Diana Yousef, PhD, MBA is founder and CEO of change:WATER Labs (cWL). She came up with the inspiration for evaporative sanitation while consulting to NASA on water treatment solutions for the International Space Station. Previously, Diana was a McKinsey consultant and seed-stage biotech-cleantech VC. She co-founded the WorldBank/IFC's Biotech and Life Sciences private equity investment practice, and a novel accelerator program within the UNDP to create and fund pro-poor business-and-technology innovations in developing countries. She is a serial cleantech entrepreneur, having co-founded multiple ventures in water purification, solar energy and waste recycling. She holds degrees in Biology from Harvard (BA) and Cornell (PhD, Biochemistry and Structural Biology), and an MBA and MA in International Affairs (Columbia). Her team's work has been recognized as one of Fast Company's 2019 World Changing Ideas and she was invited by the Turkish Government to speak on their work at the 2019 UN Climate Summit.
iThrone: the waste-shrinking toilet
One-line project summary:
iThrone is a no-flush toilet that turns waste to pure vapor to extend safe, clean sanitation to communities with no flushing infrastructure
Present your project.
Globally, 4.2Bn people (50% of us!) lack safe sanitation because they live in places with no sewage plumbing. Without flushing, communities get messy and removing sewage is VERY costly. change:WATER Labs has developed the "iThrone", a drop-in, no-flush/waterless toilet that SHRINKS waste onsite by evaporating it, converting it to pure water vapor (bit.ly/evapanim). Human waste is 95% water. The iThrone uses a novel breathable, compostable membrane (aka “shrink-wrap-for-crap”) to dehydrate and shrink waste (bit.ly/2019cWLdemo), evaporating or “flushing away” 90-95% of daily onsite volumes. The iThrone not only doesn’t use or pollute water, it actually converts waste back INTO pure water (vapor). By quickly shrinking daily waste at the point-of-use, the iThrone drastically shrinks costs and effort of collecting decentralized sewage-waste. By untethering sanitation from power or plumbing infrastructure, and by shrinking costs of distributed sanitation, the iThrone extends safe, clean, dignified and sustainable toilet-access to poor and vulnerable communities.
Submit a video.
What specific problem are you solving?
50% of us lack access to safe, clean toilets, largely because they live in places with no sewage plumbing. Without access to safe, private toilets in or near home, many people are forced to use dangerous alternatives (open defecation, pits, etc). Poor sanitation traps people in perpetual poverty, poor health and pollution--causing 80% of all infection, 4% of all deaths, and taking one child’s life every 20sec. Women and girls are particularly harmed, because going in public exposes them to daily risk of sexual violence. Lack of toilets in 45% of schools globally leads 20% of girls to drop out by puberty. Without flushing, sewage floods crowded communities and removing it is dangerous and costly!
Providing safe sanitation often requires trade-offs between excessive water-use, energy-use and/or cost. Flush-toilets use ~10-bathtubs of clean water/day to get rid of a bucket’s-worth of waste. To avoid over-flowing, no-flush toilets need almost-daily emptying—which is un-scalable and un-sustainable. We need a more sustainable solutions, especially for fast-growing, water-stressed and/or environmentally-vulnerable communities. In solving sanitation, we can elevate these communities--promoting health, dignity, gender empowerment, environmental sustainability and economic prosperity--with just one intervention: a smarter, lower-cost, cleaner, more-sustainable, more-accessible (drop-in) toilet.
What is your project?
