A team of UC Berkeley students won the University Mobile Challenge last Thursday for creating an app that will allow water providers to remotely control water supplies in the developing world.
Having made it to the finals at the GSM Association Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, UC Berkeley-based group Flowbit beat out 11 teams from universities around the world — including the University of Oxford and Harvard University — and won first place, marking the second time a team from UC Berkeley has won the competition.
“We all had to learn the skills we were required to on the fly,” said Yasir Motiwala, CFO of Flowbit and a UC Berkeley senior. “All the other teams had good ideas. At times, we didn’t know if we were going to make it through, so we were delighted to have made it.”
The University Mobile Challenge is run by the Applied Innovation Institute and hosted by the GSM Association, a group of telecommunications operating firms. Ken Singer and Paul Nerger of the UC Berkeley Center of Entrepreneurship and Technology established the competition three years ago in an effort to improve the education of entrepreneurship to university students.
“This is a very tough field, and they nailed it,” Singer said.
Developed for use by nongovernmental water suppliers in Asia and Latin America, Flowbit’s software and hardware are aimed at curbing the high cost of water kiosk maintenance by providing a remote operating system to monitor water usage. It allows kiosk operators to remotely change the pressure, temperature and power settings of the kiosks to avoid expensive malfunctions.
“Our goal is to turn reactive management to preventative maintenance,” Motiwala said.
In February, the group worked with the Mexico-based nonprofit Nuestra Agua to integrate Flowbit’s hardware and software into its current kiosk system in developing areas in Mexico. While installation was free for Nuestra Agua, Flowbit plans to charge operators for future use of its hardware and data collection. The software will be available as a free download for all clients.
The creators of Flowbit came together to compete in the challenge while taking a mobile entrepreneurship course at UC Berkeley. Flowbit CEO Nick Lee, a UC Berkeley alumnus, said he hopes the company can move forward and have a marketable product in the next two to five years.
The Flowbit team currently works from Skydeck, a startup business accelerator, and includes UC Berkeley students Hung Leong, Nicole Murphy and Cory Levy. The team is considering a $50,000 offer of funding by the Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur in India to help develop its business.