Three UF engineering students took home $25,000 from the Gator Business Plan Competition on May 2 for their invention of aqUV, a bottle that purifies water using hand-powered ultraviolet light. 

“It’s just like any regular sports bottle, but it has a UV light in it,” 27-year-old UF environmental engineering graduate student Erica Gonzaga said, one of the creators of aqUV. 

Twist the crank enough times and the light comes on, she said. The UV light will then purify the water in the bottle.

“You would need only about two-and-a-half minutes for disinfection,” she said.

Gonzaga and her partners, Rob Damitz, a 26-year-old UF chemical engineering Ph.D. candidate, and Daniel Blood, a 26-year-old UF mechanical engineering doctoral student, hope to create a TOMS-like business plan in which they donate an aqUV bottle to Haiti for every bottle they sell commercially in the U.S.

The three came up with the idea for a project in an entrepreneurship for engineers class. Blood, Gonzaga and Damitz used the tools in Blood’s garage to crank out a rough prototype of the aqUV bottle during the semester.

After receiving positive feedback, the team decided to enter it in the May 2 competition.

The trio beat 140 applicants and 16 semifinalists for the $25,000 grand prize, sponsored by Warrington College of Business Administration’s Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation. Much of that money will go to intellectual property protection, said Gonzaga. 

Third-place winners Xiang Mao, a 27-year-old UF electrical and computer engineering doctoral student, and Alexander Cohen, a 21-year-old UF information systems and finance senior, took $5,000 for Rewardify, a mobile application that can analyze a user’s past purchases and tell them which credit card to use in order to optimize rewards. 

Cohen said he was impressed with aqUV.

“They literally invented a water bottle that’s going to change the world,” he said. 

[A version of this story ran on page 9 on 5/15/2014 under the headline "UF engineering trio win business competition with new water bottle]