Flush With Excitement

The rogue flushes that startle users of motion-controlled toilets in public restrooms helped a team of QUEST honors program undergraduates clean up at the 2020 Pitch Dingman business competition. 

Their startup, Hydraze, an automatic system that aims to eliminate “phantom flushing” in commercial buildings and save millions of dollars in wasted water, secured the $15,000 grand prize at the University of Maryland’s annual “Shark Tank”-style contest on Wednesday. The team of A. James Clark School of Engineering students Charles Grody (mechanical engineering, '20), Jack Sturtevant (computer engineering, '20) and Tuvia Rappaport (aerospace engineering, '20) and Roger Mao from the Robert H. Smith School of Business also took home the audience choice award. 

“It’s exciting, it’s validating. It’s just disappointing we couldn’t all be together to celebrate afterward,” Rappaport said. 

The competition, now in its 10th year, was hosted by the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship at the Robert H. Smith School of Business. Initially scheduled for early March, the competition was postponed and eventually moved online in compliance with the coronavirus outbreak restrictions. Despite the change, over 500 students, faculty, alumni and guests tuned in on Zoom to watch teams vie for $30,000 in seed funding.

“Our mission is to make entrepreneurs of all kinds more successful, and our Dingman Center team remained committed to providing students with a spotlight to pitch their ideas,” said Holly DeArmond, MBA ’17, Dingman’s managing director. “To our entrepreneurs: Your hustle, perseverance and resilience are to be commended.” 

As in previous years, Pitch Dingman applications opened at the start of the academic year, with a late-September quarterfinals phase where alumni entrepreneurs selected 10 semifinalists. At the November semifinals, the field was narrowed to five finalists.   

“It’s exciting, it’s validating. It’s just disappointing we couldn’t all be together to celebrate afterward,” Rappaport said.

At Wednesday’s finals, a panel of judges composed of entrepreneurs and innovators assessed each startup’s current level of success, plan for using the funds and overall growth potential. 

Hydraze, the water conservation company whose automatic flushes are prompted not by a motion sensor, but a mechanism on the latch of the bathroom stall’s door, plans to use the Pitch prize money for marketing and development. 

The event’s other winners include:

  • $7,500 second prize: AlgenAir, a startup founded by Daniel Fucich Ph.D. ‘20 (marine estuary and environmental science) and Kelsey Abernathy, a doctoral student at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, featuring an algae-powered air purifier called the aerium that removes dust and allergens from the air and produces as much oxygen as 25 houseplants
  • $3,500 third prize: Door Robotics, a drone with Roomba-like autonomy featuring an integrated virtual reality camera system and easy out-of-the-box software for hobbyists and experts alike, created by public health sciences senior Josh Ermias ‘20

Also pitching in the finals were BraceLint, a single-use, patent-pending version of a lint roller that offers more portability for on-the-go needs, produced by Daniel Raithel ’20; and SweetsbyCaroline, a catering business launched by Caroline Ta ’21 that specializes in French macarons, cakes and customizable baked goods.

BraceLint and SweetsbyCaroline were each awarded $1,000 for pandemic perseverance.

David Quattrone MBA ’05, co-founder and CTO of CVENT, and wife Robyn, accompanied by credit union SECU and Parsons Ventures, helped fund the competition. Quattrone also served as a judge for the competition. He was joined by Matt Fishlinger ’07, founder and chief operating officer, Gramercy Risk Holdings; Aurelia Flores, founder and chief executive officers, Perfect Digital Connect; Tom Parsons ’93, MBA ’10, president, Parsons Ventures; Angela Singleton, director, TEDCO Builder Fund; and Becky Smith, executive vice president and chief strategy and marketing officer, SECU.


This story originally appeared in Maryland Today

Published April 24, 2020