By Janie Kim C’19
When Alicia Syrett W’99 met entrepreneurs Matt Lisle ENG’15 and Adrian Lievano ENG’15 on the CNBC show, their Penn bond was the start of a lasting partnership.
As dramatic music played in the background, Penn Engineering grads Matt Lisle ENG’15 and Adrian Lievano ENG’15 walked nervously onto the set of CNBC’s Make Me a Millionaire Inventor. After weeks of preparation, this was the moment they had been waiting for—pitching their water filtration system to a potential investor.
As fate would have it, that investor turned out to be Alicia Syrett W’99, founder and CEO of Pantegrion Capital and board member of New York Angels. Lisle and Lievano had no idea who they would meet before that moment and were immediately comforted by the ties to Penn that they shared with Syrett. “When we first met with Alicia, I felt a little more at ease,” Lisle says. “There was a good chemistry from the beginning.”
Just hours after leaving the set that night, Lisle, Lievano, and Syrett started emailing with each other about the next steps. And so began a close business relationship between Syrett and the founders of Everwaters, a social for-profit venture dedicated to providing clean water to millions in need. Their invention—an all-natural and sustainable ceramic and coconut carbon water filter—reduces lead, harmful bacteria, and other common contaminants that generic filters fail to minimize. After winning the 2015 Penn President’s Engagement Prize with their goal to bring plant-based, sustainable water filtration to Kenya, Lisle and Lievano joined the Wharton Venture Initiation Program and began devising a plan to market their product for use anywhere in the world, from Africa to Flint, Michigan.Though Syrett was not allowed to contact Lisle and Lievano before they met on the show, she did extensive research into their company, Everwaters. In talking to people who knew them, she was quickly drawn to the young Penn grads’ mission and strong bond with the university, which (spoiler alert if you haven’t seen the episode) led her to ultimately invest $20,000 for one percent of their company. “There was a Penn connection that enabled a comfort from the start and a higher probability that the deal would remain after the cameras went off,” Syrett says.
They eventually applied for Make Me a Millionaire Inventor, in which aspiring entrepreneurs are guided by mentors before pitching to potential investors like Syrett, who’s been working closely with the duo to help them realize their global ambitions.
“We’re learning a lot along the way,” says Lievano. “We’re avoiding making mistakes that we would have made if we didn’t have Alicia for guidance. The constant back and forth and no judgment in terms of bad ideas—that’s been the dynamic.”
Syrett has been particularly impressed by their willingness to learn and embrace unfamiliar concepts. “They may not have years of experience in the industry, but they’re always very open minded and curious,” she says. “They remain enthusiastic and willing to experiment and learn, and I think that will ultimately be what makes them very successful in running this company.”
With Syrett’s investment and additional funds she has helped them secure, they are now running a Kickstarter campaign to raise another $25,000 by December 13 and are seeking to form a board of advisers. Looking ahead, all three agree that the goal is to find more specialized mentors in each of the fields related to their company, from water filtration to sustainability to e-commerce and more. They also believe that this relationship brought together by the CNBC show is one they see continuing for many years to come.
“Every day our ambitions are getting bigger and bigger,” Lisle says, “and the ability for those ambitions to actually come true is becoming more and more possible.”
Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on the Wharton Magazine blog.