Team TruePani reacts after they're announced as the People's Choice Award winners at the 2016 InVenture Prize finals. The team, center in blue, included business administration majors Sarah Lynn Bowen, left, and Naomi Ergun, obscured, as well as environmental engineering major Shannon Evanchec and civil engineering major Samantha Becker, right. The team designed an antimicrobial cup and water storage device that makes drinking water safer. Evanchec and Becker have been working full-time for the last year to turn their winning invention into a viable business. (Photo: Fitrah Hamid)
A year ago, School of Civil and Environmental Engineering seniors Samantha Becker and Shannon Evanchec were convinced they could change lives in rural villages around the globe.
They were about to sell InVenture Prize judges on their antimicrobial cup and lotus flower, which uses copper to kill germs in household water in places like India where contamination with E. coli and other microbes is a significant problem. The idea is to drop the lotus in the common household water storage tanks in these communities to keep it clean and replace household cups with the special antimicrobial ones so germs won’t grow there either.
The product won them InVenture’s People’s Choice Award, $5,000, and eventually got them into Georgia Tech’s CREATE-X startup program.
Now Becker and Evanchec have graduated, and they’re working full-time to turn their creation into a business they call TruePani. So far they’ve secured their first round of angel investment and made a return trip to southern India.
TruePani's antimicrobial water disinfection system uses a thin layer of copper to keep water clean. Their cup's design mimics the shape of those typically found in households throughout rural India, and the lotus flower — a symbol of purity in Indian culture — is attached to a chain so it can be placed in the home's water storage container. The invention won the People's Choice Award in the 2016 InVenture Prize finals, a competition to help Georgia Tech students turn their ideas into commercial ventures. (Photo: TruePani)
“We had the lotus in 12 households in India, and we spent a month collecting data on that,” Evanchec said. “We wanted to get design feedback from people that would actually be using it and also make sure it would work in the real world, because up until that point, everything that had been done was lab testing.”
The pair is combing through all of that data and sending their designs out for third-party testing. They’re also putting together a scientific advisory board and trying to figure out how to manufacture the cups and lotus flowers.
“You go into this thinking, ‘OK, I’m strong in engineering and I’m strong in microbiology,’ but we’re just undergraduate students. We don’t have the experience in manufacturing, we don’t have the credibility of someone who has a Ph.D., and we don’t have experience in business,” Evanchec said. “It’s kind of getting a crash course in all of those things as you’re trying to grow this business.”
She said that’s where CREATE-X helped, providing mentors and connections to help students with startup ideas navigate those tricky waters.
“Sam and I, and I think a lot of cofounders of their startups, get kind of tangled up in this hairball of all of your work you have to do and all of the problems you have to solve,” Evanchec said. “You have to have someone standing outside that and giving you perspective, saying ‘You’re too bogged down on this, here’s the big picture. Here’s what you need to be focusing your time on.’ If you don’t have that, I think it’s really hard to be successful.”
Right now, TruePani is just Becker and Evanchec along with a Georgia Tech international affairs student who’s working with them as an intern. They’re also getting help from a friend who studies biomedical engineering. But Evanchec hinted recently some exciting developments are on the horizon that could push their fledgling company to the next stage.
“We’ll keep you posted about that,” she said, smiling.