Four Cal Poly seniors with a devotion towards the environment and the community came together to create a proactive solution for battery-caused fires in recycling facilities.
They met as students through the Interdisciplinary Entrepreneurial Senior Design Project course (ENGR 465) which allows entrepreneurship students and engineering students to collaborate and create new solutions to real-world problems.
Early in their senior project course, mechanical engineering majors Stefany James and Sydney Fairchild and business administration majors Penny Lane Case and Thaddeus Ziarkowski recognized each other’s passion for sustainability.
“We all just met under this common goal of making the world better, cleaner and sustaining our resources,” Case said.
Their startup, Nexstera Tech, is pushing the boundaries of material differentiation and detection through radar and transforming the way waste management operates. Their first product, Pyrottack, allows customers to detect lithium-ion batteries in the waste stream before they enter trucks and floors of recovery facilities.
According to Case, lithium-ion batteries can cause massive fires in recycling facilities that produce harm to the environment, people and resources. These damages cost over $1.2 billion in damages annually to the US and Canada alone, she said.
Those working in recycling facilities are uncertain whether or not they will be safe, Fairchild explained: “At a moment’s notice, they have to stop sorting, stop doing whatever they’re doing, and become a firefighter for about five minutes, and that’s terrifying,” she said.
Nexstera Tech is solving a real-world problem for hundreds, if not thousands, of people, Ziarkowski said. He described the potential impact of their technology as “exceptional.”
After their senior project course, Nexstera Tech participated in Innovation Quest (iQ), a competition hosted by the Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) designed to help entrepreneurs grow their startup from an idea into a company.
“Innovation Quest was absolutely awesome in terms of getting experience pitching,” Fairchild said. “We started realizing we’re going to get a lot of feedback very quickly within this program.”
Nexstera Tech was one of 14 finalists to pitch their startup at iQ 2023. Although they did not win the competition, iQ allowed them to receive diverse opinions on their business, Fairchild said.
Following iQ, the Nexstera co-founders decided to pursue their startup and apply to the CIE Summer Accelerator. They were one of eight teams accepted to the program.
The Summer Accelerator is a 13-week program designed to give Cal Poly students and recent alumni the resources needed to launch a real, scalable company.
“It’s awesome to get to work around people who are as enthusiastic about their work as we are,” James said. “It’s just very encouraging.”
Towards the end of the Summer Accelerator, the co-founders are hoping to have a fully functioning prototype that will be used by a recycling facility. This way, they can continue their efforts to become more responsible with the disposal of waste and keeping recycling facility members safe.
“Protecting these people who I care about genuinely, even if I don’t know them, and the environment at the same time has just propelled me to work with these amazing people as we continue on this journey,” Case said.
Nexstera Tech, along with the rest of the 2023 Summer Accelerator cohort, will pitch their startup and showcase their progress at Demo Day, on Sept. 8 at 4 p.m. at SLO Brew Rock. Tickets are available here.