PotaVida was selected by the Washington Global Health Alliance (WGHA) for a $150,000 grant to test at scale their innovative Smart Solar Purifier, a product that provides clean water in disaster relief contexts while automatically tracking usage. PotaVida is partnering with World Concern, a global relief and development agency, to distribute and test 750 Smart Solar Purifiers in Somalia.
This is not the first grant for PotaVida, which has received a development grant from MIT’s D- Lab and won the 2011 Business Plan Competition at the University of Washington Foster School of Business. In 2014 WGHA awarded PotaVida $10,000 to further develop their Smart Solar Purifier technology, which they leveraged to close a seed round of $470,000 in angel investment. “We are thrilled to bolster the work of PotaVida, a repeat WGHF grantee, through this round of funding. WGHF has infused critical support for global health technologies on the verge of wide scale impact,” said Lisa Cohen, Executive Director of the Washington Global Health Alliance (WGHA) which administers WGHF.
The Smart Solar Purifier has been designed specifically for the disaster relief context. It is a 10- liter capacity reusable unit that will operate for 1 year in the field and has a 5-year shelf life. Shipping costs are reduced and further supply chain dependency is eliminated because it packs flat and requires no consumables or filters. The purifier is simple to use: users place the filled bag in the sun, press the start button, and wait for a green light to indicate completion. A red light indicates in-progress status. Disinfection takes a few hours in full sun, allowing up to two treatment cycles per day.
The PotaVida Smart Solar Purifier is the only water disinfection device that automatically tracks every use. The electronic solar disinfection monitor logs usage, which can be downloaded by field staff. Each downloaded usage record is annotated with a location tag, and then uploaded to a centralized database for online access. The usage tracking feature eliminates the uncertainty typical of self-reported usage surveys.
An expert in disaster response, World Concern’s Chris Sheach says, “Tracking the actual usage of a product is hugely helpful, especially if you can access the data from afar. PotaVida’s approach to tracking data can change the way we measure the success of relief efforts.” Chris Sheach is the Deputy Director of Disaster Response at World Concern.
The PotaVida team was motivated by an understanding of the low usage rates of products in the field. Co-founder and CEO, Charlie Matlack, PhD, explains:
We learned that products distributed in acute disasters have usage rates ranging from 5% to 25%. The problem is not that we don’t have products that disinfect water; it is that they are not used. We developed our features to provide accurate and near real-time data from the field so usage rates can be tracked and improved.
The PotaVida Smart Solar Purifier uses a method called solar disinfection or “SODIS,” which is recommended by the World Health Organization1 and the Centers for Disease Control2. The method uses ultraviolet light from the sun. However, solar disinfection has long struggled to achieve high rates of adoption because it is impossible to tell whether disinfection is occurring, and when it is complete, since it depends on weather conditions and other factors. The Smart Solar Purifier addresses these concerns by measuring UV intensity and duration, showing users that disinfection is working and when their water is safe to drink.
The partnership with World Concern represents a first test at scale of the data collection and water disinfection, which were successfully tested in a small pilot in Uganda in 2014. Sheach states:
World Concern is excited to partner with PotaVida, especially in Somalia – an area of great need. Their products will help us provide life-saving clean water to displaced people, and have the additional impact of helping to measure – and continuously improve – the success of our programs.