As a high school track star, Lamar Letts took his health for granted. His diet was high in sugar, he says, and late-night junk food binges were common. But while he knew he was eating poorly, he never truly considered the food he was putting into his body until his senior year, when he was diagnosed with myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle. The condition confined him to many months of bed rest and forced him to end his promising track career. And when he finally returned to the gym to resume light workouts, he had an epiphany.
“As I started to get back into fitness, I immediately realized that I didn’t need or want the extra sugar that was in the food I was eating,” recalls Letts, DMSB’17, now a fourth-year business major at Northeastern University. “I started to dilute traditional sports drinks with water, but it became very tedious.”
This, he says, motivated him to create his own sports drink, a healthier option for the serious athlete. With the help of a food scientist and a U.S. manufacturer, he eventually designed Hylux, what he calls the “healthiest and most practical sports drink on the market.”
Made with all-natural ingredients, Hylux Sport contains less sugar than Gatorade, more electrolytes than VitaminWater, and more potassium than a banana. Along with Hylux water, its berry mix, strawberry kiwi, and lemon lime flavors are currently being sold in Boston gyms and health clubs, including UFC Gym, Republic Fitness, and Velo-City. And it’s also for sale at Wollaston’s, Northeastern’s campus grocer.
There is a philanthropic component to the business model: Three percent of all proceeds from Hylux water go toward providing clean water in developing countries through Water.org, a nonprofit co-founded by actor Matt Damon. “Clean water is a complicated issue, one I care about a lot,” says Letts, explaining his philanthropic decision to donate a portion of his sales to charity. “And I felt that Water.org is the most qualified nonprofit in the space.”
Letts recently launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise $10,000 to redesign Hylux’s bottles and labels, which retailers say look too similar to those of Gatorade and VitaminWater. And his long-term goal is to sell the sports drink to big box stores like Walmart, to see star athletes quaffing it after scoring touchdowns and hitting home runs. As he puts it in a promotional video, “My dream is to bring Hylux to an even bigger audience. I need upfront capital for a large production run that will help us meet demand and introduce Hylux to more people.”
Perhaps none of this would be possible if not for IDEA, Northeastern’s student-run venture accelerator. Over the past several months, IDEA has awarded Letts $10,000 in gap funding; hooked him up with a public relations agency; and connected him with an intellectual property lawyer, who helped him settle a legal dispute over the startup’s name.
“IDEA has enabled me to get insight from people in the field while learning a lot about running a business,” says Letts. “I love the competition in the sports drink field and it’s definitely where I want to stay.”