Student entrepreneur creates fresh watermelon business
In a state where summer never seems to end, one USF student entrepreneur thinks watermelon will quench Florida’s thirst.
Desmond Williams, a business administration graduate student and paraprofessional at the USF Center for Entrepreneurship, founded the company that produces Aquamelon Water.
“My girlfriend and I are big runners and I would put watermelons in the freezer to eat after our run,” Williams said. “One day there was a lot of juice left over and I decided to drink it.”
With the seeds of the idea planted, Williams said he began looking into the health studies on watermelons.
“The research was rather light, in my opinion,” he said. “What we did find was a study that really raised the flag for us and that was a study by Florida State.”
The 2010 study analyzed the effect of watermelon extract on high blood pressure. The freeze-dried extract was reconstituted with water and given to hypertensive adults over the course of three weeks.
The results showed a decrease in blood pressure due to an amino acid, citrulline, found in watermelon juice.
William said the study motivated him to move forward with Aquamelon Water.
After finding production consultants, Williams said he still had to find money for a production facility. To do so, he entered Aquamelon Water in startup business competitions.
“We won the USF Fintech Business Plan Competition, the first place prize there was $20,000,” he said. “We were state first runner-up at the Florida Venture Forum, we brought back the College of Business’ first trophy.”
Williams said he also looked to USF College of Business advisers for help. He was introduced to Wendy Plant, former program director of USF Connect, who helped him develop market strategies.
After collecting data from customer surveys and other sources, Williams said Aquamelon Water was liked most for its authentic watermelon flavor.
“Folks have told me they feel like they’re sitting on a hill with a wedge of watermelon and the kids spitting seeds out in the grass,” he said.
The product was also marketed as hydrating and replenishing to athletes after a workout.
While it is still not on shelves, Williams said a Clearwater production facility will stock 25 clients within the next week.
One establishment that has already agreed to sell Aquamelon Water is Little Greek, a Mediterranean restaurant near USF on Fowler Avenue.
“Why would I sell it? Because it’s like a fresher alternative to soda or anything like that,” Little Greek manager Austin Polk said.
In his recent research, Williams said he found Florida produces the most watermelons in the nation, and its citrus production continues to decrease due to disease. The production of oranges decreased 6 percent from 2013, according to the Department of Agriculture.
“That’s where we see ourselves: being a nationally distributed brand that represents the other fruit that Florida grows,” Williams said.
Though starting up a business with a brand new product is no easy task while earning a master’s degree, Williams said he didn’t do it alone.
“One of the most important things that I would tell anybody to do is get good mentors,” Williams said. “Get good mentors and get a good team.”