Last year, a group of students launched a small startup with a big idea: to make waste management less wasteful.
To date, Hygiea has raised more than $40,000 in grant funding, and the team heads to their seventh entrepreneurial competition this week.
Led by founder and CEO Saiman Shetty, Hygiea will be pitching their internet-of-things-powered platform, which gathers data about the content and capacity of waste containers at LAUNCH, the University of California’s startup accelerator, held at UC Berkeley. Rounding out the team are chief technology officer Parshad “Patrick" Patel and Pooja Addla Hari, VP Business Development, and a graduate of the technological entrepreneurship management program at the Polytechnic School, one the six Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.
The idea for Hygiea came to Shetty when he noticed the inefficiency of waste collection. Workers often waste time visiting trash receptacles that aren’t full, while overflowing receptacles are missed.
“The inefficiency was in that the workers had no feedback or strategy about bin fullness and so could not plan their collection circuits effectively,” says Shetty, who earned his master’s of science in electrical engineering from the Fulton Schools.
To combat this, Hygiea developed a system that runs the data collected from waste receptacles through a powerful analytics engine that helps optimize collection routes and schedules. The system can also leverage past data to predict population dynamics and surges in receptacle use, possibly saving waste management companies 30 percent on collection costs.
Shetty said the company is also looking to fill the need for this kind of service in the health care industry, where hospitals and other health care institutions have reported problems with biohazardous waste bins overflowing.
At LAUNCH, Hygiea will be competing against 15 other teams, which were selected from a field of 250 applicants. The grand prize is $30,000 in funding, with smaller cash prizes for the audience choice award as well as second and third place.
But this isn't Hygiea’s first rodeo. Their first entrepreneurial competition was the Silicon Valley Business Competition at San Jose State University last year. Out of 128 teams, Hygiea advanced to the final four, securing $5,000 in funding.
They also participated in Arizona State University’s signature startup competition, the Edson Student Entrepreneur Initiative, becoming one of the 20 ventures in the 2016 cohort. They ultimately earned $20,000 in funding and struck a deal with ASU in which the university agreed to sponsor patenting and intellectual property processes. The venture also took home the top prize at ASU’s Changemaker Challenge, beating out 86 other teams to claim $10,000.
“These two grants helped us get the product development in full speed,” says Shetty. “We hired an Indian company located in Rajkot to jointly develop the software side of our product and we partnered with a local company here for the hardware. We love to keep hardware manufacturing closest to us because the turnaround cycle is super quick with companies in the U.S.”
Hygiea has made other connections stateside as well, entering Los Angeles’ Mayor’s Cup, which fields applications from innovative startups. Out of 150 applicants, Hygiea was one of five chosen to present and receive assistance from L.A. town hall to market their products to the city.
“We are currently in talks with the sanitation department of LA town hall to run a pilot program to prove its benefits to the city,” says Shetty.
The venture has also made inroads within Silicon Valley, accepting an incubation offer from Plug and Play Tech Center, the investment firm and startup accelerator that has produced PayPal, Dropbox and other successful companies. Plug and Play also invested $150,000 in kind and provided Hygiea with office space in Sunnyvale, California. This leap forward spurred Hygiea to incorporate and officially become a company.
“Thus, what started with student competitions and as a pastime project became a real product and ready to cater to a market need that is existent out there,” says Shetty.
While they prep for LAUNCH, the startup is currently fielding investment requests from different janitorial companies looking to leverage Hygiea’s tech to boost their operations. But Shetty sees the scope of Hygiea to stretch beyond simply become profitable, but to advance in the way we manage waste.
“More than anything else, we identify ourselves as a technology company and commit ourselves to our mission: To Eliminate Waste from Waste Management,” says Shetty. “That's how we want the world to look at us as well. We want to keep innovating to redefine the limits of waste management processes using technical innovations that we do at Hygiea.”
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