. Water makes up a huge percentage of our bodies, so I wanted to help people remove chemicals and toxins from their water.”
Kander expects to have his first production run of WELLY bottles completed and shipped by December and plans to continue to sell his product on his website, wellybottle.com.
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.