PotaVida

Safe water with certainty.

PotaVida is lowering the cost of providing safe water in disaster relief and development contexts, while automating recording of usage behavior to enable effective monitoring and evaluation.




Need


Point-of-use water treatment is too expensive and aid agencies can't easily tell what's working in the field.

Providing Safe Water: There are 700 million people without access to safe water, resulting in preventable disease and death. In Haiti, for example, $9B has been spent on disaster relief, yet over 700,000 people have been infected with Cholera, a waterborne disease, and over 9,000 people have died as a result. Aid agencies and governments need a lower cost method of disinfecting water reliably that does not depend on consistent supply chains.

Efficient Use of Resources: Aid agencies conduct in-person surveys to collect usage data on water purification systems. Surveying a household takes 20 to 30 minutes, and the resulting self-reported data is biased. More reliable and detailed usage data is needed to effectively monitor, evaluate, and improve aid programs in the field.





The Smart Solar Purifier


Simple to Use, Easy to Monitor


PotaVida's Smart Solar Purifier consists of a 10 liter hydration bag with an electronic dosage indicator that shows when the water is safe to drink and records usage data. Our technology uses the process of solar disinfection (SODIS) to reduce the cost of water treatment and eliminate the need for replacing filters and chemicals. Each batch of water is ready in as little as 2 hours in sunny conditions, or up to 2 days during the rainy season. Our product has a shelf life of 5 years and design lifetime of 1 year, making it an ideal disaster relief supply. To use, simply fill the bag with water, place it in the sun, push a button, and wait for the indicator's green LED to show that the water is safe.
For ordering information and sales inquiries, please email sales@potavida.com.


The disinfection monitor electronically records its own usage, including attempted/incorrect usage as well as completed cycles, thus capturing the total water disinfected by each unit. This data can be wirelessly downloaded to a smartphone with a simple attachment, and tagged with GPS information before being sent to a centralized database. Aid agencies can see usage in real-time down to the level of individual users and their locations.



Meet the Team


PotaVida brings together experts with a passion for sustainable and scalable global health solutions.



Charlie

Charlie Matlack, CEO

Charlie is the technical architect of PotaVida’s Smart Solar Purifier. He led the effort that garnered a $40,000 prize in a design competition for our original concept and conducted our recent field trial in Uganda. He has a BS in engineering from Harvey Mudd College and a Ph.D. in electrical engineering from the University of Washington. His dissertation work was on novel interfaces for enabling individuals to control prosthetics and computers using individual neurons in the brain. He is an entrepreneur who understands how to leverage for-profit business and technology development models to provide market-based solutions to the developing world.

Tyler

Tyler Davis, CFO

Tyler has a background in public policy and economics, and 3 years of field work experience in developing countries. Tyler was the PI for Technology and Social Change at the University of Washington for a 6-country study of benefits and costs of access to information and communication technology. Tyler builds the business models and leads PotaVida’s grant writing efforts. A Ph.D. candidate at the Evans School of Public Policy, Tyler's dissertation work is third party certification of environmental goods. His research experience also includes economic modeling of subsistence economies in Indonesia and development of principles and standards for benefit cost analysis for social programs.

Jackie

Jackie Linnes, VP

Jackie oversees biological compliance and has conducted field trials in Nicaragua and Zambia. She is an expert in evaluating and implementing health solutions in low-resource settings. She is an assistant professor of biomedical engineering at Purdue University, and holds a PhD in bioengineering and a certificate in Global Health from the University of Washington. She is an expert in pathogen detection disinfection and engineering solutions that improve global health. Jackie has extensive global health implementation experience, including leading an assessment of user response and usage of improved cooking stoves for Engineers Without Borders in rural Bolivia. Jackie has taught at MIT, Harvard, and Boston University.

Randy

Randy Strash, VP of Sales

Randy Strash is a 34-year veteran of World Vision, credited with launching a number of programs and campaigns that yielded over $1B cash and $10B in-kind donations during his tenure. He has extensive field experience in several countries in Africa, including opening World Vision's office in Rwanda, and is well connected in the water, sanitation, and hygiene sector domestically and internationally.

Ron

Ron Paulsen, Adviser

As a veteran of small start-up ventures and large multinational companies, Ron brings a diverse set of business experiences and technical knowledge. His specialties include product development planning, ramping products to volume production, and engineering management of hardware and software development. Previously the VP of engineering at Impinj and Snupi, Ron now operates a consulting firm. He has been advising PotaVida since 2013, helping us select contractors for engineering design, rapid prototyping, and user interface design.

Sarah

Sarah Daniels, Adviser

Sarah helped lead five venture-backed companies through rapid growth periods, changes of strategies, fundraising, and acquisitions. Sarah has been a CMO at a publically traded company, Market Leader, acquired by Trulia in 2013. She is a passionate leader with a deep commitment to marketing and sales strategies. Sarah advises PotaVida on marketing and sales strategy.

