The eco-conscious crowd knows that reusable water bottles are good for the environment, but they’re also a hassle to clean. This UNC student startup is working to solve that problem.
Co-Founder Harshul Makwana got the idea for QUVI during his freshman year in 2019, when he realized his unwashed water bottle could have been causing his repeated illnesses.
“I don’t wash my water bottle for weeks, and also my water bottle is actually disgusting, so maybe there’s a connection between those two and getting sick,” Makwana said.
He called on Kush Jain (his roommate, cousin and fellow UNC student) to develop a product that would easily clean reusable water bottles. They came up with a water bottle sanitization kiosk, a one-by-one-by-two foot box that senses the object inside and extends one UVC (Ultraviolet C) light to clean the interior and four other lights that clean the outside.
The convenience factor is especially important for a market of college students, who Makwana says rarely wash their bottles.
QUVI surveyed over 250 UNC students this summer and found that almost 97% of students report owning and using a reusable water bottle, but 65% of students responded that they do not clean their reusable bottles often or regularly.
Jain says other products on the market use built-in UV light to clean bottles, but they are expensive and have other drawbacks.
“We found that college students don’t want to spend $80, $90, $100 on a water bottle,” Jain said, “especially when they already have one they really like. Secondly, those water bottles only clean the interior, when the most dirty part of the water bottle is actually the outside and the ring, both of which are missed by those product. That’s why instead of thinking of a water bottle that can clean itself, we imagined a kiosk that can be a lot more versatile.”
QUVI envisions a B2B business model, hoping to sell sanitization kiosks in bulk to large institutions like colleges and airports.
Following a journey through the UNC startup ecosystem and tapping UNC classmate and middle school friend Alekhya Majety to help with marketing, QUVI is now finalizing a prototype set to come out by the end of the summer.
Journey through the UNC ecosystem
The group participated in the 2019 Carolina Challenge Pitch Party, where Jain says they went in with a hopeful attitude but fielded valid questions and concerns.
They kept iterating the idea and joined UNC Makeathon, a two-week competition that accelerates ideas into prototypes. The QUVI team used a 3D printer in a UNC Makerspace to produce a prototype that ultimately won second place and a $500 prize.
Makwana says the next logical step from that point was to take the feedback and keep growing, which they did with mentors and connections through UNC’s Entrepreneurship Center.
From there they joined LAUNCH Chapel Hill’s summer cohort. Majety says they’ve taken a COVID pivot and focused a lot this summer on applications for QUVI beyond just water bottles.
“Even though it’s specialized to water bottles that’s meant to clean the interior and the exterior really well,” Majety said, “it still can sanitize other things, like your phone and headphones. In that way, not only are we sanitizing water bottles, we’re also sanitizing things that people are touching constantly, especially during COVID.”
Though all three are full-time students—they’ve just started their sophomore years—Majety says that means they have access to resources they might not have otherwise, and Makwana says it’s allowed them to move quickly because they’re all hungry to get to the next level.
“When I came to realization there was no product for the bottle-cleaning dilemma, it just seemed like an idea at the point,” Makwana said. “When I asked Kush about it, it was just kind of like, ‘Yeah, we could do it, but is it really going to work?’ I never thought we would be at this point this quickly. I knew that we could come up with something, but I think the growth we’ve had has been really tremendous.”