For communities with no sewage plumbing, change:WATER has developed a solution to sanitation more accessible, affordable, safer and cleaner--by re-inventing flushing. Human waste (both solid and liquid) is 95% water. Instead of flushing waste, we EVAPORATE it! We’ve developed the "iThrone", a drop-in, no-flush toilet SHRINKS waste onsite, by converting it to pure water vapor and power (bit.ly/evapanim). Human waste is 95% water, so the iThrone uses 2 novel technologies to “flush” it away: (1) “shrink-wrap for crap”, a low-cost membrane that dehydrates waste by soaking up and evaporating its water content (bit.ly/2019cWLdemo); and (2) a “pee-powered bio-battery” that converts urine into electricity (bit.ly/2019peepower). The iThrone uses an evaporative pouch of our membrane to collect and shrink human waste. The pee-powered biobattery uses urine in the toilet to self-power internal ventilation to help speed up waste-evaporation and get rid of toilet odors. By quickly shrinking unflushed waste at the point-of-use, the iThrone cuts sewage-removal collection costs and frequencies, and cleans up communities. Because it needs no hookups to power or plumbing infrastructure, the iThrone is a low-cost, drop-in solution making clean toilets available and accessible to anyone anywhere—including people in crowded slums, emergency situations and informal communities/settlements.
Who does your project serve, and in what ways is the project impacting their lives?
Globally, our iThrone targets 4.2Bn people who lack access to clean, safely-accessible and dignified sanitation. Our first iThrones currently provide improved sanitation to 400 users in Kiboga, Uganda—a poor urban/peri-urban area where >35% of residents lack household-sanitation, often relying on unsanitary, public pit-latrines.
One year earlier, our team was in Kiboga to engage all local stakeholders—end-users, local government, WASH advocates/NGOs, hospital- and school administrators, sanitation operators, health officials--in our toilet- and pilot-design plans.
Most importantly, we engaged target user-groups. In workshops with local women’s groups and girl-students, we heard they want clean squat-toilets that prevent users from seeing or smelling waste. It was important for iThrones to be located near public buildings, as opposed to far-off, remote locations (which can be unsafe for female users). So we designed the iThrone to shrink daily waste, ensuring NO waste-discharge or leaching and aggressively odor-elimination, so they can be placed close to public buildings (unlike pit-latrines).
Local sanitation operators want to reduce OPEX costs (from frequent waste-collection and the cost of flush-water). Our iThrones need no flush-water and reduce onsite waste-volumes 8-10x, enabling less-frequent collection (1-2x/mo). Local government wants toilet-operations to be self-funding and is facilitating collaborations around waste-to-fertilizer monetization.
Which dimension of The Elevate Prize does your project most closely address?Elevating opportunities for all people, especially those who are traditionally left behind
Explain how your project relates to The Elevate Prize and your selected dimension.
Solving sanitation access can effect cross-cutting social and environmental impact for vulnerable and excluded populations with one SINGLE intervention: improving health, dignity, resilience, gender empowerment, economic prosperity, access to opportunity and education, while promoting environmental sustainability and water security and curbing climate change. Sanitation access is especially critical for women and girls. Lack of safe and accessible private toilets forces them to be exposed in public, which is often mis-interpreted as an invitation to sexual violence and assault. Lack of toilets in schools is yet another reason why many girls drop-out of education, cutting off future opportunities and prosperity.
How did you come up with your project?
INSPIRATION: Recalling work I’d done with NASA to explore use of breathable materials to soak up and recycle pure water from wastewater and use it to grow crops on the Space Station, I came up with a similar concept to deal with off-grid sanitation on Earth.
APPROACH: Human waste (both feces and urine) is 95% water, so providing safe sanitation is largely about moving around liquid water—which is difficult, messy and costly when you can’t flush. Inspired by how nature moves water—MOLECULARLY—I thought instead of flushing liquid water, maybe it could FLOAT away as gas. But, in poor/off-grid communities, using enormous amounts of heat-energy to do this is infeasible. Instead, I thought about evapo-transpiration (“sweating”) of water by plants. Plants pull water molecules from soil at their roots driven by evaporative-release of water molecules from their leaves. The force driving this movement of molecular water isn’t heat, but rather the difference in water potential between the soil and relatively drier surrounding air. This inspiration sparked my concept for evaporative sanitation. Our waste-evaporating polymer pulls molecular water out of human waste across our membrane, driven by the different moisture potential between the wet waste and the drier surrounding air.
