When Carina Hamel was ready to place her daughter in daycare, she tried to teach her to drink from bottles.
Hamel tried all kinds, but she didn’t like that the bottles she found were all plastic. If heated in a dishwasher, the plastic can leach out, she said. It can also leave a bad taste. And when the bottle wears out, there’s only about a 5% chance the plastic will be recycled, according to a recent Greenpeace report.
One day while living in Portland, Oregon, Hamel and her husband, Robby Ringer, were skiing and talking about the bottles they could use to feed their daughter. They realized that they too were drinking from plastic bottles.
Hamel is a former University of Vermont cross-country skier who was a teammate of Lieutenant Governor Molly Gray. Hamel and Ringer are also avid cyclists.
They went home that day and started looking for bottles for outdoor sports. With the exception of one made in Italy which was mainly sold in Europe, they couldn’t find a bike bottle on the market that wasn’t plastic.
(A bicycle water bottle differs from another sports bottle in that it fits into a bracket on the bike frame and can be operated with one hand so the rider can drink and continue to cycling at the same time.)
In 2019 they started designing and developing their own plastic-free bike bottle.
When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, they moved from Oregon to western Massachusetts to live with Hamel’s parents, who were caring for their daughter. They launched Bivouac in 2020 from his parents’ cellar.
A year and a half ago, Hamel and Ringer moved to Vermont. They wanted to locate the company in a city where they could attract talent with knowledge of cycling. They chose Richmond, the home of Rooted Vermont, the annual gravel bike race, and the Cochran Ski Area, which offers mountain bike trails in the summer.
“We chose Richmond because it’s a huge hub for cycling,” Hamel said. When she was part of the UVM cross-country team, she traveled to Richmond to train on its roads and trails in the summer and fall.
During a June pitch at Hula in Burlington sponsored by LaunchVTHamel shared how she and Ringer chose the product.
“We found a hole in the market,” she told the audience.
The bottles are made of metal and cannot be squeezed. Ringer demonstrated Bivo’s gravity flow system, which, if held over a rider’s mouth, delivers a strong stream of water.
Since she and Ringer began their research on bicycle bottles, several other metal bottles have been introduced to the market. But Hamel said the gravity-flow technology is the biggest difference between Bivo and other bottles.
“Bivo bottles open and close like a normal sports nozzle and pour very quickly and without air into the water stream,” Hamel said. “The nozzle system we invented allows cyclists to drink on the fly and get enough water.”
Bivo makes 21- and 25-ounce bottles, with the former selling for $39. At the request of customers, said Hamel, Bivo now offers a dust cap and an insulated bottle.
They sell about half of their bottles on their website, with the rest sold at stores such as Outdoor Gear Exchange on Burlington’s Church Street; a few bike shops in or near Richmond; and over 40 retailers across the country and in Canada.
So far, Bivo has only two employees in Richmond besides Hamel and her husband. A third works in Portland, Oregon. Hamel estimates that Bivo will create 13 full-time jobs in Vermont by 2028. The bottles are made in China.
Hamel told the LaunchVT audience that she expects Bivo sales to reach $617,000 this year and predicts positive cash flow in early 2024. She said she is raising capital from friends and family.
Bivo’s target market is avid cyclists, which Hamel defines as people who cycle at least twice a week. It estimates the annual bottle market for these riders at $714 million.
Hamel and her husband plan to expand the business, eventually offering bottles for running, hiking, yoga, golf and soccer.
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