This article was written for our sponsor, the Town of Chapel Hill.

You probably carry your water bottle around the house, to work, to the gym, in the car and wherever else your daily routine might take you. In short, your water bottle sees a lot — and all that exposure means it likely isn’t as clean as you think it is.

Based on data from 2016, water bottles can hold as many germs as a public toilet seat. Additionally, water bottles that aren’t properly washed can contaminate water beyond safe drinking levels.

Of course, most people regularly wash their reusable water bottles to prevent the level of germs from ever getting that extreme. But for those on-the-go or more forgetful about washing habits, germ contamination is a major concern.

With their startup venture QUVI, three students at the University of Chapel Hill — sophomores Kush Jain, Alekhya Majety and Harshul Makwana — are hoping to solve this germ problem and bring cleaner water bottles to their campus and beyond.

“The students came up with this idea to create a box that could be at water fountains in a school or the foyer of a hospital where you could take your water bottle, throw it in, then within a certain amount of seconds with a UV light on them, you can quickly clean them,” said Sarah Plasky-Sachdev, an entrepreneur in residence at Launch Chapel Hill and CEO of Aquavation water bottles.

Jain, Majety and Makwana each bring their own expertise to QUVI, with majors and minors between the three covering everything from business and entrepreneurship to computer science and history. Jain and Makwana, who are also cousins, came up with the initial idea in their dorm room. After the two were later partnered with Majety in the UNC Makeathon competition — a cross-campus competition where students take part in digital or physical product development — they realized their combination of skills brought an ideal mix to QUVI.

While the idea started off relatively abstract, the three participated in Launch Chapel Hill over the summer of their freshman year, which helped in solidifying their prototype. The final product is a kiosk that utilizes UV light to clean reusable water bottles in less than a minute.

“Our vision for installing the devices is to make it as easy as possible to use. We want to put it right next to water bottle filling stations. The idea there is the sanitation cycle is relatively quick, and then you just pull out your bottle and you’re on your way,” said Makwana. “We intend to have it next to those stations and that will allow us to attract students and companies in order to see what that interaction looks like on a daily basis.”

“We want to hold a pilot on UNC campus, and this will also give us an opportunity to collect data on how students and faculty interact with our product and what additions we can make to make sure that they feel like their personal belonging is being sanitized,” added Majety. “It’ll be a big step in being able to experiment and see how we can make sure users are satisfied with our device.”

QUVI has come a long way since its inception in Jaim and Makwana’s dorm room. In fact, the three students were even finalists in a challenge hosted by the Raleigh-Durham International Airport, earning an introduction to RDU management in the process.

For Jaim, Makwana and Majety, the creation and growth of QUVI wouldn’t have been possible without the help of the resources provided by UNC and Chapel Hill. Since their initial idea, the students have been involved with the Innovate Carolina Network, the 1789 student innovation community and co-working space and Launch Chapel Hill Cohort 19 — not to mention regular meetings with their Entrepreneur in Residence.

“When they came to us with this idea, it was an amazing idea but they didn’t quite have engineering skill sets that are sophisticated enough to do product development. The kids needed help since they could not build a prototype and we had things closed down that would ordinarily help, like the Maker Space. My father, who’s a retired engineer, actually built their prototype to their specs out of plywood in his garage in Kinston, and they drove down there, masked up, and picked up the prototype from my dad,” said Plasky. “We also had a relationship with a company in Charlotte that had an extra intern from UNCG, so the kids got to work with that intern for free to build their wire harness — whatever it is, whatever people need, we do whatever we can to find it.”

According to Jain, as part of the final QUVI product, the students hope to install a counter on the box that tracks how many bacteria have been killed or how many devices have been sanitized.

While the pilot product hasn’t been installed yet, once it is, the simple design ensures any necessary repairs can be done as seamlessly as possible.

Their product is currently open for preorders, and in the future, the students hope to see QUVI installed in campuses across North Carolina — and maybe even airports. They hope to see their product provide people with the assurance their possessions are clean and there’s one less thing for them to worry about, especially in the context of the past year.

“Even on a larger scale, our mission is to make sanitation more accessible, and that’s really because we’re socially driven. We’ve seen with the pandemic that people’s lives have been affected tremendously — what has happened in the last year is absolutely crazy,” said Makwana. “By providing our products, our mission is to make people’s lives a little bit easier and give them a sense of comfort that they can easily sanitize their bottles or products and get on with the rest of their day.”

This article was written for our sponsor, the Town of Chapel Hill.