In 2016, Ally Page, a student at Lake Forest High School (LFHS), was on vacation with her family in Mexico when she was exposed to dangerous E. coli bacteria from the drinking water. While tourists are often warned about the risks of tap water exposure, the repercussions for the now 17-year-old senior were worse than expected.
“I was in the hospital for two weeks with kidney failure,” says Page. “I realized how much we take clean drinking water for granted every day.”
The experience is one that influenced her as she joined forces with three other LFHS students—fellow 17-year-old seniors Chase Rupprecht, Dylan Cofer, and Jeremy Hughes—to invent SOLIS, a lightweight, portable water purification bottle. Born out of the Business Incubator program at LFHS, the invention will be introduced to a broader audience on March 11 at the South by Southwest (SXSW) EDU Student Start-Up Pitch Competition in Austin, Texas.
According to the group, which operates collectively as SOLIS UVC Purification LLC, SOLIS uses “high-powered ultraviolet light to kill 99.9999 percent of all bacteria, viruses, and microorganisms, and then a micron filter to remove all sediments from the water in the bottle as you drink.”
“The purification process is fast and dependable: simply pour water from any source into the bottle, press the button on the cap, and wait 60 seconds for clean water. Made of lightweight aluminum, the 750ml bottle is easily carried or stored in a backpack for use on a nearby hiking trail or while traveling abroad—anywhere that clean drinking water is essential.”
“Think of a problem that needs solving, and you’ve got the beginnings of a new business idea,” the team’s teacher, Joe Pulio, said to them at the beginning of their Business Incubator class. As juniors, the group was invited to participate in LFHS’s Pitch Night, earning $4,500 in investor seed money for their business start-up and the “best pitch” accolade. Now as seniors, the teammates have worked together to create two prototypes and develop a marketing strategy to attract investor start-up capital for the launch of the new product.
“This has been so exciting for us, every step of the way,” says Cofer. “Most amazing is how we all bring different skills to the table. Chase Rupprecht is our engineer and scientist. He loves working with the product companies to figure out how to make it work. Ally Page understands the marketing and sales dynamics of the company, Jeremy Hughes is very creative and great at research, and I enjoy the business and financial end.”
The first prototype was created in a basement during the spring of 2019. Today, Rupprecht is actively handling conference calls with engineers and designers from across the U.S. and Canada to make sure that the second version of the SOLIS prototype will be designed to their exacting standards.
“We know that 3.6 million people die every year because of impure drinking water,” says Cofer. “We would like to change that.”
The SXSW EDU Student Start-Up Pitch Competition brings together high school students to pitch their new business ideas, giving the students valuable exposure to potential investors and a chance to turn their creative ideas into new-business start-ups. Last year’s festival attracted nearly 13,000 attendees from more than 40 countries; the Solis team’s appearance will mark the first time that students from LFHS are represented.
“Austin is one of the tech capitals of the nation— for both established businesses and start-ups,” says Rhomberg. “To spend four days among educators and businesses, receiving mentoring and coaching from some of the top professionals in the fields, will allow the students opportunities that are not available to most businesspeople.”
For more information, visit solisuvc.com.