ASU siblings pave way for student inventors with clog prevention device

The DrainFunnel, born out of everyday frustration, alleviates the hassle of cleaning drains of wet hair

The dark, wet, hairy mess tangled between the crossbars of the drain was the monster that filled Justin and Holly Hillsten’s nightmares every night. 

Their horror turned into frustration and their frustration turned into an idea — an idea that became the DrainFunnel.

The DrainFunnel is a product that showcases the power of student innovation and entrepreneurship at ASU.

Justin Hillsten, an ASU alumus and co-founder of DrainFunnel, said the idea to invent the product resulted from necessity.

“Me and my two sisters lived together, and we all shared a bathroom,” Justin Hillsten said. “We needed something because we always had clogged drains because of hair.”

Holly Hillsten, a senior studying economics and co-founder of DrainFunnel, said that she noticed hair would get caught on her shower drain’s crossbars.

“If we bypassed the crossbars, there is nothing that the hair could stick to, and it would just flow through," Holly Hillsten said.

The Drain Funnel works differently than other products on the market for clog prevention. Instead of catching the hair, the device allows hair to flow through the drain, through the pipes and into the sewer. 

“Our DrainFunnel requires zero maintenance,” Holly Hillsten said. “Other clog prevention devices act as hair catchers, so you’ll always have to be cleaning it out. We tried products like that, and it’s just gross, and it gets full, and no one wants to clean that.”

According to the Hillstens, anyone that has a shower bath or a simple bathtub and lives with someone with long hair can use the DrainFunnel.

“We’re mainly marketing towards family and women, but it is a tool that can be useful for anyone," Holly Hillsten said. "It’s kind of a big market right now.”

To install the device, one must remove the current drain stopper or hair catching device, clean out the drain and place DrainFunnel inside the drain so that the bottom opening is over one quarter of the drain, allowing hair to flow down the pipe.

The two siblings have distributed over 100 successful prototypes to test design quality and ran a kickstarter that did not reach funding goals. 

The team is hoping to find large investors by featuring their product through the ABC show Shark Tank next season and eventually manufacture the DrainFunnel for sales. 

At the moment, DrainFunnel LLC produces only one product. However, growth into the market of clog prevention is in the company’s future. 

“There is possibly a sink stopper, product for a stand up shower and maybe a chemical drain cleaner in the future,” Justin Hillsten said. 

Though the future looks bright for the siblings and their invention, Justin Hillsten confessed that it wasn’t always easy being a full-time student and entrepreneur simultaneously. 

“I honestly almost quit school to pursue this because it was a lot of time taken,” Justin Hillsten said. “I spent every weekend at a tech shop in Chandler making prototypes and changing the design so that it would work.” 

Chase Norris and Brittany Martin, program managers of venture development at ASU Entrepreneurship and Innovation, explained that instilling an entrepreneurial mindset in students from all disciplines is very beneficial for their long-term careers. 

“Given that ASU is No. 1 in innovation, it is our mission to ensure that we’re providing students all the tools they need to be innovative and to succeed in the entrepreneurial ecosystem," Martin said. 

Norris recommends that students who have a startup idea start on the ASU Venture Devils website, where there are many entry points towards possible opportunities through ASU resources. 

"Once admitted to the program, those involved are able to access a space network at all four campuses, have a mentor that has industry experience to guide students through the path and apply for seed funding through pitches," Norris said. 

To be part of ASU Venture Devils, people must apply as well as submit a pitch, product summary, website and logo, Martin said.

For students and faculty with ideas that need development, ASU Venture Devils offers Entrepreneur Catalysts on all four campuses and a collaboration with Changemaker Central, where workshops and industry leaders are available to make a safe space for students to share their ideas.  

Venture Devils was an integral part of making DrainFunnel a reality for the Hillstens. 

With a bit of self-determination and the backing of ASU Entrepreneurship and Innovation resources, Justin and Holly Hillsten continue to feel their hard work and sacrifice pay off when they see the demand and excitement towards their product. 

“It’s rewarding to see that people want to buy it,” Justin Hillsten said. “We just need to find an investor to make this dream happen.”


Reach the reporter at mshrikan@asu.edu and follow @MayaShrikant on Twitter. 

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