We help families sanitize their own water with sunlight.

Photo of Anurag Modak
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  • Environment

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Date You Started Your Project Started

January 2017

Project Stage: Select the description below that best applies to your approach.

  • Start-Up (first few activities have happened)

1. The Problem: What problem are you helping to solve?

Two billion people worldwide currently rely on water sources contaminated by chemicals and pathogens for their everyday needs, making access to clean water is a luxury that cannot be taken for granted. Despite vast improvement in water technology in recent decades, there are still more people dying every year from lack of access to safe water than from all forms of violence combined, including war.

2. Your Solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.

Our device is a solar-activated water sanitization device that decomposes organic contaminants and neutralizes pathogenic species in a container of water. Specifically, the sunlight activates our photocatalyst which generates radical oxidative species to degrade organic chemicals and bacterial or viral species present in the water.

3. Personal Journey: What’s the story behind why you decided to start this project?

The concept for the social innovation project and the device was inspired by my sojourns to India to visit family and friends. I often noticed how people living in rural communities relied on groundwater, pond water, and other water sources that were often contaminated or generally unsafe for drinking. When I entered university, I took a course in which I had an opportunity to research this issue more deeply and discovered the global scale of clean water scarcity. After the completion of the course, I decided to translate my academic project into a real social innovation venture, leading to the creation of Sulis.

4. Selfie Elevator Pitch: Include 1-minute video that answers the following “I am stepping up to make change because...”

I am stepping up to make change because I wish to have a positive impact on a global scale by helping to uplift my own community in India and others like it across the world. (Note: We tried uploading the video several times, but we kept getting an error message. We can send it via email if possible. Please let us know.)

5. Example: Please walk us through a specific example of what happens when a person or group gets involved with your project.

Last summer, we partnered with two universities in India to conduct pilot programs in India and test our technology on-site and within our target communities. In Mumbai, we worked with the Indian School of Management and Entrepreneurship to understand the specific needs of urban slum residents, the current sources of water that they use, and the types of improvements that they would like to see. Similarly, in rural Gujarat, we worked with Ganpat University to conduct field tests of our device and interacted with rural villagers to understand their specific context and needs. We used the information gathered to improve our technology and launched pilot sales programs. We were able to generate approximately 25 door-to-door sales in Mumbai and we received three purchase orders from NGOs in Gujarat.

6. The X Factor: What is different about your project compared to other programs or solutions already out there?

The Sulis technology improves upon existing technologies and methodologies by reducing cost and increasing sustainability. We recognize that clean water has multiple uses, not just for drinking. It is for this reason that we have designed our device to decrease sensitivity to turbidity and to retain functionality during extended periods of cloudy or stormy weather, such as during the monsoon season in South Asia. Unlike other water sanitation technologies, Sulis does not depend on replaceable parts and does not require any regular maintenance for over five years.

7. Impact: How has your project made a difference so far?

We pioneered cross-border collaborations with universities in India, crowdfunded $40,000 to support our venture, developed an affordable water sanitization device for low-income families in India, and generated three ₹100,000 purchase orders from NGOs along with preliminary door-to-door sales in the slums of Mumbai. In addition, we spoke with over 50 families as part of our market validation phase and built strategic partnerships with several NGOs and CSR divisions of major corporations.

8. What’s Next: What are your ideas for taking your project to the next level?

This past summer, we filed a patent for our technology and are working with our strategic partners in India towards large-scale commercialization to deliver our technology to communities in need.

9. Which of the following types of expertise would be most useful for you?

  • Project Plan & Strategy

10. Finances: If applicable, have you mobilized any of the following resources so far?

  • Friend support
  • Family support
  • Mentors/advisors
  • Donations over $10k

How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Email


Join the conversation:

Photo of Aiko Ma

It is amazing to see the steps and progress you have made to address the issue of water sanitation. This is a major problem affecting the world, especially in low socioeconomic areas. I am excited to see your product in action!

Photo of Grace Messer

Love the idea, the slogan is GENIUS! I don't think that I totally understand it though since to me it sounds like you're heating the water as if with a magnifying glass, then chemical reactions take place and then it's kills off the bacteria. Is that correct? Do you still have it going through a filter or something to get out all the dirt and debris? If so does that have to be replaced often? It sounds a lot like if you were to boil water to make it safe to drink. Does the water have to already be relatively clean or can it be mystery water? I guess what I'm asking is will this cut out the millions of hours that are spent walking a day (your video says that, is that all the women total or a typo because it is alarming) or will they still have to go to the cleaner water to put in the filter? I love the passion, the ingenuity, the creativity...I seriously ADORE the slogan. You guys are awesome!!

Photo of Anurag Modak

Hi Grace, thank you for your kind words! Our technology uses a sunlight-induced chemical photocatalysis process, so the water is not actually heated. Our system is tolerant to turbid water, albeit for large particulates and mud we recommend the use of tea strainers (which are cheaply available and commonly used in India) or folded cloth/saris (which is a commonly utilized tactic in India) to remove it. Since we use a catalyst, we do not have parts that require regular replacement, although wear and tear will eventually accumulate over a period of several years, leading to our device's estimated lifetime of 5-10 years. As for the statistic in our video, it refers to all women worldwide (it is certainly alarming!). Again, thank you for reaching out and for showing your support!

Photo of Erica

Access to safe, clean water is so vital. Unfortunately living in America, we sometimes forget, even though it happens here too. Good luck!

Photo of LetHerLearn Frisco

This idea is SO innovative!! Water sanitation is a problem that deserves a lot of attention and your solution to it is just amazing! I especially love how it is solar powered - it's so important to start using clean energy sources. Keep up the good work and keep us updated. Excited to see where this goes!!