Putting a business idea to the test
The Rutgers students whose idea for a solar-powered water purification system helped them win the Hult Prize regional competition are raising money to pilot the business in India this summer.
The team is made up of Anurag Modak and Yuki Osumi, who attend the School of Arts and Sciences, Rutgers Business School student Sarah Pomeranz and Ari Mendelow, a new graduate of the School of Engineering.
As a concept, Sulis got its start in a social innovation class at Rutgers-New Brunswick Honor College, where Modak began collaborating with Osumi and Pomeranz. The idea was selected as a project for the Innovation Lab, an incubator within the Honors College, where the three students, joined by Mendelow, have continued to develop the technology at the heart of Sulis, which uses ultraviolet light to sanitize water – about 12 liters in seven hours.
Modak, who came up with the original idea, said he wanted to address the global issue of water scarcity through technology. The team hopes to market the technology to parts of the world plagued by inadequate water supplies or lacking adequate water purification. The technology can also be used in areas where water supplies are impacted by storms and flooding.
In the past year, the team has pitched the idea at some 20 competitions, including the Hult at Rutgers competition and the Hult Prize regionals in Boston. As part of its pursuit of the Hult Prize, the team is working to raise $20,000 so they can pilot the business in India next month. Learn more about Sulis and the team’s crowdfunding campaign.
Pomeranz said the pilot is an extremely important step in the team’s quest to win the $1 million Hult Prize. “It’s by far, the most crucial part so we can test the viability of the system and convince the panel of judges at Hult that we can succeed in launching it,” she said.
Pomeranz, Modak and Osumi gave up internships and Mendelow deferred a full-time job offer at at Cognizant so they could all remain focused on refining Sulis during the summer. Once they complete the pilot in India, they will attend an intense six-week-long accelerator program in London. The accelerator, which is hosted by the Hult Foundation, is a prelude to the final competition in September at the United Nations.
Fifty teams from around the world are scheduled to be in the accelerator. Unlike previous years, teams will be eliminated – in the style of a reality television show – as the accelerator unfolds. Ultimately, the top six teams will compete for the $1 million prize.
Mukesh Patel, director of the Innovation Lab at Honors College at Rutgers University, described the members of the Sulis team as “inspired and motivated.”
“With each milestone and achievement, they want to go further,” he said.
The theme of this year’s Hult Prize Challenge – Harnessing the Power of Energy – invites student teams from everywhere in the world to develop energy innovations that can be scaled to improve millions of lives.
Like the Hult Foundation, the Honor College at Rutgers encourages entrepreneurial students to come up with innovative business ideas that are capable of solving societal issues and growing into viable, sustainable business ventures.
Pomeranz said as the team carries out its pilot in India, it will also be working with at least two universities, Ganpat University in Gujarat and the Indian School of Management and Entrepreneurship in Mumbai, to help secure a partnership with the India government.
In addition to Sulis, a second Rutgers team will also head to the Hult accelerator next month. The LivingWaters team, which is proposing a system capable of capturing and purifying rainwater, won the Hult regional competition in Shanghai earlier this year.
LivingWaters is made up of Shrey Ghate, Jane Peterken and Joshua Kao. The team has not yet launched a crowdfunding campaign.
Both teams are following in the footsteps of Roshni Rides, a team of Rutgers Business School students, who won the chance to represent Rutgers in the regional Hult competition, piloted their business idea in Pakistan last summer and went on to win the Hult Prize last September. They were the first team from Rutgers to capture the top prize – sometimes referred to as the Nobel Prize for students.
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