One in every four items placed in recycling bins aren’t accepted through municipal recycling programs, said Michelle Goetsch, co-founder and chief executive officer of Wausau-based startup ERbin.
This came as a surprise to “Project Pitch It” moguls, who heard Goetsch pitch her startup company on Saturday’s episode of WISN-TV Channel 12’s Shark Tank-style TV show.
Moguls had difficulty distinguishing which products, such as an almond milk container, are actually recyclable. All the “unacceptable” items are called “contamination” and contamination costs the material recovery industry millions of dollars every year, Goetsch said.
“Recycling is incredibly complex, packaging is complex and most people don’t know this, but your guidelines vary by community,” Goetsch said.
ERbin is an app that allows people to scan the bar codes of products to see if their local recycling programs will actually recycle the product. The app gives detailed instructions specific to the user’s community.
The company generates revenue by selling the app as a subscription to stakeholders in the recycling industry, which includes the municipality who runs the local program, the hauler who moves the waste and the material recovery facilities who process the recovered materials.
In building the app, the company is collecting a proprietary database, which it hopes to sell to companies who want to be more conscious of what packaging they use to sell their products, Goetch said.
“The municipality and the haulers are going to be her key customers, so to me that’s a huge breakthrough right there,” said mogul Jerry Jendusa.
ERbin was one of two startups to win both the Project Pitch It and Stritch Pitch prizes, which include $10,000 and up to 3 courses at Cardinal Stritch University, access to innovation space and faculty and staff mentoring for one year.
The other company was Slide Gourmet Potato Chips, a Madison-based startup founded by Christine Marie Mathews Ameigh.
Slide Gourmet Potato Chips brands itself as the perfect party chip or the chip that doesn’t break in the dip. The company has five different flavors and the product is made with locally grown potatoes.
Slide Gourmet Potato Chips are sold in 70 retail locations throughout Wisconsin, but Matthews Ameigh has plans to sell in 500 retailers over the next three years. The company generated $100,000 in sales in 2019.
“We’ve been doing all of our own sales and distribution and now I am starting with two new distributors,” Ameigh Matthews said.
Mogul David Gruber suggest the company rework its packaging to include “the chip that doesn’t break in the dip.”
“Part of the reason I’m looking for an investor is because I want to redo the packaging and make it more Wisconsin-focused,” said Matthews Ameigh.
Startup company Optimization Ventures was also featured on Saturday’s Project Pitch It episode. Co-founded by UW-Whitewater graduate Brandon Fong, Optimization Ventures created an online course called “The Ultimate Advantage,” which teaches people how to build a personal brand and leverage their brand to connect with other successful people.
Fong said the idea is to pair those who take the course with people in a particular career or industry that are willing to provide mentorship. The idea, he added, is for a student to identity a professional who is in a position or place they aspire to reach.
“It works for students, aspiring business owners, people sick of climbing the corporate ladder,” Fong said. “This will work for anyone trying to save years of trial-and-error and is willing to put in the work.”
“I’ll tell you what I like about this model, especially when you brought up the concept about mentoring,” said Dr. Debbie Allen. “I am very specific about who I will mentor and they have to have the drive and be willing to take action based on what we’re working on and what we suggest.”
Optimization Ventures earned the “Get Unstuck Award,” which is a $5,000 cash prize along with one year of business coaching and strategy deployment. Fong said he plans to reinvest in the business by scaling up paid Youtube and Facebook marketing efforts.