Business

This Idaho-produced toilet seat just won $20,000 and 1st place in a Boise competition

What do clean toilet seats and nonallergenic breast milk have in common? They were considered the best startup ideas by judges at the Pitch Competition at Boise Startup Week.

Washie, a toilet seat intended for public places that lets users clean it off first, and Free to Feed, a series of strips to test for breast milk allergens to help find food sensitivities in babies, won the grand prize of $20,000 and the runner-up prize of $5,000, respectively.

The competition Wednesday at JUMP received 32 applicants, which were narrowed down to 16 semifinalists. Dress rehearsals, which cut the semifinalists to four finalists, were held on Sept. 30 at Boise State University.

Washie, developed by Robert Poleki , a former Bannock County Clerk who quit his job to develop the product, includes a canister with foam. Like soap dispensers, the foam dispenses when you wave your hand in front of it, and then you can wipe the foam across the seat with toilet paper to clean it. It is cheaper and more sanitary than other options such as paper protectors, he said.

The toilet seat is also connected to the cloud and can alert maintenance personnel when repair or refilling is needed.

Washie 1st Place Check at Boise Startup Week 10-9-19.jpg
Washie, a Pocatello, Idaho, startup, won the $20,000 first place prize on Oct. 9, 2019, in the annual Pitch Competition at Boise Startup Week. From left are Nick Taylor, an attorney at Stoel Rives LLP in Boise; Dane Simmons, vice president and cofounder of Washie; Rob Poleki, CEO and cofounder of Washie; andNick Crabbs, partner at Vynyl in Boise and co-chairman of Boise Startup Week.

Washie is focusing on airports, and the product is being installed in several of them, with a number of others interested, Poleki said.

He received an $83,000 IGEM grant from the state of Idaho, invested $100,000 of his own money and received $150,000 from friends and family. The company is seeking $1.5 million in seed-round funding, he said.

While Washie makes money on the seats themselves, the real money is in selling the foam cartridges, Poleki said.

Allergens in breast milk

Free to Feed, developed by Trillitye Paullin, consists of canisters of strips to test for common food allergens in breast milk.

Some babies are allergic to substances transmitted through the breast milk from food the mother has eaten, but such sensitivities can be notoriously difficult to track down, because of delays between the food appearing in the milk and the baby’s reaction, she said.

The strips cost 15 cents to make, meaning a canister costs $1.50 plus packaging and shipping. It would sell for $19.99, Paullin said.

Tests indicated that it would typically take about five canisters to track down food sensitivities in a baby, she said.

Energy storage, home inspections

Another presenter was Joule Case, which makes portable energy storage. Joule Case has closed on a $500,000 convertible note and is starting to move on to Series A funding. The company is working on one contract that would result in $120 million of orders, said Amber Bieg, chief marketing officer.

HouseCheck, a presenter, is creating a national network of home inspectors that will collect data on houses that can be monetized later. The company wants to raise $10 million to buy eight more home inspection firms.

VR, dating, training, roommates

Other companies that presented pitches were:

Blocksmith, a virtual reality company.

Gravity, a dating application that uses artificial intelligence..

Tovuti, a training company.

Chillow, an application that helps people find roommates.

Jungo, which helps connect student athletes with schools.

An exhibition during the judging demonstrated a number of other products, including:

Terroir AI, an application for vineyards that uses artificial intelligence to help grow better grapes.

Pitch Aeronautics, which is developing an inspection drone.

Planted People, which gives businesses access to service industry staff.

Boise Startup Week is an annual educational, networking and social event sponsored by more than 50 businesses and other organizations for startup founders seeking investments or mentorship, investors seeking prospects, employers seeking talent, and students seeking employment.

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