Wednesday, April 4, 2012


At only 21 years old Mikkel Vestergaard Frandsen inherited the family business and then completely revolutionized it.  A profitable company which manufactured hotel uniforms quickly transformed under the leadership of its new CEO into a business that specializes in humanitarian products such as insecticide-laced mosquito nets.  However, the most revolutionary of these products is the LifeStraw.

The LifeStraw is a personal water filtration system intended to be used in developing countries, during natural disasters, or in any other situations where a fresh water supply is not available.  It has a relatively simple design.  It’s only ten inches long which makes it easy to keep with you at all times, but within the straw, several layers of filters are held which contain iodine beans and active carbon.  These purifiers are what create the drinkable water.  By sucking water through the layers of filters, users remove almost all disease-causing bacteria, viruses, and parasites that inhabit untreated water.

So far, the device has been distributed to over four million Kenyans along with numerous others in Africa, Latin America, and Asia.  At the cost of only $4, the LifeStraw has the ability to filter an entire year’s worth of water which translates to about 185 gallons.  Not only is the product affordable when compared to alternative filtration systems, but it is also efficient.

Vestergaard Frandsen never planned on being a humanitarian or even an inventor when he inherited his father’s company.  However, after learning that 884 million people in the world are forced to drink from unsanitary water, he set out to find a solution.  He had no knowledge or experience in creating water-filtration systems, and it was this lack of education that allowed him to think outside the box to revolutionize the way in which water can be filtered.  In an example of divergent thinking, Vestergaard Frandsen sat down and made a list of all the potential ways he imagined water could be filtered.  After compiling this list, he took it to the experts and asked them if his designs could become a reality.  The experts were enthusiastic about the design that would later become the LifeStraw.  Vestergaard Frandsen’s divergent thinking ultimately created a product that was unlike any other because it would filter water at the point-of-consumption instead of at the point-of-source.  Each individual would have their own mobile water filtration system instead of installing one at every workplace, home, school, or other public domain.  This divergent thinking exercise revealed Vestergaard Frandsen’s creativity.  Not only did he create something unique because it was unlike anything else on the market, but he also found a solution to the crucial problem of people dying from unsanitary water conditions.

Despite his lack of knowledge and experience on the subject of water filtration, the Danish inventor has prevented countless deaths with the device because of his divergent thinking exercise.  The current goal of Vestergaard Frandsen and his company is to get LifeStraws into the hands of half a billion people by the year 2015.


  1. This seems to be one of those "why didn't we think of that sooner" ideas that comes from great innovation, although it sounds like his creative talent mostly came from having the money to make his dream a reality.

    One concern that I have with this kind of device is that it would only work for drinking water, which means that water for cleaning for bathing may remain unsanitized, and could continue to be if this idea takes off. Additionally, I can see a problem for the very young, the sick and the elderly, as they may not be able to suck water from a straw and may have a harder time finding clean water without traditional filters.

    The idea does seem to have already helped a number of people in countries that badly need it. Something that I would like to hear more about is how he is selling or distributing this in these countries. I'm a big advocate of social-entrepreneurship of the kind that profits off this idea, but there can also be problems with ethical pricing models when selling to very poor countries.

  2. This is absolutely amazing. It's a truly revolutionary item, something that has the power to solve problems for millions of people worldwide. My biggest concern is how to keep the filter clean; inevitably, the dirt, dust, etc. from the filter will be stuck inside. At that point, does the filter need to be replaced? Even though the filter IS less expensive and very efficient, if they must replaced every [insert time frame here], the costs would definitely add up. I would also like to know how LifeStraws are being distributed.


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