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ASU student startup trashes the competition with two awards, seeks a third

Hygiea will provide waste management programs a platform for better time efficiency

Saiman Shetty (Left) and Pooja Addla Hari (Right) hold a model of one of Hygiea's sensors in Skysong1 on April 21, 2017. 

Saiman Shetty (Left) and Pooja Addla Hari (Right) hold a model of one of Hygiea's sensors in Skysong1 on April 21, 2017. 

ASU student and alumni startup Hygiea attempts to manage wasted time in waste management.

The startup won ASU's Changemaker Challenge this January, an Edson Student Entrepreneurship Initiative grant last May and have their eyes set on another Edson this year, said Saiman Shetty, the cofounder and CEO of Hygiea and ASU alumnus.

“When we were looking around us, we would often see janitorial workers come peep inside trash bins, and sometimes they would just walk by, because it was not full or sometimes they would pick up partially filled bins,” Shetty said. 

He said this prompted his team to look into ways to increase efficient time use in waste management.

“We found that there was a lack of a feedback structure that could actually let them know the status of the bins remotely so that they can go specifically to the bins they need to go to and not waste their time going to the others,” Shetty said.

Hygiea’s members developed such a structure by creating sensors to detect the amount of waste in a bin and software to alert janitorial staff when it is full, Shetty said.

“As far as how much it saves, we have estimated … that it saves about one, one and a half hours per worker per day,” Shetty said. “He can use that time to do something else, like mopping the floor. It’s a more efficient use of time.”

He said the sensors can fit most waste bins: “It’s the way we make it look at the trash with a combination of sensors that makes a difference.”

The progress they have made so far would not have been possible if not for the money provided by the Edson award, Shetty said. 

“What we presented at Edson was just an idea with a brief prototype, which cost $70 to 80 which we picked up off the shelf, but this helped us come out with a sleek, marketable product that can actually go and build some customers,” Shetty said.

Marketing has been an issue, Shetty said, but once the startup sought tech-savvy people at waste subcontractors and hospitals, they started to see improved results.

Pooja Addla Hari, a business development associate for Hygiea and freshman at ASU studying technological entrepreneurship and management, has been conducting market research for the startup.

“Right now, we’ve been doing customer interviews, so we spoke to a few hospitals and airports, so we’re more in the customer-understanding phase than the analyzing phase,” Addla Hari said.

She said the outreach has confirmed Hygiea’s business plan.

“We found out that all these people have the problem we felt they had, and we just validated our assumptions,” Addla Hari said. “So, they have a need for our product, and hopefully, after winning this challenge, we’ll have the funding to proceed.”

Although waste management has been one of her passions since she was 14 years old, Addla Hari said working for a startup so young has been frightening at times.

“At first it was pretty intimidating, because you talk to big customers, like real people, and some of them are even rude to you, but then, I guess it’s all a learning process," Addla Hari said.

Tracy Lea, ASU’s assistant director of venture development for entrepreneurship and innovation, has managed the Edson program for 4 years. 

“Every year, we are able to allocate about $200,000 to up to 20 teams, so they get funding anywhere from $5,000 to $20,000 to launch their idea,” Lea said. “The aim of the Edson program is to actually grow viable businesses and to really leverage ASU’s resources while the students are still in school to be able to develop their idea.”

She said she was not permitted to release how much Hygiea’s prize was last year; however, she did say she was impressed with the startup.

“They have a really interesting concept, and they’re also go-getters," Lea said. "Since they’ve been in the program, they’ve really done some exceptional work to gain momentum and really get their product to market."

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