Rutgers Sulis team plans to continue water purification mission post Hult Prize Accelerator
Rutgers students who created the company Sulis finished 7th out of 43 teams at the Hult Prize Foundation Accelerator in London this summer — missing moving on to compete for $1 million by one spot.
But, that is not going to stop the team from using lessons it learned during the six-week period of debate and mentoring from continuing to grow and develop Sulis, which is a solar powered water purification system for communities without access to clean water.
Anurag Modak, a founding member and a School of Arts and Sciences junior, said future plans include finalizing research and development at Rutgers and market validation and customer discovery overseas, all leading up to a hopeful official product launch this spring.
“The Hult Prize experience was just incredible,” he said. “It was an opportunity to meet with experts from around the world, to meet with students from around the world, who were working on other initiatives to use the power of energy to impact 10 million lives, which was this year’s challenge.”
Modak said every year around September, Hult Prize announces its challenge for the year. After winning the campus challenge in December, the team moved on to regional competitions. Sulis won again in Boston, which led the team to the London-based Hult Prize Foundation Accelerator.
The final six teams pitched at the United Nations for a $1 million prize earlier this September.
For Sulis, the major takeaways were learning from mentors and a panel of judges who helped them reconstruct their business plans and also learn how to sell a product to a target market, Modak said.
Yuki Osumi, a founding Sulis team member and School of Arts and Sciences junior, said the mentors helped Sulis, and the other groups, boil their products down to the basics.
“There was a mentor that came in. He said, ‘Say your entire story in only six words’ … Our story was ‘we help people clean water,’” Osumi said.
Sulis also obtained three purchase orders during the six-week period, with how to sell being another focal point.
Osumi said that encouragement of simplicity and just going out and interacting with customers to get feedback, resonated with him.
Modak said going through the iterative process each week of deconstructing and reconstructing their business helped them identify their proposition value to customers and investors.
Sulis also worked with the Indian School of Management and Entrepreneurship and Ganpat University in India to test prototypes and get customer feedback, as well as feedback regarding the water-purification needs of the area. He said this collaboration also helped with developing their product.
Modak said one of the mentors really focused on the value of customer feedback and offered them advice.
The product works by harnessing energy from the sun to sanitize water in an environmentally friendly way, Modak said. There is a cylindrical container of water that contains a catalyst in the center. When hit by sunlight, the catalyst activates and reacts with the water to break down organic compounds and also to kill any pathogens that are present.
Osumi said the water gets poured into the device with the catalyst in the middle, and then exposed to the sun for a period of time, generally 7 hours, so the catalyst can clean the water.
The team looks to finalize various aspects of the product this semester, such as research and development and patent and legal issues, as it gears up for a launch. Modak said they are always looking for Rutgers students who want to help out.
He said that support from Rutgers and the Honors College, School of Arts and Sciences, Rutgers Business School, Rutgers Global, faculty from the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences and the School of Engineering made their work possible.
“In the span of six weeks, we completely changed our business model. We went further along in traction, we actually got to sell a few of our products as well, that we were developing,” Osumi said. “Plus, I think the best part about the accelerator were the numerous judges that came in and mentors that were there.”
Editor's Note: This article was updated to reflect how the name "Sulis" is stylized, that the remaining teams already made their pitches and that Sulis obtained three purchase orders during the six-week period.