Westmont Magazine Tickling Children with Healthy Water
A Spanish major at Westmont, Heather McDowell ’00 developed a taste for sparkling water when she studied in Spain for a semester. She still drinks it and offered some to her son when he was 2, warning it would tickle. His request for more “tickle water” inspired her to start Tickle Water, a company that produces sparkling water for children (drinkticklewater. com).
“I saw it as a great opportunity to get kids excited about water,” she says. “Making it fun for kids might actually lead them pick it up and drink it instead of asking for juice, which is full of sugar. I want to encourage my son—and all children—to develop a healthy lifestyle.”
Heather lives in Manhattan with her husband, Adam Levin, and their son, Jayger, now 6. With no entrepreneurial experience and little knowledge of the beverage business, she started by doing extensive research into sparkling water, a competitive market. Initially, she sold just in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, slowly expanding distribution to Florida and some areas in the Midwest, mostly through Lolli and Pops candy stores and other independent retailers. Walmart stocks it in Florida, and Meijer offers it in the Chicago area, and she hopes to build on these connections. “My long-term goal is to get it into elementary, middle and high schools,” she says. She also aspires to a small international presence in Canada and Japan.
Lightly carbonated with a softer bubble, Tickle Water comes in five flavors (watermelon, orange mango, green apple, grape and natural) and has no sugar, sweeteners, calories, preservatives or sodium. The clear, plastic eight-ounce can looks like a soda, but the pure water show through. A background in marketing has helped her fight for market share. She donates Tickle Water to many events and forms partnerships with a range of businesses, including Sak’s, Nike, Lululemon and Macy’s. The company employs six people with brand ambassadors in the field.
Heather grew up in Denver in an athletic family focused on fitness. A scholarship recipient and cross country athlete, she says Coach Russell Smelley made a life-changing and transformative impact on her. In addition to her time in Spain, she studied for a semester in Santiago, Chile, and with Westmont in San Francisco, which gave her a love for cities. “Studying abroad really helped me became fluent in Spanish,” she says. “I put my son in Spanish-immersion preschool.” After graduating, she lived for a year and a half in Madrid, eventually settling in New York City. She worked at a marketing company as a brand ambassador in charge of their events before a nine-year stint at an auction house specializing in fine watches, working in client services and organizing auctions in Geneva, Hong Kong and New York.
Her husband started CyberScout, a cyber security company that helps businesses protect against identity theft. Previously he created and sold credit.com. “He’s the entrepreneur,” Heather says. ‘It’s way harder than I envisioned, but I enjoy it. I’m a Type-A personality and need to be busy.” They share space in a Time Square office, and he serves as a good sounding board for her, reviewing the company’s numbers and even investing in it.
Jayger, the inspiration for her company, has transformed her life in many ways. She spends most evenings at home and walks him to school in the morning. As she builds her business, she consciously cements her relationships with her family.