Tell us a bit about you and your venture! What was your inspiration for creating Intuitive, Inc.?
I come from a long line of social innovators and entrepreneurs. So, wanting to do something that makes the world a better place is really part of my DNA. My father is a serial entrepreneur who has built several successful businesses throughout his life. He taught my brothers and I humility by making us work through the ranks and treat every worker with respect. I remember, on many days, leaving school and going directly to the factory to learn a new skill and eat a simple meal of bread, yogurt, and cucumbers mixed with onions with the workers.
My grandfather spent his life building Haji Murad Trust Eye Hospital, which provides free eye treatment for the poor. So I grew up with an understanding that my social status wasn’t a right, it was a privilege given to me as a tool to serve others.
There’s always been this hunger in me to do something impactful for those who don’t have the means to do it for themselves. For me, Intuitive is not just a company, it’s about me leaving a legacy of service beyond self.
The inspiration behind Intuitive:
The catalyst that inspired me to create Intuitive came after my trip to China. I saw the devastation that waste had on local communities and it caused me many sleepless nights. I knew that finding a solution to this problem would be a step towards assuaging my hunger to make a tangible impact in the lives of people less fortunate than myself.
I had observed how unintuitive and unrewarding recycling methods were in first world countries. This influenced my apathy towards a recycling system that generates more waste that entered landfills or shipped off to third world countries. This waste was either left to rot at facilities in the third world countries or dumped into oceans, damaging habitats and ecosystems wherever it went.
I decided to stop the problem at its source by developing technology to detect and sort items at the first point of entry using machine intelligence. The really cool thing about Intuitive is that, for me, it was very intuitive to want to find a solution to a problem that affected the lives of so many people.
What problem is your venture solving? Why did you choose to tackle this market?
Currently the world only recycles 2% of the entire (organic, recyclable, etc.) waste we generate. This means that 98% of the waste we generate goes to landfills, oceans and third world countries. When you probe further into this, you find that the largest amount of waste is being generated by first world, educated countries, not the third world countries it usually ends up in. The most shocking and unbelievable fact is that 82% of what we consume on a daily basis can be recycled.
After a failed attempt at a similar idea during my capstone, I founded Intuitive, Inc. right after graduation with my partner in crime, Vivek Vyas. We developed Smart Bins to eliminate the problem of waste recycling at the source. Our Smart Bins incorporate technology that sorts waste into correct categories using machine intelligence to detect and identify items, while training itself to become “smarter” in identifying with use.
A huge benefit of the Smart Bins is the ability to know what’s in your waste. Knowing what kinds of waste we produce, we can find more environmentally friendly alternatives. Using the Smart Bins, we also become advocates to hold companies accountable for producing non-recyclable packaging and products.
What are some of the unique challenges of building a cleantech company?
One challenge is making economic sense of our product as most cleantech companies are driven from the urge to make the world a better place. This is a challenge with most businesses. However, cleantech solutions notoriously get a little more of the “this isn’t a sustainable business model” slack than others. Once in a while, though, you get companies like Tesla and SolarCity that do beat the odds and change history by creating industries that were once thought to be impossible.
Where do you see yourself and your venture in 5 years?
Our vision is to empower a zero waste world by developing intuitive technologies that change people’s perceptions around garbage bins and recycling by gamifying recycling and developing products that people become attached to. We hope to inspire people with the reality that they themselves are making this world a better place.
We want to become global leaders in the area of smart waste reducing technologies.
Being a leader is only as important as where you are leading those who are following you.
So we want to lead with an ambitious goal: by the end of 5 years, our Smart Bins will be utilized globally and the carbon footprint of first world countries will be drastically reduced because of it. There will be no need for third world countries to be used as global garbage dumps.
What has been your most valuable lesson during your time in NextAI?
The most valuable lesson that I’ve gained from having around 60–70 meetings is to plan several steps ahead, focus on outcomes and allow tasks to result from effective outcomes. From the beginning, Vivek and I knew what we wanted to achieve through NextAI. The “how” and “when” changed as we kept going, but the outcome was clear — to succeed.
How did going through NextAI stack up to your expectations of it?
I expected it to be the best incubator in Toronto, but it turned out to be the best in the world. A lot of incubators focus on company development and networking, which NextAI does very aggressively. However, other incubators often forget the most vital element that drives the company to be successful: the founder.
NextAI focused on founder development by bringing in top professors from Harvard, MIT, Georgetown & University of Toronto. They taught us strategies to pursue opportunities in entrepreneurial finance (i.e. negotiating term sheets with VCs). They also encouraged us to develop business strategies for the global market.
Who is one person that has tremendously helped you through your time at NEXT? How did they help you?
Hands down, it has been Annick Dufort, Program Manager of NextAI. In one of our early venture meetings, our business idea was completely decimated by the feedback we received from a NextAI advisor. I remember listening to the feedback and wondering how bad of a business idea it was. At the same time, I was regretting moving all the way from Vancouver to Toronto to have my hopes dashed so soon out the gate.
It was Annick, who had previously heard the second part of our business plan, who stepped in to save the day. She interrupted the conversation and asked us to speak up regarding the second part of our business. This sparked our advisor’s interest and completely shifted the climate of the room. We were then asked to present our business at an event that propelled our development. At the event, we gained an incredible amount of interest from advisors, VCs, and the rest is history.
What are 3 books, blogs or newsletters you recommend for aspiring entrepreneurs?
- Zero to One by Peter Thiel & Blake Masters
- Hacker News by Y-Combinator
I highly recommend everyone to follow at least two newsletters or blogs for the industry or technology that your business is in to be aware of trends, competition and opportunities.