Successful entrepreneurs often say the best startup ideas come from fixing a problem that everybody experiences but nobody else is trying to solve.
Grant Jenkins lived and worked in walkable downtown Indianapolis when the idea for eCeptacle PowerBin came to him. Instead of seeing trash cans on every corner, he saw a better use opportunity to help the city reduce costs, increase public safety, and provide an infrastructure for community Wi-Fi.
The eCeptacle PowerBin is an intelligent waste disposal system that is ready to hit the market at a time when cities and parks, for example, are dealing with lower revenues and higher costs, so a system that can offer to help reverse the trend with the added bonuses of a new revenue stream and appealing community enhancements is quite opportune.
Here are the bullets on eCeptacle’s PowerBin:
- Yes, it’s a trash can, but like none you’ve ever seen before, with both indoor and outdoor versions.
- It compacts solid waste using human power every time the foot pedal is depressed to open the lid.
- The unit itself notifies public works or janitorial staff when it is 75% full and ready for a pickup.
- Each PowerBin provides channel blanket Wi-Fi creating a public infrastructure powered by solar or AC.
- A corresponding mobile app makes each unit an emergency call station, which eCeptacle calls DigitalMace™.
- Digital display screens may be used for advertising or public service like Amber Alerts.
- Users, like cities and parks, instantly create 300% more capacity and reduce the need for trash pickups by 70%.
“World class cities offer visitors world class experiences, and amenities like free public Wi-Fi and easy-to-use, tech enabled safety precautions are exactly what cities like Indianapolis are looking for and open to,” Grant said.
Every city has trash cans on every corner. Every park and sports venue has them, too. “They are going to be there anyway so why not make better use of them?” This is the eCeptacle approach. If you download the smartphone app its acts like a virtual panic button that automates a 911 call and the PowerBin sounds an alarm and starts flashing lights. Instead of having to also invest in the typical emergency call boxes and poles, why not just invest once in PowerBins that do the same thing? This sales approach seems to be resonating with eCeptacle prospects.
There’s also another safety benefit. Instead of having to drive around and find a Wi-Fi signal to upload and download data using an air card, police officers could check in virtually anywhere, which some prospects estimated could save up to 15 minutes per hour wasted with data exchange limitations.
I caught up with Grant and talked about eCeptacle when he was entering into the Tailwind program, a TechPoint initiative powered by the Office of Small Business and Entrepreneurship that helps innovation-driven companies accelerate growth by connecting them to resources they need. The following is some of the Q&A with Grant.
Tell us about the team who built the PowerBin. How did you overcome any obstacles? What was most challenging and how did you solve it?
We worked with Rose-Hulman Ventures (RHV) on the engineering and fabrication and Sport Graphics on the industrial design. Both have been tremendous partners for us and bring a completely different set of skills and experience to eCeptacle. When we first approached RHV with our idea, they took it, flipped it around, turned it inside out, and showed us how it should be built. The result was amazing, reducing weight, increasing capacity, while also eliminating any power need for the compaction process. Sport Graphics worked directly with RHV and designed what we feel is the sleekest, most attractive device you will find on any street, park, or venue (such that it is hard to even label it a trash can).
With the digital displays, we have talked with one of the largest billboard companies and they are excited about the potential of having thousands of more spaces to sell. eCeptacle plans to share in these ad revenues, so from a prospect standpoint, it may be possible to cover the costs of the PowerBins and generate new income with them that could be reinvested into the roads or other infrastructure.
Can you outline the experience of developing eCeptacle’s PowerBin? What was the genesis?
This has been a very satisfying part. Rather than build my vision of what I saw the PowerBin to look like and try to sell to customers why I thought they needed it, we’ve spent one and a half years talking with prospective customers like the cities of Indianapolis and Evansville, the Indiana Pacers and Indy Parks. We’ve been getting their feedback on what they would like to see with our device, what problems they face and how we might be able to assist in solving those problems. Our product has evolved (and continues to evolve) based on these conversations and customer feedback. This will assist in making the sales process much quicker and with less push back as we already know and understand what problems they have and the solution we can bring to them.
Startups often pivot or shift their business models and other major business aspects; did you experience these types of changes?
No pivots as of yet. However, we continue to implement additional “value added” options to PowerBin based on these conversations with prospects. Our prospective customers are able to articulate what they want and need, which enables us to directly solve their problems in very specific ways. While the compaction and “almost full” notification are core aspects of PowerBin now, it’s been these additional features that are really attractive and exciting to our potential clients.
What makes eCeptacle special or different?
We are the only company providing commercial trash bins that offer such an integrated feature set — highlighted by the Wi-Fi, digital displays and DigitalMace™ public safety features. We have filed provisional patents to protect this system and the feedback from prospective clients has been fantastic thus far.
The vision for eCeptacle also has a philanthropic core value. I’m not sure how many startups incorporate a not-for-profit foundation at the same time they built their core business model, but we have. Revenue streams will fund this foundation as soon as sales thresholds and company milestones are achieved. Helping our clients’ communities address issues like homeless and domestic violence or other issues affecting our communities, we want to be supportive of these initiatives while we grow.
What are the biggest lessons you have learned through creating and launching your company?
Diving into a startup that is tech heavy and out of your comfort zone or past experience is a learning process that is like drinking through a fire hose. Don’t wait on anyone to help you and have multiple back up plans. We spent about five months waiting on an individual who ended up wasting our time and costing us money. The positive result was that we retained a greater ownership percentage and that negative experience of waiting on someone else to get it done only pushed us harder to become successful.