If you are like me, you probably said “Yes” to the above question. We will revisit it later in this article. When Auerbach and Vallabhaneni opened with that question to the audience little did they know that they would walk away with roughly $100,000 to help build their dream. The event in question was the highly contested 21’st MIT $100K Business plan competition. And so whats the big deal about a clean toilet anyway you may wonder. Well atleast we don’t give it a second thought as we go through our daily motions – literally! But, there are folks in poorer nations for whom clean sanitation is a challenge. Along with the denigrating aspects of having to relieve oneself in the open, the lack of proper facilities could lead to deadly diseases and maladies well avoided with simple mechanisms. Atleast that is what Vallabhaneni & company seem to have had in mind. And while they are at it they just don’t want to solve the problem at hand. Why not go a step further and use the human generated waste if possible. From amongst 280 other submissions Sanergy the brainchild of Vallabhaneni and his cohorts won the much coveted award for their submission which is a low-cost, energy-converting sanitation solution.
According to Sanenergy’s founders more than 2.6 billion people lack access to sanitation especially in developing countries the world over. As mention earlier, this leads to over 1.7 million deaths each year through water-borne diarrheal diseases, and Sanergy calculates an economic impact of over $84 billion in worker productivity. For the initial phase Sanergy identified Kenya as the market ripe to demonstrate the power of their solution. The solution itself is very simple and broken into three core pieces. A networked approach to sanitation provides humans the dignity for that most odious of jobs we all have to do pretty much each waking day. More importantly their system accounts for and collects the waste in a few central locations. This is where the magic happens. From waste to bio-methane and fertilizers, Sanergy is able to bring to full cycle a solution that contributes back to society. This is really a ‘clean’ toilet. Cleaner than yours or mine and you may be living in the most advanced country in the world right now reading this blog! In terms of execution and growth within five years, the team hopes to provide facilities to more than 500,000 Africans, generating 7.5 million kilowatt-hours of electricity and 11,000 tons of fertilizer.
When it comes to building companies, one cannot emphasize enough the wisdom of building a team with the right DNA. Sanergy seems to have scored a home run here as well. While a few of the founders (and for obvious reasons) are from the prestigious MBA program offered at MIT-Sloan, they have ensured that they have a well balanced team to go to market with. Ella Peinovich is a masters student in Architecture. Her work in terms of ensuring the right designs for the entire sanitation system feeds into the work of Joel Veenstra who is a senior in Civil Enginerring. Other members of this team include Nathan Cooke a designer at D-Lab, Nathan Sharpe an alumni of Mechanical Engineering and Benji Moncivaiz a senior in Mechanical Engineering.
Surely your answer to the question the blog posed is probably ‘No’ at this point. You and I probably did not use a ‘CLEAN’ toilet today. Sanergy is making it possible in Kenya. For this they deserve their victory in the business plan competition and many more to come.