MEET Andrew & Emily: local entrepreneurs and self-proclaimed poop managers
Atlanta is quickly becoming a hub for entrepreneurship. The FEED sat down with two folks using their take-charge attitudes to tackle global issues. Andrew and Emily spend their days figuring out what to do with the world’s waste, and not just how to keep it out of the public eye, but how to recycle it into something useful. Thats right your poop could be useful. Find out how they make it happen and the unique business opportunity that led them to Chile.
Tell us a little about your project:
Sanivation (Sanitation+Innovation) provides people in developing countries with toilets. Basic, right? It is, but providing something so basic has a huge impact. How? It all starts flipping the mindset of a toilet from human waste disposal to human asset collection. If we think about the toilet in that way, we can restore dignity, provide safety, and improve the environment. We can also make some good money. For most of the world, the toilet is a big problem. In the developing world, one person dies every 20 seconds from diarrhea, toilets are disgusting, and sh*t is everywhere.
The problem is the toilet, our solution is the toilet.
We rent in-home dry toilets to families. The renting fee will also pay for daily collection, cleaning and maintenance fees for each toilet. The collected waste will then be brought to local solar waste treatment areas where in 1 day solar heat will kill off any harmful pathogens creating organic fertilizer which can be sold back into the market.
Now families can have working, clean toilets in their homes for less then they are paying ($0.05 per use) for community toilets. Dignity is restored by not having to sh*t in a field, and families no longer have to use a smelly bathroom or worry about pathogens making them sick. Families pay for their own service, and therefore are treated as customers, where a desirable toilet experience must be maintained to keep customers. The team is made up of Emily Woods and Andrew Foote who attended Georgia Tech and Emory. The team recently came back from testing their products and selling their services in Chile. They are raising capital to finance their pilot in July in Kenya.
How did you get started with it?
We started it back in undergrad at Georgia Tech. Emory challenged Georgia Tech engineers of how to best heat waste using only the sun to sanitize it. The concept was developed then. We took the concept and applied to Start-Up Chile, a global incubator program funded by the chilean government. It was there, in Chile, that we discovered a way to make into a scalable business.
What inspires you to do this work?
We (Andrew and Emily) both have a passion to use engineering to make a difference in people’s lives. We both have spent time in developing worlds and have seen the difference in quality of life of people around the world and have been inspired to do something about it. We have both seen so many failures in attempts to help those living at the bottom of the pyramid and hope we can learn from those failures and make a difference.
What challenges are you/have you faced?
There are so many challenges we have already had to overcome. So many people have told us it is impossible and crazy: To move to a country where you don’t speak the language, where you know no one and to start a business. We zoomed past the idea of being limited by not having a business background and working in a field we really only theoretical knowledge. We may be crazy, but with drive and passion it is not impossible.
Are you collaborating with anyone?
Yes, of course, there is no way we would have been able to have done all that we have without the support and help from many people. From the get-go, here in Atlanta, professors from Georgia Tech and Emory have been crucial in mentoring us, keeping us focused and on track. Start-Up Chile, the Chilean government incubator took a risk on us. We ended up partnering with the largest NGO Un Techo Para Chile. Un Techo Para Chile was not only our first customer but also helped us get connected with the slums in Chile, touring us around, introducing us and helping us get feedback from potential customers. On the manufacturing side we worked heavily with Canelo de Nos, a Chilean group that designs and builds solar ovens and dry toilets. And without the help and support of a Veterinarian Professor at Universidad de Chile we would never have access to lab space and materials to complete our lab testing. There have been so many more people around the world who have given us feedback, told us their failures and successes, encouraged us and lead us to be where we are. As we go on to Africa we will collaborate with some of our local partners there including German Aid Corporation and Water Sanitation for the Urban Poor.
What impact are you hoping to have on our Atlanta community?
Here in Atlanta where slums nor sanitation are really a problem we really want to educate people and make them aware of the struggles that the 2.6 billion people around the world that lack access to decent toilets are having. Beyond sanitation, we hope to strengthen the social entrepreneurship community in Atlanta. There is so much potential for combining great technical ideas and business solutions to solve some of the worlds greatest challenges, right here in Atlanta. A group that we like that is open to all and has become a local leader for social entrepreneurship is Atlanta + Acumen.
Would you like to see your project replicated?
Sanitation is a big problem and unfortunately not much progress is being made. The Millennium Development Goal for 2015 is projected to not be achieved in sub saharan Africa until 2076. Most people are not aware of this. The more organizations that are treating low-income people as customers and providing sanitation solutions that are in demand, the closer we as a world will get to preventing the unwarranted deaths due to diarrhea.
What kind of help do you need to keep this going?
Right now we are raising $150,000 to begin our large pilot program in slums in Kenya. We are moving there this July and want to have 50 families under our complete toilet service by April. We are also looking for more partners both on the ground and to give us support from here in the US.
What are some of the biggest problems you see facing Atlanta?
The easy answer is Atlanta traffic and lack of sustainable transportation systems. I also think Atlanta as a city needs to do a better job at promoting entrepreneurship. Atlanta is beginning to get noticed as a hub for entrepreneurship due to its talent and we as a community have the opportunity to capitalize on our resources. You may already know this but Atlanta has been called “the crossroads for global health” and is home to the largest engineering school in the nation as well as lots of fortune 500 companies. We need to create the culture of bringing all these perspectives to the same table. Global health folks meeting with engineers. Lets use our diversity here in the Piedmont and start giving San Fran a run for their money.
What are some of your favorite things and organizations around town?
I love Atlanta’s festivals. It showcases the creativity around town and gets everyone enjoying the outdoors and maybe even using transportation other than a car. I also have a soft spot for the barbecue restaurants in Atlanta.
Where can interested readers find you?
Find us at Sanivation.com, The Flying Biscuit or commuting between Emory and Georgia Tech.