2017-11-09 / News

A Brown student for cleaner living

Nathan Housberg invents miniature washer-dryer for dorms, hotels

It took fewer than two minutes for a Jamestowner to convince judges his economical laundry system for college students was a spotless solution to a dirty problem.

Nathan Housberg, a junior math major at Brown University, was a finalist at the 2017 Elevator Pitch Contest, a statewide entrepreneurial challenge sponsored by the Rhode Island Business Plan Competition. He presented a miniature washer-dryer that could fit snuggly into dorms and hotel rooms, which, Housberg said, is not currently on the market.

“Our team stumbled onto some cool technology that might make it feasible,” he said.

The 12th annual contest, which was hosted on Nov. 1 at the Providence Tech Collective, featured 10 finalists who were granted 90 seconds to showcase their ideas. The competition is named for “an elevator pitch,” which is a spiel that lasts as long as an elevator ride. In that time, salesmen must present persuasive arguments to sway potential buyers and investors.

Without a prototype to showcase, Housberg used the 90 seconds to describe his product, customer base and revenue plan. While the time limit made him nervous, he was confident his delivery would persuade the judges.

“I was really happy with how we did,” said the son of Paul and Sheila Housberg of North Main Road. “I felt like I nailed my dictation.”

The concept for the miniature washer-dryer stems from Housberg’ s entrepreneurship class. For a group project, his team was tasked with developing a business plan for an imaginary start-up company. He didn’t conceive the idea through brainstorm, but rather while he was performing a routine chore — washing his clothes. A light bulb went off as he folded laundry alongside his dorm mates.

“I was watching how they did their laundry and the problems associated with that,” he said. “I really started to realize that young professionals living in small apartments, or travelers living in hotel rooms, are forced to use these communal laundry rooms or expensive laundry services that aren’t convenient.”

Before pitching to the judges, Housberg had to persuade his team. After convincing his classmates to pursue the invention, they discovered there was no comparable product on the market. The classroom assignment soon evolved into a real-world possibility, and the professor recommended they enter the statewide competition.

“We realized we had something pretty interesting,” he said.

Although Housberg was on stage by himself, his teammates acted as a sounding board. They tweaked the presentation alongside him during three days of preparation. The group also practiced the pitch to make sure it captured their vision.

During the presentation, Housberg gave a brief explanation of his distribution plan. Starting with a rental service for college students and travelers, his company would sell directly to hotels and apartment managers. A wider rollout through big-box stores would be the final stage. That strategy already was vetted during class, although it took about three hours to boil it down.

“We had a lot of material right at our fingertips” he said. “We just needed to put that into a 90-second format.”

While Housberg’s proposal was conceived in a month, other finalists had been working on their projects for much longer, including some inventions that already have secured funding.

The finalists split $1,000 in prize money. Among them were Housberg’s friends from Brown, Roja Garimella and Rose Mangiarotti, who were recognized for their “sticky bra” with replaceable adhesives. The overall winner was David Katzevich, also a Brown undergraduate, who pitched a software program that would help farmers detect mold on their plants sooner than later. Housberg was impressed by Katzevich’s idea.

“It was a very interesting concept,” he said. “I had no idea there was a market need for stuff like that.”

Housberg and his team will continue working on their product beyond the scope of the original assignment. He said participating in the competition will give them a boost in the future, especially when it comes to funding.

“Having that practice speaking to investors is going to be incredibly valuable,” he said. “Hopefully it will give credibility to our business now.”

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