This article was published on 20 July 2020
Focusing on major milestones, managing IP and being ready to seize new opportunities are among the valuable lessons learned for C-Prize 2019 Challenge finalists OneBin, writes team member Mostafa Seifan.
‘It’s not what you know, it’s who you know’, is a saying you hear often in business.
Going into C-Prize, as a team of enthusiastic, experienced and talented engineers (who were all working on various projects at the University of Waikato) we knew we had the ‘what’ – our innovative OneBin product that identifies and separates recyclables from waste.
But what we had less of was the ‘who’ – and this is an area where being a C-Prize finalist has particularly helped us on our commercialisation journey. Apart from the financial support offered through the Challenge, it’s also provided us with a great opportunity to engage with potential customers and others who can help us develop our business idea.
The focus of C-Prize 2019 is on innovative tech-based solutions to tackle environmental issues.
The issue our innovation addresses is that globally, 2.01 billion tonnes of municipal waste is sent to landfill every year, with at least 33% of that not managed in an environmentally-friendly way. In New Zealand alone, more than 2.5 million tonnes of rubbish is sent to landfill annually – 75% of which could be prevented by better resource recovery systems and waste management practices.
The aim of our product, OneBin, is to reduce the contamination in recycling streams, thus reducing the total amount of recyclable material going to landfill. Our approach is to see it, sort it, solve it.
To do this, OneBin uses the latest artificial intelligence technology to identify and separate recyclables from waste. This technology will also enable OneBin to intuitively perform waste audits, report the fill level of the bin and maintenance issues, and generate real-time reports – making recycling more convenient and reducing the opportunity for human error.
Our commercialisation journey with C-Prize
The COVID-19 pandemic significantly changed our commercialisation journey. Before COVID-19 we were about to sign early adopter agreements with multiple well-established companies intending to use our technology in over a 100 stores. Unfortunately, many of our original customers are now on a spending freeze. We had to make many changes to adapt quickly to the current situation.
This is where the ‘who’ comes in. One of the primary challenges we faced during the competition was finding the right people to talk to about our product. This is because initially we were focused on users of the product, rather than potential customers who would take advantage of our technology to solve their problems.
We then faced the challenge of how to engage these potential customers in the development of our idea.
As part of the programme we were offered valuable mentorship, and with their guidance we have been able to develop our business idea and expand our networks to reach out to potential customers.
We have now interviewed many leading NZ companies, listening to their needs and gaining feedback on our product. This has helped us form a coherent business plan around our technology. A couple of companies are now interested in our product to showcase their concerns about the environment, which is exciting to see.
Connecting with experts through the Challenge has also helped us gain an understanding of everything from intellectual property and trading, to strategic management, and the Lean Canvas.
Engaging with potential customers continues to be a priority. In response to customer feedback we plan to redesign and modify our initial concept to better meet the needs our potential customers are expressing, and the categories of waste they’re interested in segregating.
We’re also paving a path to scale our product, with a plan to field trial our platform soon.
It’s been an exciting time, and we firmly believe the C-Prize challenge will help us position our company at the forefront of environmentally innovative firms around the world.
We’ll be sharing journey blogs from our C-Prize finalist teams in the lead up to the announcement of the 2019/20 C-Prize supreme winner on Friday 14 August.