Why are you passionate about your project?
My passion for this project stems from my being Egyptian and a mother of girls.
Without Nile waters, Egypt wouldn’t exist. Freshwater access and sustainability underpins every aspect of people’s lives: health, food-security, livelihoods, prosperity, productivity, energy-access and regional peace.
Yet, climate change is evaporating the Nile. And our water-use contributes to climate change: decentralized/untreated wastewater contributes ~4% of man-made methane emissions; and, with increasing water-scarcity, we will expend more energy to access, treat and/or recycle water. It’s a vicious cycle, but largely-ignored, because the carbon-cost of our water use is hard to measure. I want to help break this cycle with disruptive low-cost, low-carbon solutions that reduce needless water-use and pollution, and that recycle the water that we DO use.
As a mother of daughters, the suffering and danger girls face when they don’t have access to a private toilet at home or in school is unacceptable. Having to go in public means girls face daily risk of rape, and challenges their ability to attend school and complete their educations. Improving sanitation-access for girls also improves the lives and welfare of their families, their communities and their future children.
Why are you well-positioned to deliver this project?
I’ve spent the last 15+ years translating technology into solutions for some of the world’s toughest and biggest problems, including water sustainability, energy production, climate change, global health, infectious disease, food production, etc. Having played all the roles along the innovation commercialization spectrum—from scientist, to inventor, to VC investor to entrepreneur--I am well positioned to take on the challenge of sanitation.
Pretty immediately, I realized that sanitation is a problem of moving around water. In places where people CAN flush, we use water to get rid of waste. However, 50% of the world’s population CAN’T flush because they have no pipes. In that context, sanitation is STILL a problem of moving around water, because human waste (both solid and liquid) is MOSTLY water (95%), and it has to be collected to get rid of it. Fairly quickly, it occurred to me that there is another way to move or get rid of water—molecularly and selectively, by evaporating it. Having the perspective of both scientist and business-person, I could connect the dots between the physics of water and the macro-operational challenge and economic challenge of managing un-piped sewage waste.
I also have deep knowledge of the problem of poor sanitation, having spent part of my career working for the UN, World Bank and around the globe on issues of international development, poverty alleviation and environmental sustainability. With family and roots in a developing country, I have seen and experienced the problems of water-scarcity and poor sanitation.
Provide an example of your ability to overcome adversity.
Some years back, an angel group committed to invest in cWL. Unfortunately, later that week, I discovered a major problem with our technology. While I didn’t want to scare them away, I told the investors I wouldn’t to take their investment until we could fix the problem. Initially, to my surprise, the group said they were still committed to investing. Within 2-months, my team resolved our problem with an even-better solution. However, when we re-engaged the investors, they began to string us along for 6-months, offering us more and more inhospitable and misaligned investment terms. When I agreed to their last offer, they suddenly decided instead to pull out altogether. By then, we’d run out of money (and I was enduring a difficult pregnancy). Applying equal parts grit and zen, I managed to keep us operating, lending my own money, negotiating thousands of dollars of pro-bono resources from supply-chain partners and slashing our costs with creative hacks (eg building and testing cardboard iThrone prototypes to cut down on materials costs and speed up iteration times). These strategies carried our work forward until we secured a grant that was 4x the investment we lost and which funded us through to pilot-deployments.
Describe a past experience that demonstrates your leadership ability.