Bill

Bill Hughlett, Adviser

Bill Hughlett is the CFO of Voyager Capital. He brings over 30 years of industry and public accounting experience to the team, most of which has been focused on the technology sector. Prior to joining Voyager in 2000, Bill was a Senior Manager in Arthur Andersen’s High Technology practice, serving companies such as aQuantive, Blue Nile, BSQUARE Corporation, and Loudeye Technologies. At Arthur Andersen, Bill specialized in planning and execution of corporate transactions and equity compensation strategies. Prior to rejoining Arthur Andersen in 1998, Bill had responsibility for strategic planning, corporate development, and the worldwide tax function of Spacelabs Medical, a public medical device company.



How it Works


Solar disinfection is a proven process, recommended by the WHO


The Smart Solar Purifier treats drinking water using solar disinfection, often abbreviated SODIS. SODIS is a process that uses the UV in sunlight to inactivate pathogens in water, including bacteria, viruses, and protozoa. The process takes a few hours, depending on weather, water clarity, and the UV transparency of the container. In addition, temperatures above 45°C increase the speed at which pathogens are inactivated. SODIS is a highly effective process that is recommended by the World Health Organization. Until now, it has been challenging in practice because of the impossibility for the user to know how much sun the water has received, just like it's impossible to tell whether or not you'll get sunburned on a cloudy day. PotaVida's Smart Solar Purifier takes out the guesswork, and even the need to be trained on SODIS; just wait for the green light and drink with confidence, as we've taken care of the details!

The table (source: EAWAG) provides a list of pathogens that SODIS has been verified to inactivate. It is true that cryptosporidium requires more exposure than other pathogens, and that amoebas require heat for inactivation. However, the vast majority of common pathogens, usually caused by fecal contamination of drinking water sources, are readily dealt with.


Contact Information


Purchase Inquiries

Please email sales@potavida.com to learn more about ordering Smart Solar Purifiers.


Latest Blog Post


The Value of Data in the Field


“The purifiers aren’t working!” was the first thing the users in the Ugandan refugee settlement of Kyangwali told us when we got out of our truck.  My heart sank as my mind raced through possibilities. In partnership with World Vision in October 2014, we had distributed a handful of our Smart Solar Purifiers a week earlier, piloting a small batch before handing out dozens more for extended testing. I had taught the recipients to use the purifiers entirely through a translator, using a relatively ad-hoc script. None of the users spoke English, so I was relying on the combination of indirect verbal instructions and pictograms in our printed directions.

Charlie teaching a small group in Kyangwali Refugee Settlement how to use Smart Solar Purifiers.
Charlie teaching a small group in Kyangwali Refugee Settlement how to use Smart Solar Purifiers.

What could have happened? The users had seen the red light indicating in-progress, but never the green light indicating completion of the disinfection process. At a loss to even come up with follow-up questions to assess this problem, I instinctively fell back on our usage-tracking technology, for which this was the first live deployment. When I asked to see one of the purifiers and downloaded its usage data, I was at first confused to see that it had apparently been turned off (aborting a disinfection cycle) many times in just one week. The trend continued with a couple more purifiers, leaving me wondering if it was a glitch. Confused, I put faith in the data and asked, through my translator: “Did you turn it off? If so, why?”

“Yes,” everyone I asked said: “we turned it off when we put it away, and we put it away whenever the sun went down or it started raining.” In this forehead-slapping moment I realized what had happened: whenever I demonstrated the usage of a purifier, at the end I would turn it off and put it away. After this breakthrough, the fix was of course easy. I simply added two sentences to the instructions: “You must leave it on until you see the green light. If you turn it off, it starts over from the beginning.” The resultant “Ah-ha” responses needed no translation. A day later, I saw the first green blinking light – the user was so excited to be participating and to have used it correctly that he waited for me to stop by his house to show me.

Over the next few days, I went back to as many people as I could who’d received sample purifiers, to give them the two-sentence refinement to the usage instructions. I also handed out more samples, using the new instructions. The good news is that people continued to use the sample Smart Purifiers, and two weeks later the data – collected by a volunteer, after I’d left Uganda – showed that more than 60% of the samples were being correctly used to purify water. (Note: field studies show only 5-10% correct usage of other water purification solutions, so 60% is an amazingly good number!) Plus, 90% of the samples had seen attempted usage – some users hadn’t received the updated instructions but were still trying to purify water.

How long would it have taken me to diagnose the usage instruction miscommunication without electronic usage tracking? Just one of several initial users reported seeing the green light, but the usage data told me they had not: intentionally or not, they’d misreported their own usage. How would I have known, in the end, whether I’d successfully gotten people to use the purifiers, or just taught them what to say to elicit another smile from this strange and entertaining foreigner? Although I got on a plane thinking my field test had narrowly avoided complete failure, I realized, once I had the data, that we’d succeeded with a level of confidence that isn’t even possible for any other household water treatment solution.

Today, I clearly recognize the power of collecting accurate usage data in the field, and my co-founder and I constantly think about ways to empower our partners with better data. My initial dismay in Kyangwali has turned into a touchstone when discussing the power of accurate usage data: it’s indispensable for solving the challenges you didn’t even know existed.


More blog posts here