November 30, 2022

Richmond company makes a bike bottle that uses no plastic

Bivo Water bottles are made of stainless steel and have a nozzle with a high…

Bivo Water bottles are made of stainless steel and have a nozzle with a high flow rater. Seen in Richmond on Monday, November 7, 2022. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

When Carina Hamel was ready to place her daughter in day care, she was trying to teach her to drink out of bottles. 

Hamel tried all kinds, but she did not like that the bottles she found were all made out of plastic. If heated in a dishwasher, the plastic can leach, she said. It can also leave a bad taste. And when the bottle wears out, there’s only about a 5% chance of the plastic being recycled, according to a recent Greenpeace report. 

One day, while living in Portland, Oregon, Hamel and her husband, Robby Ringer, were out skiing and talking about what bottles they could use to feed their daughter. They realized that they, too, were drinking out of plastic bottles.

Hamel is a former University of Vermont cross-country skier who was a teammate of Lt. Gov. Molly Gray. Hamel and Ringer are also both passionate cyclists.

They went back to their home that day and started researching bottles for outdoor sports. With the exception of one made in Italy that was mostly sold in Europe, they could not find a biking bottle on the market that was not made out of plastic.

(A biking water bottle differs from another sports bottle in that it fits into a holder on the bike frame and can be handled with one hand so that the biker can drink and keep biking 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 provided child care for their daughter. They launched Bivo in 2020 out of her parents’ winery.

A year and a half ago, Hamel and Ringer moved to Vermont. They wanted to locate the company in a town where they could attract talent that understood cycling. They chose Richmond, the home of Rooted Vermont, the annual gravel bike race, and Cochran’s Ski Area, which offers summer mountain biking trails. 

“We picked Richmond because it is such a huge cycling hub,” Hamel said. When she was on the UVM cross-country ski team, she would head to Richmond to train on its roads and trails in the summer and fall.

At a June pitch event at Hula in Burlington sponsored by LaunchVT, Hamel recounted how she and Ringer decided on 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 above a cyclist’s mouth, delivers a strong stream of water.

Since she and Ringer began their bike bottle research, several other metal bottles have been introduced on the market. But Hamel said that gravity-flow technology is the biggest difference between Bivo and the other bottles.

“Bivo bottles open and close like a normal sport nozzle and pour really quickly and with no air in the stream of water,” Hamel said. “The nozzle system we invented allows riders to drink on the fly and get enough water.”

Bivo makes 21- and 25-ounce bottles, the former selling for $39. At customers’ request, Hamel said, Bivo now offers a dirt cap and an insulated bottle.

Robby Ringer fills Carina Hamel’s Bivo water bottle in Richmond on Monday, November 7, 2022. The stainless steel bottles made by their company have a nozzle with a high flow rate. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

They sell about half their bottles from their website, with the rest sold at stores that include Outdoor Gear Exchange on Burlington’s Church Street; a few bike shops in or near Richmond; and more than 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 Bivo will create 13 full-time jobs in Vermont by 2028. The bottles are manufactured in China.

Hamel told the LaunchVT audience that she expects Bivo sales to reach $617,000 this year and predicted a positive cash flow by early 2024. She said she was raising capital from friends and family.

Bivo’s target market is avid cyclists, which Hamel defines as people who ride their bikes at least twice a week. She estimates the annual bottle market for those cyclists to be $714 million. 

Hamel and her husband plan to grow the company by eventually offering bottles for running, hiking, yoga, golf and soccer.

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