Four St. Thomas students’ idea for a solar-powered water purification system advanced to the final round of the global Hult Prize competition in March.

Junior Anna Rauzi, and sophomores Christina Ippoliti, Sophia Brown and Marisa Smedsrud traveled to San Francisco for the competition, becoming the first St. Thomas team to advance to the final round in five years of Tommies participating.

(Video by Vineeta Sawkar)

“I was impressed by how very confident, articulate, and hardworking this team is,” said Margie Siegel, director of the Center for Nonprofit Management in the Schulze School of Entrepreneurship.

Among the 41 teams from around the world vying for the chance to spend eight weeks in the United Kingdom this summer to further their business, all were addressing the challenge of “How will you harness the power of energy to transform the lives of 10 million people by 2025?” Entrepreneurship associate professor Alec Johnson mentored the team as it developed its water purification system.

That system creates hydrogen peroxide that eliminates pollutants from water, before the water is treated by a pill and then runs through a carbon filter, so that it becomes pure drinking water. The team has established relationships with Barefoot College, an NGO that trains women in underdeveloped countries to build and deploy solar energy panels in their home villages. Barefoot College is interested in training women to use the system – called Solacqua – and also overseeing a microlending program to facilitate the purchase and financial sustainability of the product.

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