I lead by inspiring and mobilizing larger teams of smart, impact-driven people to collaborate on turning ambitious ideas into powerful, operational realities. I was co-founder of the UN’s Growing Sustainable Business Initiative, initially meant to do research and advise private sector businesses and investors on how they might engage in poverty-alleviation in developing countries. But I saw a bigger potential for impact—we could work with them to catalyze new businesses and investments that both generate profit and addressing the SDGs. Despite having no budget or template, I attracted millions of dollars of investment and in-kind resources from governments and global companies to build and run this ambitious, experimental platform. I recruited 45 ambitious MBAs from top schools to fan out across 33 countries (including desperate places like Sudan and Burundi) to catalyze new business ventures and investments that could generate profit while also addressing pro-poor needs (eg access to health, water, energy, food-security, financial inclusion, mobile access, education, housing, etc). In a few short months, this army generated 190 venture ideas, which ultimately led to 4 successful ongoing investments (eg one innovative venture for micro-leasing of harvesting equipment to farmers in Caribbean to scale-up agricultural production and increase their incomes).
How long have you been working on your project?
Where are you headquartered?Cambridge, MA, USA
What type of organization is your project?For-profit, including B-Corp or similar models
If you selected Other, please explain here.
Describe what makes your project innovative.
Our iThrone is the only off-line toilet that can get rid of onsite waste quickly, cheaply and cleanly when flushing isn’t an option.
And by evaporating waste, the iThrone makes clean sanitation available to anyone anywhere (even in places with no power or plumbing).
With our proprietary evaporative membrane and bio-battery technologies, the iThrone is completely stand-alone, self-powered and “self-flushing”.
It is drop-in deployable and can be accessible to anyone anywhere.
All other non-flush options are either costly, messy or complicated/bulky.
CONTAINER-BASED toilets fill up fast and require frequent, costly waste-removal.
COMPOSTING TOILETS are very slow to convert waste and, because they are hard to maintain, often fail, so can spread disease.
“Re-INVENTED TOILETS” use complex technologies to rapidly deal with onsite waste, but are too expensive to scale.
SEWAGE-COLLECTION SERVICERS (“fecal sludge management”/“FSM” servicers) would in fact be our partners and customers, because they focus on waste collection and need lower-maintenance/”smarter” toilets to reduce their collection frequencies and costs.
Shrinking waste fast onsite completely transforms the economics of “off-line” sanitation.
The iThrone cuts collection costs (by 50%) while increasing toilet access and servicing efficiency.
The cost to install and maintain a comparable toilet could instead fund FOUR iThrone toilets.
While most container toilets need to be emptied every 1-2 days, the iThrone only needs emptying 1-2x/month.
That means sewage-collectors can service 3-20x more toilets, allowing their operations to be more scalable and profitable.
So, ultimately, the iThrone will get safe sanitation to more people at lower cost.
What is your theory of change?
Safe sanitation is inaccessible to 50% of the world’s population because providing and maintaining it is TOO COSTLY and TOO MUCH WORK.
Our Theory of Change is that if we can simplify installation and safe servicing of toilets, we can make clean sanitation more accessible and available to more people in more places at MUCH lower cost.
We’ve developed a technology solution that lowers the cost of providing and servicing safe toilets, so they can be available and accessible to more users. The iThrone is:
--a SAFER toilet (eliminating waste fast onsite);
--INSTALLABLE ANYWHERE (evaporating waste instead of flushing liberates our toilets from hookups to infrastructure);
--LOWER PRICE (due to simpler hardware vs comparable options);
--LOWER-MAINTENANCE and LOWER COST (by reducing waste-collection frequencies).
