High-Impact Entrepreneurship

Endeavor alum wins MIT100K Business Plan Competition

David Auerbach, the author of the following post ran Partnerships, Policy and Outreach at Endeavor from 2006-2009. Inspired by Endeavor Entrepreneurs, he decided to go to business school two years ago and just won the MIT100K Business Plan Competition for his new initiative, Sanergy. Also be sure to check out Elmira Bayrasli’s profile of Sanergy on the Forbes blog.

I left Endeavor two years ago to go to business school at MIT-Sloan. Endeavor Entrepreneurs have inspired me more than they could possibly know. Some of them are people who just knew that they could do their specific expertise better than the status quo. They got fed up with convention and so they re-wrote the rules. Others are dreamers who have the craziest ideas. And others basically saw an idea in one country and said, “Hey, I can make that idea work in my country.” I’d like to think that all three of those “types” played a part in shaping what I’m up to now.

With a new venture, Sanergy, we are trying to tackle the sanitation crisis in urban slums. We are doing this by building low-cost toilets (made of thin cement), then collecting the waste, and converting it into fertilizer (which we can sell to flower farms) and electricity (which we can sell to the grid). We are also creating local jobs because each toilet is owned by a local resident, who can operate it as a viable business charging people to use the toilet (which is commonplace). We are starting with the slums of Kenya, where 8 million people lack access to a good toilet and resort instead to undignified experiences.

We’ve got a great team. There are three of us from MIT’s business school and then, over the last two years, we’ve found engineers and designers across the MIT campus (and now the University of Nairobi, Chicago and Georgetown), who share our passion for sanitation and have helped us design and deploy the toilet. So far, we have two toilets that are operating in the slums and 150 people are using them every day. We’re headed there in June to scale our enterprise up and start producing fertilizer. Within five years, we aim to be serving 500,000 people with high-quality sanitation.

Last week, my team won the MIT100K Business Plan competition. This is a prestigious competition and, much like becoming an Endeavor Entrepreneur, gives us new credibility with investors and partners. It’s great step for us and we are thrilled. Winning the MIT100K is a big deal to us for a number of reasons. Of course, the money doesn’t hurt. But more importantly, in the grand scheme of things, I am hoping that this is a big win for business with purpose. This competition is traditionally won by companies that have the next great idea in software, on the web, or in pharma. The idea that a business can be profitable and have an expressed social mission and win this competition gives me so much hope for the future!

You can learn more about Sanergy by following us on our blog.


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