Published: April 29th, 2014
GAINESVILLE, Fla. —Three engineering students whose company developed a portable water purification device that uses ultraviolet light to sterilize water were awarded $25,000 for winning the UF Big Idea Business Plan Competition on Friday.
Daniel Blood, Rob Damitz and Erica Gonzaga, co-founders of aqUV, outlasted a field of 140 entrants to claim the grand prize. The event, open to all University of Florida students, was sponsored by the Warrington College of Business Administration’s Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation. Sixteen semifinalists competed for prizes.
The winning innovation is a water bottle that contains a UV light bulb. When activated, the bulb sanitizes the bottle’s contents in approximately two and one-half to three minutes. Although the product would be popular with hiking and camping enthusiasts, the team hopes its primary use will be to help people in developing nations and victims of natural disasters. According to water.org, approximately 780 million people globally lack access to clean drinking water.
The team’s members have experience and a keen interest in water purification. Damitz, 26, a third-year doctoral student in chemical engineering, previously worked for Mainstream Engineering in Rockledge, Fla. One of his main assignments was developing a meal preparation system, which included a water-treatment system, for the U.S. military. Gonzaga, 27, who will graduate this spring with a master’s in environmental engineering sciences, had done extensive research on the subject for her undergraduate and graduate degrees. Blood, 26, a doctoral student in mechanical aerospace engineering, has been on numerous medical mission trips to Haiti where he’s witnessed firsthand the lack of access to clean water.
The team plans to use the winnings to further develop its prototype, produce an initial set of units, and then transport them to Haiti to test.
Myolyn, created by mechanical engineering students Alan J. Hamlet and Matthew Bellman, finished in second place and received $10,000. The company is developing a recumbent tricycle for people with neurological disorders. Using Functional Electrical Stimulation, the device can stimulate weak or paralyzed muscles causing them to contract and create a smooth pedaling motion so the user can pedal a bicycle with their own muscles.
Rewardify finished in third place and was awarded $5,000. The company, developed by business student Alexander Cohen and engineering student Xiang Mao, brings a new approach to on-site technical support. Rewardify charges by the hour, and a customer can “rent a geek,” who is cross-trained to assist and repair a variety of jobs including printers, computers televisions and routers. The company will charge a flat rate per hour, and “geeks” will answer as many questions and fix as many issues as they can within the time limit purchased by the customer.