Shrinking daily waste onsite increases collection-efficiency, and thus more scalable, sustainable and profitable servicing
- Fewer collections-per-toilet lowers costs
- Fewer collectors can cover more toilets, increasing servicing capacity and revenues
- Collectors benefit from safer working conditions and improved incomes
- More efficient servicing saves costs for sanitation providers (eg municipalities)
- Needing no hookups to power, plumbing or external water-sources, our toilets can be dropped-in anywhere
- Cost-savings by local municipalities to deploy our system versus alternatives
- Reduced cost and effort to install our drop-in toilets can lead to greater toilet-access (especially in difficult places)
- Increased availability of toilets increases number of users with access to improve sanitation
Our stand-alone solution simplifies deployment and increases accessibility:
Cleaner solution increases environmental safety and sustainability:
- Reduced fuel use from waste-collection/haulage (vs alternatives);
- Reduced volumes of open sewage or waste-discharge;
- Reduced water-use and pollution—conserving local water resources;
- Reduced disease-likelihood in children with access to safe, clean toilets;
- Reduced vector-borne disease-exposure in cleaner communities;
- 100% containment of waste and odor allows for placement in compact spaces and closer locations to where people live/work, so clean toilets can be more easily-accessible;
- Installing toilets in closer, less-isolated areas reduces women’s/girl’s exposure to attack and sexual assault;
- Low-cost, low-maintenance, compact, clean toilets may increase toilet-access in schools, helping girl-students to more easily pursue their educations.
Cleaner solution increases safety and health of communities:
Select the key characteristics of the community you are impacting.
Which of the UN Sustainable Development Goals does your project address?
In which countries do you currently operate?
In which countries will you be operating within the next year?
How many people does your project currently serve? How many will it serve in one year? In five years?
Currently, our 2 iThrones in Kiboga, Uganda serve 400 people with safer/improved sanitation. Each iThrone serves 20-50 users/day, and also has potential to reduce vector-borne disease spread in crowded urban areas (ie ~500-1000 people in the surrounding 0.25-0.5km).
In one year, we expect to have 4000 iThrones deployed, providing between 80K-200K users per day (and 24MM-60MM users per year) with improved sanitation, and reducing vector-borne disease exposure to 2MM-4MM people in those communities.
In 5yrs, we expect to have at least 150K units deployed, providing
3MM-7.5MM users per day (and 900MM-2.3Bn users per year) with improved sanitation, and reducing vector-borne disease exposure to 75MM-150MM people in those communities.
Additionally, our iThrones confer significant environmental benefits and help low-resource communities to be more resilient. One iThrone could conserve ~20K-130K gal/household/yr of water versus flush-toilets (which waste ~10 bathtubs-worth of clean water every day to get rid of 1 bucketful of waste). By shrinking sewage, we could conserve 9-45 MM gal gasoline/toilet/year from reduced collection/haulage. One iThrone could avoid 5-10Tg/household/yr of methane emissions from raw sewage (equivalent to driving 1500-3000mi/yr)--by rapidly dehydrating the sewage and cutting off microbial methane emissions. (About 4% of man-made methane emissions come from distrubuted, untreated waste. Our waste-drying technology helps to fight climate change.)
What are your goals within the next year and within the next five years?
In 2021, we will launch the iThrone to the market.
Our goals are:
To sell 8.5K units (generating $2.6MM revenues) into Uganda, Turkey and possibly India, Bangladesh and the US, improving sanitation for urban slum communities, refugee settlements and migrant/homeless populations.
To demonstrate iThrone’s transformational economics: a better, cleaner, more-dignified, more-accessible toilet at lower price (vs comparables); and a lower-maintenance toilet (emptied only every 1-2wks vs daily) that cuts collection costs, allowing servicing to be MUCH more scalable and sustainable.
By 2025, our goals are:
To have sold 150K+ toilets globally, achieving profitability, generating $42MM in revenues, and improving 7.5MM lives.
To have broadened applicability and reach of our toilets, serving needs in both developing and developed markets. With more sophisticated toilets, we aim to eventually displace installation of new flush-toilets, for our more-sustainable, water- and energy-conserving approach.
To have facilitated growth in the off-line sanitation sector with our cost-saving, cleaner toilets, so that more people can access safe, dignified sanitation.
To demonstrate measurable impacts in our target communities in terms of increased health and safety, with reduced diarrheal disease and developmental delays in children, reduced vector-borne disease spread, cleaner and more climate-resilient communities, and water conservation, reduced local pollution.
To increase toilet access in schools so that fewer girls have to choose between their safety and dignity and their education.
