Tree H2O LLC: Spotlight on Startups at Clarkson University Shipley Center for Innovation
In 2011, when Margaret Finen moved to Norwood, N.Y., from Baltimore, she was dismayed to learn that millions of gallons of water are routinely discarded during the production of maple syrup.
While this iconic North Country industry yields an agricultural liquid gold, it also wastes an increasingly precious commodity. Finen founded Tree H2O LLC in 2014 to change that scenario and gather drinkable water.
“Why are so many producers dumping millions of gallons of water? I called to ask about permits and discovered there's no reason not to get this water from sap,” she says. “There's so much severe drought around the world, I can't understand wasting water.”
While Finen is working with sap collected from maple trees, do not confuse her tree water, or still water, with syrup or anything sweet. This is pure, crisp water with no chemicals or preservatives added. It's not distilled water because it's not heated up.
The process is amazingly simple. She uses reverse osmosis to remove 75 percent of water from ordinary tree sap. Sap from any kind of tree can be used, but she and her husband James own a 56-acre maple farm so she already has access to that sap.
The still water made its debut last summer at the Great New York State Food and Wine Festival in Clayton, N.Y.
“This water is so pure, when you drink it, you can take a sweet wine and taste it, cleanse your palate with the water, then sip a dry wine with no residual taste of sweet wine,” she notes.
Her Tree H2O company is a subsidiary to Finen Maple Products LLC, which now includes sparkling water called Amazi (ah-mah-zi). If this sparking variety is not the very first water to be certified organic, it will be among a rare few that are. Adding to that distinction for Northern New York, Finen and her husband plan to manufacture Amazi on their property in Norwood.
Finen was able to take her business from an idea to a reality thanks to Clarkson University and the Shipley Center for Innovation. Her son goes to Clarkson, and a neighbor suggested she contact President Tony Collins, so she did. President Collins put her in touch with Matt Draper, executive director of the Shipley Center for Innovation.
“Clarkson is helping me to succeed and has not charged a dime. I'm amazed at the support I'm getting without them asking for anything in return. They really want to see local businesses be successful,” she says.
“Matt doesn't hand you anything. You work for it. They test you on how hard you're willing to work,” she tells other entrepreneurs. “Matt has been my sounding board on a weekly basis. I couldn't have done it without Clarkson's support. It's phenomenal and I had no idea the opportunities they offer prior to contacting them”.
Draper wants to spread the word about the help available through the Shipley Center.
“Startups are stars,” he says, “and entrepreneurs benefit all of us.”
Finen also has a crucial friend in Coyote Moon Vineyards of Clayton. She needed somebody who can bottle the still water in glass so she called there.
“Owner Phil Randazzo said, 'yes, I'll help you, I think it’s a great idea' and he has been helping for over a year,” she notes.
The biggest hurtle she faces now is regulations from the state Department of Agriculture and Markets, but she takes her own advice: Be persistent and don't ever give up.
As Tree H2O moves into full operation, look for its still water (Tree H2O) and sparkling water (Amazi) in high-end restaurants and grocery stores. Follow the company's growth through the website www.treeh2o.net.
For more information on the Shipley Center for Innovation at Clarkson University, go to www.clarkson.edu/shipley.
Photo caption: Margaret Finen of Tree H2O LLC, a Clarkson University Shipley Center for Innovation startup.