Sanergy: An MIT Love Story

We could not have imagined the outpouring of support that we’ve received over the past several days. And, we cannot tell you how inspiring and energizing it is for us to hear such support. We know, though, that we now shift our focus to the hard part: building the whole system.

When we conceived of this idea in MIT’s Development Ventures class (taught by Joost and Sandy), we knew that it was going to take a village to succeed. How do you aim to build 6000 toilets solo? Fortunately, MIT attracts the ideal villagers.

Assembling the village starts with finding a team of people who share a passion for sanitation. OK, more realistically, a team who believe that it’s a fundamental human right to have a dignified, hygienic sanitation experience. Out of the MIT woodwork have appeared committed designers and engineers who literally know how to get shit done. They crushed our challenge of building a $500 toilet with local labor and material, instead creating one that costs only $200. Now we’re aiming for $150.

Then it takes takes capital to fly to Kenya, to set up workshops, and to learn from experts in other parts of the world. At every turn, the MIT Public Service Center, the IDEAS Competition, the IDI, and the Legatum Center have found dollars for us to do that. We can’t thank you enough!

And, when we arrived on the ground in Kenya, who can we turn to that we trust? Well, in the heart of the University of Nairobi, MIT has established a Fab Lab, which ensured that we were able to develop 3D renderings of our design before making costly molds. Professor Suri keeps opening doors for us through her network developed in studying M-Pesa.

Back in Cambridge, the support of the MIT E-Center has been incredible in giving us space, coffee, printing, more coffee, phones, more coffee and endless encouragement.

And, now there is the support of the MIT100K. It took all of our work in business school – pricing strategies, financial models, conjoint surveys – to put together the business plan, yet we doubted that a panel of venture capitalists and industry leaders would be swayed that our work has clear financial and social impact. They amazed us with their confidence in our baby.

And, finally, there’s the support of our friends. None of us do what we do for external validation, but when we walked into the Beacon Hill Pub after the 100K finale, the entire bar chanted “SAN-ER-GY.” As people approached us to say they are proud to attend a school where their classmates are trying to tackle these Big Hairy Audacious Goals, they gave us so much energy to keep pressing on against the odds and with more sure hearts.

Thank you for all that you do.


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