To expand applications of our platform technologies to address other needs and applications—eg off-grid water-treatment/desalination, off-grid energy generation, waste-to-value conversion, sustainable cooling, agriculture and food production and storage.
What barriers currently exist for you to accomplish your goals in the next year and in the next five years?
Our biggest challenges in the next year involve:
- Navigating COVID19-disruptions of work and travel/access to international markets and customers overseas—it has also temporarily stalled our field pilots.
- Raising sufficient funding to scale our operations for market launch—most investors avoid ventures combining technology-risk (especially in hardware/cleantech) and market-risk (given our initial market is likely low-income countries with insufficient sanitation infrastructure);
- User-risks—if and how users will adopt our product, given the wide range of practices, education and cultural sensitivities around sanitation.
In the next 5yrs, we will be challenged:
- To grow our sales and marketing efforts (given that demand is global-yet-local and highly fragmented);
- To evolve our product away from dependence on local servicing partners (not unique to our venture, but still, a challenge, since servicing is not always established in many markets, and where it is, it is very localized and variable);
- To improve our inputs/materials to be more sustainable;
- To protect our IP and brand.
How do you plan to overcome these barriers?
COVID: Despite travel restrictions and lockdown, we’ve been busy developing new components/technologies (eg bio-battery) and new product-concepts for domestic market needs that might in fact be launchable this year (eg US-targeted personal travel-toilet, to address new fears around using shared/public toilets and also for municipalities to provide temporary sanitation for homeless populations).
Fundraising: We have sufficient pilot data to engage seed-stage investors, and have successfully closed on new angel-funding. We are also looking at some innovative strategies to generate earlier revenues—sponsored-deployments, strategic investments, WASH-consulting services.
User-adoption/Cultural fit: We seek input from a large spectrum of local stakeholders and bake that into product design and implementation. Working with trusted local partners helps us get up the learning curve quickly!
Sales & Marketing: We are talking with large corporations as potential distribution partners (construction contractors, equipment/hardware distributors, etc). We will also build out a dedicated marketing team internally.
Product independence: Eventually, we will evolve our toilets to be serviceable by the users themselves.
Materials innovation: Our membranes are 95% compostable. We hope in future to render them 100% compostable/renewable. We are working with our expert supply-chain partners to explore potential strategies.
IP/brand-integrity: Our future strategy targets out-licensing of our toilet hardware (which is not particularly complex) to be produced closer to target markets, to reduce our operational and shipping/logistics costs. However, we will maintain production of our core IP, the “smarter” components (membrane, bio-battery) in-house. These components are cheap to produce and ship, but also need to meet high QA/QC standards.
What organizations do you currently partner with, if any? How are you working with them?
PILOT PARTNERS: We are currently operating iThrones in Kiboga District (Uganda), on the campus of the District Hospital, funded by a Humanitarian Grand Challenges Award (thus giving us visibility with four development agencies—UK-DFID, USAID, Dutch Foreign Ministry and Grand Challenges Canada—all large funders/procurers of humanitarian sanitation).
Our field partners are IME-Uganda (an international medical NGO) and BILU (a local WASH-focused women’s group). These partners helped us to design the field pilot (with key usage/operational specifications), introduced us to key local stakeholders and decisionmakers, and facilitated community-engagement and user-awareness/training workshops. They also assisted in on-the-ground pilot implementation and operations management: helping with field logistics; customs clearance; local contracting for the build; hiring and training of local field staff for project monitoring, day-to-day upkeep of the toilets, bi-monthly servicing/waste-removal; developing servicing-protocols and servicer-training.
We also are partnering with the Kiboga District Chief Administrative Officer (local government representative) to explore waste-to-value opportunities to support local job creation and revenue-generate to pay for ongoing toilet operations. With the District Departments of Agriculture and Forestry, we are investigating waste-to-fertilizer conversion as nutrient sources for local farming and artificial forestry.
