At TiE University New Jersey Pitch Competition, Rutgers Clean Water Startup Takes Top Honors
One participant told the judges at the annual TiE New Jersey University Startup Pitch Competition that he planned to end the reign of lithium batteries.
Another startup promised to replace the toothbrush. Still another pledged to improve the lives of infants by dispensing nutrients from a pacifier-like device.
But what most impressed the judges was a device that uses sunlight to clean water, said one of them, Mukesh Patel, a Rutgers professor and cochair of TiE New Jersey University’s Entrepreneurship Innovation & Commercialization Committee.
“Our product enables families to clean their own water with sunlight, making previously dangerous water safer for drinking, bathing and washing clothes,” said Anurag Modak, cofounder of the startup, Sulis.
Sulis took top honors, collecting $1,500 plus mentoring sessions and an internship. Plus, the startup is guaranteed a chance to pitch its impressive technology at the TiE Global University Startup Pitch Competition, on May 15.
All told, 18 startup teams from Princeton, Montclair, Stevens Institute of Technology, NJIT and Rutgers competed on April 10, with the finalists competing again on April 17.
“This was a highly competitive initiative for university students and recent alumni to compete in the Jersey challenge, which is a feeder to the top global startup pitch competition,” Patel said.
“We had a distinguished panel of judges from a variety of different backgrounds, experienced, building companies, startups, advisory and investors and technologists. And I think, collectively, that they saw several things,” he added. “They saw a diverse, multidisciplinary team and they saw traction and progress and long-term commitment to their startup idea. They saw that this team has obtained and filed for their patents on an innovative, novel and valuable intellectual property and that they’ve developed, and they saw that the impact of their innovation.”
Modak’s team also included Yuki Osumi, CTO, and Sarah Pomeranz, COO. They are representing Rutgers University.
“What makes us our device so unique is its ability to sanitize water without relying on electricity, producing wastewater or requiring frequent maintenance,” Osumi said.
“Sulis works in conjunction with existing water-storage systems. It degrades organic compounds and helps decrease the incidence of waterborne disease. Overall, it produces water for more than just drinking,” Modak said.
They explained that it takes about six hours for the startup’s proprietary metal catalyst harnesses to sanitize 10 liters of water to use for that evening or to store for the next day. The design is relatively compact, taking up about as much space as two laptop computers.
“Our device is very simple to use. Simply fill it up, close the lid, and over the course of the day, the water is sanitized,” Modak said.
The team discussed the future of the water purification market. “In 2019, the water purification market had been valued at $1.5 billion, and it is projected to grow at an annual rate of 20 percent in the coming years,” Osumi said.
The startup tested the technology in 2018, in India, where there is a strong demand for products that can target waterborne diseases. Most of the older technology hasn’t reached there, they said.
“We are honored to advance to the next stage and to represent Sulis and TiE New Jersey on a global scale,” noted Osumi.
“Our biggest focus over the next few weeks is to continue making progress towards attaining our business objectives. We are engaged in productive discussions with several prospective partners, and we are optimistic that our efforts will soon bear fruit,” said Modak, who came up with the idea while visiting relatives in India and noticing how many communities relied on untreated water sources, such as ponds and tube wells.
Finishing in second was Nutrivide, also representing Rutgers University. Cofounder and CTO Joseph Bajor explained the workings of the Nutrifier, a pacifier designed to store and dispense unit-dosed micronutrients and medication to promote healthy infant growth. The startup won $1,000, along with mentoring and internship opportunities.
The product’s design enables the Nutrifier to administer vitamins and minerals in a noninvasive manner; it’s especially helpful in reducing dosing errors for babies.
“Every year, liquid medication dosing mistakes injure over 140,000 children in the US alone,” Bajor said. “About 7,000 of them die due to dosing errors.”
Nutrivide also scored in Minneapolis last week, when the judges at the University of St. Thomas Schulze Entrepreneurship Challenge selected Nutrivide as the winner, giving the startup over $63,000 in funding.
“This is a watershed moment for us.” Bajor said regarding the recent support. “These past few weeks have given us the resources we need to create a truly market-ready device. I’m glad to see that Nutrivide’s mission resonates with so many across the nation.”
The team also includes Akshay Kamath, Nutrivide’s cofounder and CEO, as well as Yash Dave, Alyssa Krisinski, Claire Whang, Harrison Zhang, Juliet Petillo and Casey Speer.
“Thanks to the organizers of TiE NJ and e-Fest for helping us reach a pivotal funding milestone,” said Kamath. “We are incredibly grateful for their support, along with that of our mentors, in embracing our vision for a healthier future for our youngest.”
The Nutrivide team intends to use their recent funding to finish their final stages of prototyping, before moving on toward a soft launch with an FDA-cleared device for use in a quality-improvement initiative intended for late 2021.
Meanwhile, the TiE New Jersey third place went to ExoCell Power, representing Stevens Institute of Technology. The startup won $500 and mentoring and internship opportunities. “We are going to replace the lithium battery with a new patented hydrogen fuel cell device,” said Matt Mayer, the startup’s cofounder and CTO.
“It is termed the ‘Thin, Flexible Fuel Cell.’ It provides users with a longer-lasting power source. The new technology is first being integrated into commercial drones as our beachhead market,” he said.
The state-of-the-art drones currently use a lithium-polymer battery as their power source, which has a lifetime of approximately 30 minutes. So, during an inspection flight, which requires four hours, a drone has to make eight round trips, charging the battery each time, which costs time and money.
“Batteries are not going to cut it. But a new hydrogen fuel cell will. We spent over six years developing our Thin Flexible Fuel Cell, to establish a manufacturing process that only uses commercial equipment (non-cleanroom) and commercial materials, while still providing superior power density,” Mayer said.
An award of $250 went to the startup with the best live pitch, Junction GMS, from Princeton University.
Cofounder and CEO Cindy Han explained, “We are creating the most flexible grading platform. Junction allows educators to add different types of assignments into the same course, grade each with different tools, and even customize their workflow with additional plug-ins. Think Google Drive, but for grading.”
And another award of $250 went to best startup idea, Gum & Gums, which hopes to create a new device that will revolutionize teeth and gum care. Founder Hassan Kashif, a 22-year-old senior at Montclair State University, now has two wins, following the 2020 Startup Montclair competition, from which took home $25,000 in cash and $31,000 in industry support.
Naming it “Dr. Floss,” Kashif said that his device optimizes users’ time and money, and will “revolutionize gum care by flossing your teeth in a matter of seconds without cross-contamination of bacteria, unlike the rest of its traditional competition in the market.”
Kashif’s good fortune in the oral hygiene market has caught him off guard, he said, noting, “This is all new to me. I mean, I’m not even a business major.”