In anticipation of the final round of the 2020 Pitch Dingman Competition, the Dingman Center is interviewing each of the five startup finalists about their progress and upcoming challenges as they prepare to compete for the $15,000 Grand Prize on March 10th in the Grand Ballroom of Stamp Student Union. Learn more and register to attend the competition here.
Charles Grody ’20, Mechanical Engineering
Jack Sturtevant ’20, Computer Engineering
Tuvia Rappaport ’20, Aerospace Engineering
DC: Tell us about your startup.
Hydraze: Hydraze is a water conservation focused startup that delivers high performance automatic toilet flushing technology for commercial buildings. Our stall-latch activated flushing product can save hundreds of dollars per toilet by reducing the number of times it flushes compared to competitor products. We have also developed a proprietary flush tracking and optimization platform that can drastically improve a facility manager’s ability to maintain their bathroom. Hydraze drives water conservation by improving bathroom performance and generating savings.
DC: Have there been some key decisions or milestones along the way that have led you from an idea to now pitching for $15K?
Hydraze: Our biggest milestone has been earning validation for the idea across campus. Two years ago when the company began, we started by proposing the idea to the Office of Sustainability. They graciously provided us with almost $2,000 in seed funding to pursue the idea, and from there we took off. When we found our first pilot site, the Clarice Performing Arts Center, we had the funds to run a pilot to establish the scope of the problem. The results indicated that toilets on campus are wasting $150 each per year on campus, totaling to about half a million dollars annually for the university. This pilot established that the market for our technology was real, which was instrumental in winning the 2019 Do Good Challenge’s venture competition. We have improved upon our design to make our solution more universal, and have received requests from two non-UMD affiliated businesses to have our products installed. With a well-developed product and a proven market need, we are confident that we have what it takes to win the grand prize!
DC: What have you learned from the semifinals that will help you better prepare for Finals?
Hydraze: We have learned the importance of validating our idea through market research and feedback. While we interviewed several facility managers on campus at the onset of the project to develop the idea, by the time of semifinals we had only returned to one with a beta product to test the idea. Now that we have further developed our solution, we have been laser focused on receiving market validation through pilot sign ups. Since the competition, we have received two sign ups from non-UMD affiliated businesses, and we are aiming to drive that number up to ten by the time of the competition.
DC: What has your startup been working on since Pitch Dingman Competition Semifinals?
Hydraze: We have been crazy busy since semifinals. To start, we filed a second utility patent application based on the networking capabilities of our devices. We also began early stage manufacturing of our electronics. This is important because manufactured electronics will improve reliability and decrease the size of our products. This makes it much easier for us to scale to multiple pilot sites. Finally, the Dingman Center funded our travel stipend through the E-Fund so we could compete in the Queens Entrepreneurship Competition in Toronto, where we placed among the top six finalists amongst international competitors. This competition exposed us to a wide variety of successful student entrepreneurs and inspired us to start building our business beyond the university.
DC: What are some goals you are looking to reach before Finals?
Hydraze: We want to have ten different buildings signed up for us to run a demo of one of our devices, and right now we have three. We have made significant leaps in prototyping our technology to the point where we can scale to ten different locations. By getting our foot in the door with a business by having a prototype installed for one month, we can prove the savings we claim to offer. This will pave the way towards our customers placing a purchasing order of our products. Having ten different customers by the time of the competition will demonstrate that there is a true market need for our disruptive technology.
DC: If you win Pitch Dingman Competition, what will you do with the $15,000?
Hydraze: The $15,000 would go towards a combination of manufacturing our products, marketing, and patent prosecution. Manufacturing is important because it will allow us to scale the business faster. We have already begun manufacturing the electronics, but we will also need to have our products enclosures manufactured as well before we can start producing them on the scale of thousands. For marketing, we would like to expand beyond the greater UMD area. To do this we will need to attend tradeshows which is where facility managers are exposed to new technology. Finally, as our two utility patent applications are being processed, we will need funds to cover the cost of refining our claims to make sure we can protect our inventions.