Additionally, we are partnered an upcoming pilot with the UNDP, Turkish Foreign Ministry, and Gates Foundation to deploy our toilets to Syrian Refugee settlements.
R&D/PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT PARTNERS: Other partners include MIT D-Lab (which provides us access to production and testing facilities sufficient to produce 10-15 units/wk) and our supply-chain partners—specialty polymer film-extruders--who worked with us to scale-up production of our evaporative membrane.
What is your business model?
Globally, the public and private sector spend $18Bn/yr on portable toilets to try to fill the enormous sanitation-access gap. We will target this market, selling our hardware+consumables (toilets + monthly replacements of the evaporative pouches) to existing providers of sanitation services and infrastructure. Our razor/razor-blade revenue model means the growing install-base of our toilets will continue to generate recurring revenues from sales of replacements. Initially, we will sell B2B to the BUSINESSES along the sanitation value-chain:
(a) CONTRACTORS, who build out sanitation infrastructure (paid for by governments/NGOs), but need lower CAPEX options that don’t need plumbing or power infrastructure; and
(b) WASTE-COLLECTION SERVICERS (eg “fecal-sludge managers”/FSMs) who distribute portable sanitation and service it for a fee, and who need MUCH-LOWER maintenance toilets to reduce collection costs and frequencies, so their businesses can scale via increased revenues and more sustainable profit margins.
Our B2B customers would serve as initial distribution channels, buying toilets in bulk to install, deploy and service them. To launch lean, we will outsource or out-license production of our toilet hardware to CMOs, wholesalers and/or distributors, while maintaining production of the “smart” components—evaporative membrane and bio-battery media--in-house to ensure high quality standards.
We’ll sell our products via a channel-mix of web-sales, in-house salesforce and distributors. Already, with no out-bound marketing, we have significant in-bound interest, including LOIs from 3 global contractors for 6000 units and an initial purchase order from the Turkish Government and UNDP. This unsolicited interest demonstrates significant pent-up demand for our disruptive solution.
What is your path to financial sustainability?
We plan to launch the iThrone to the market by 2021, generating revenues on sales of the toilets and the replacement membranes (similar to a razor/razor-blade or subscription model). In that first year of sales, we expect to sell 8500 units (for which we already have unsolicited LOIs for 6000 units from 3 private and government contractors). By 2022, we expect to be profitable, self-funding and with 50% of our revenues being generated by replacement pouches.
Since our founding, we have been EXTREMELY lean, going from ambitious paper concept to deployed pilot units, spending only ~$0.6MM total over 5yrs. We now have a short path to revenue, as we prepare to launch our product in 2021. We will need to raise about $0.5-1.5MM to accelerate our progress and expand our capacity for market launch. In the first year of sales (2021), we expect to sell 8500 units (for which we have LOIs from 3 private and government contractors for 6000 units).
Our unsolicited LOIs are demonstration of enormous pent-up demand for smarter sanitation solutions for “off-line” or portable applications. The market for portable toilets is $18Bn/yr (with projected growth to $25Bn by 2027). The public and private sectors spend at least $73Bn/yr on sanitation (with smarter toilets potentially unleashing another $50Bn/yr in spending) and deploy ~0.5MM toilets/yr for post-crisis sanitation. India and China are purchasing >100MM portable-toilets to upgrade their sanitation infrastructure.
If you have raised funds for your project or are generating revenue, please provide details.
We have successfully raised $630K in non-dilutive grants & awards, including:
$50K Angel investment (SAFE);
$63K (SDGia Pilot Funding/Purchase Order, backed by the Turkish Foreign Ministry, UNDP, the Gates Foundation and Ezcacıbaşı Holdings);
$36K Award (from Innospark Ventures and MIT SOLVE);
$190K Grand (Humanitarian Grand Challenges Award, backed by the UK, US and Dutch Governments, and Grand Challenges Canada);
$30K Award (Cartier Women’s Initiative Award);
$50K Award (Chivas-Regal’s 2018 Venture Competition);
$10K Award (Cleantech Open);
$16K Award (MIT 100K Business Plan Competition);
$10K Award (MIT Water Innovation Prize);
$25K Award (Harvard Arab Startup Pitch);
$20K Award (MIT Enterprise Forum PanArab “Innovate for Refugees” Challenge);
$25K Grant (Columbia University Tamer Social Impact Fund);
$40K Grant (MassCEC Catalyst Award);
$8K Grant (MIT IDEAS Global Challenge).
