DNA of an Innovator: Creativity, Vision and Practicality

DNA of an Innovator: Creativity, Vision and Practicality


What does it take to be an innovator? Creativity, vision, and practicality, according to Parker Cohn.

A 2015 USD alumnus with a dual (BS/BA) degree in Mechanical Engineering, Cohn is an innovator by nature. He cleaned up at the 2015 Social Innovation Challenge with his team’s H2g0 design for a mobile water purification system, earning the top amount of $18,000. He was a contender in the 2014 and 2015 Venture Vetting (V2) Pitch competitions, also with H2g0, and he participated in the in-class competitions available to him as a USD student.

Cohn, as a result, left campus in May with much more than just a degree. He graduated with the experiences, education, and personal connections needed to continue his innovative drive, much of which he credits to the opportunities for student involvement, like SIC, V2, and class competitions.

Starting Parawater

Following H2g0’s success on campus, Cohn developed and implemented a business plan for the project, ultimately leading to Parawater Systems, a start-up company he founded after graduating. Parawater works closely with its partner, Water is Life, a well-respected organization that operates in 37 countries worldwide to bring potable water and sustainable solutions to communities in need. Alongside his three-person team at Parawater, Cohn is now redeveloping and refining the desalinization and sterilization water system, and plans to pilot it in Haiti in 2016. Once implemented, residents in developing communities will have efficient and easy access to clean drinking water through the portable, off-grid, and human-powered purification tool. In the long term, Cohn plans to make the system available for other locations worldwide that are in need of a sustainable solution to their basic needs challenges.

Cohn embodies the USD changemaking spirit and innovative drive. He designed a functional product that operates without technology and, instead, relies on human power. Two minutes operating the Parawater machine, which resembles a stair-stepper, produces one liter of desalinated water. With scarce electricity in developing parts of Haiti, Cohn’s model had to adapt to the communities’ realities. The model had to be creative, it had to be innovative, and it had to be functional. And Cohn, Parawater’s founder and leader, exemplifies innovation. He has the vision for his start-up’s sustainable success — the vision he explored, refined, and solidified through USD innovation challenges, and the sustainable design and business model to have long-term impact.

Driven to Succeed

Cohn’s road to success has been demanding: juggling school, long hours in the lab refining the product, competing in challenges, and now working full-time as a strategy analyst at SweetLabs while managing and directing Parawater on the side. Cohn, though, has made it work through his driven and committed approach.

“The most important thing about all of the [USD innovation] competitions,” he advises students, “is to not get discouraged if you don’t make it the first time.”

It’s sure to be good advice he will carry with him to Haiti next year as he pilots Parawater in the field.

— Kim Heinle ’11 (MA)


Photos by Rodney Nakamoto

Contact Information

Changemaker Hub
5998 Alcalá Park
San Diego, CA 92110

Phone: (619) 260-4600