One University of Wyoming student now has $15,000 to help build a better porta-potty.
Trevor Trouchon, a first-year student in computer engineering, won this year’s John P. Ellbogen $30K Entrepreneurship Competition with his idea of monitoring aspects of a porta-potty linked to cleanliness.
“When I was a senior in high school, I was tasked with finding a problem in the world and making a solution for it,” he said. “For whatever reason, I decided on porta-potties. They’re pretty gross, and people don’t necessarily like using them.”
This year’s $30K Competition had 47 student groups apply for the grand prize of $15,000 to jump-start their business. As an engineering student, Trouchon didn’t know much from the business side at all. However, Bruce Morse, regional director of the Wyoming Small Business Development Center acted as Trouchon’s mentor for the competition.
“(Trouchon) freely admitted business was where he was weak,” Morse said. “The competition has really helped him become entrepreneurial-minded. We focused a lot on the business side and not just on the device.”
Third place winner Kyle Kuhn was in a similar position as Trouchon — a mechanical engineer with ideas to bring composite materials to the snowmobile industry.
“There’s a variety of people who make various lightweight components, but most haven’t touched carbon fiber,” Kuhn said.
Kuhn been working on various panels and parts for years and finally took the dive into the $30K competition and now has $5,000 to continue his work.
The entrepreneurship competition is meant to help UW students stay in Wyoming and open a business, said Steve Russell, director of marketing at the College of Business.
“I think this is the most successful year we’ve had,” he said. “Although we try to do this as a learning experience, some students really excel and want to find out how to move forward.”
Trouchon had already decided to continue working on his prototype during his freshman year at UW before entering the competition.
“I’ll have something really cool and gain some important skills I could apply in the classroom,” he said. “I saw the competition as a way to keep learning those skills and learn the business side of things.”
Trouchon ended up with a possible pricing model and a name for his company — SanMon — and is getting to know people in the industry and lots of advice from the competition’s judges.
One key difference that set Trouchon above most other competitors was his prototype, Morse said.
“It showed that his plan wasn’t just theory or something really difficult to understand,” he said. “This was something people could relate to.”
The small device wouldn’t cost more than $40, Trouchon said, and could still make a big difference by measuring temperature, tank level and number of people using the porta-potty.
Right now, companies are cleaning units based on a simple timetable, Trouchon said, without accounting for usage. His device could show companies when and where porta-potties are getting full and changing replacement routes.
While Trouchon does have a working prototype, he knows it can be better, which is how he plans on using some of the $15,000.
“The basic summary is to refine the design to be a little more practical,” he said. “Beyond that, I’ll get a little bit in the small-scale production side. I’ll begin field testing this device in Gillette to ensure everything works correctly this summer.”
While he still has the rest of his undergraduate degree and possible graduate school to finish, Trouchon’s already looking into the possibility of a business after finishing school.
“I’d like to start small and then see how quickly we could go from there,” he said. “I might not change the world, but I’d change porta-potties.”