We are also in early discussions with some strategic & impact investors around SAFEs or convertible notes. In addition, we also have LOI’s from 3 private contractors for 6000 units post-pilot validation. Our innovation was selected among Fast Company's 2019 World Changing Ideas and we were invited by the Turkish Government and UNDP to present our work to a panel to a high-level commission at the 2019 UN Climate Summit.
If you seek to raise funds for your project, please provide details.
In the next 12mo, we will seek to raise between $0.5MM-$1.5MM (as either equity, impact investment, convertible debt, strategic investment, corporate sponsorship or grants). We plan to use this funding to expand our team and accelerate the scale up of our manufacturing, business development, sales and distribution capacity, to allow us to pivot toward market launch and fulfill our first orders. In total, we expect we will need to raise $3.5MM total over the next 2-3 years, which should allow us to be self-funding by 2023.
What are your estimated expenses for 2020?
Our total expenses projected for 2020 is about $200K-250K, covering our international field deployments, engineering team, spending on materials, travel, fabrication and subcontracted services to support our field deployment and piloting of our first iThrones, as well as pre-market launch costs ahead of our projected 2021 market launch.
Why are you applying for The Elevate Prize?
The Elevate Prize would greatly accelerate our pace-to-market and our launch of the iThrone--allowing us to expand our team, our operations, our outreach and to prepare to support global distribution of our product. Vulnerable populations shouldn't have to wait for safer, cleaner sanitation. The Elevate Prize could help us get our first 1000 toilets deployed, improving the lives of 0.5-1MM people next year! We have strong interest from a wide spectrum of potential customers (including governments, private sector contractors, NGOs, etc), hinting at an enormous pent-up demand for our solution. Despite indications of very strong customer interest, it will be hard for us to attract traditional investment prior to market launch, as we aren't a usual fit with most venture funds (who are either wary of cleantech, hardware or overseas markets). The Elevate Prize would provide the catalytic bridge to fund the gap from pilot validation to scale production and market launch, and would unleash significant follow-on resources to allow us reach more people in more places more quickly.
In which of the following areas do you most need partners or support?
Please explain in more detail here.
Our biggest current need is introduction to aligned investors (either financial, strategic or philanthropic). We hope to raise $0.5-1.5MM in the next year, and with COVID slowing down investment activity, we would welcome help to identify the right partners who are in a position to invest in the near term.
As we gear up for market launch, we need to generate more in-bound interest and potential customer leads. We've already seen that there is pent-up demand for what we are doing, we just need more exposure to have those customers find us.
We would like introductions to potential strategic and supply chain partners, to help with scale up production and distribution post-market launch.
What organizations would you like to partner with, and how would you like to partner with them?
We could benefit enormously from ELEVATE's global network of investors and philanthropic organizations, to help us identify funders, strategic partners, potential customers and other amplifiers for our solution. We'd love to explore if there could be introductions or connections to global organizations like Unilever, with their expertise in Sanitation-for-All and their experience with fecal-sludge management operations (via their involvement with Clean Team), their base-of-the- pyramid and consumer marketing expertise (especially with respect to base-of-the-pyramid and consumer markets), and synergies in deploying our sanitation infrastructure with UNILEVER’s portfolio of hygiene products. Other ideal introductions could include UNICEF (especially their SUPPLY DIVISION), UNHCR, GRAMEEN, etc.
- Diana Yousef Founder and CEO, change:WATER Labs