When problems arise, so do opportunities. That is why five Cal Poly students have used their diverse skills to help build a startup that connects distilleries producing disinfectant products to those who need it most during the COVID-19 pandemic.
At the beginning of the virus’s outbreak, third-year wine and viticulture major Gabe Pepper received a call from his brother who told him that while distilleries are now producing hand sanitizer, healthcare facilities and public service organizations are still lacking access to these products.
“Distilleries are making hand sanitizer and pretty much everybody needs it, but there’s no real marketplace or elegant way to connect those two sides,” Pepper said. “There was a great opportunity there to build a connective tissue between the two sides of the issue.”
Pepper, along with three of his roommates and one friend, decided to help build Disinfect Connect, a marketplace platform used to bridge the gap between hand sanitizer customers and producers. After weeks of building out the business, the team applied for the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) Hatchery program to further the business’s growth.
“Getting insight into how we can expand our outreach to a national level would be great,” Eric Agresti, a third-year agribusiness student on the team, said. “Also, we have plans to monetize this in some way as the peak of the crisis starts to subside, so getting advice on how to gracefully transform our work into a monetized business will be very helpful.”
Even though their efforts to launch a startup and take it to the Hatchery are happening in these unprecedented times, the entrepreneurial team hasn’t let any challenges hold them back.
“This entire thing has happened in our living room, which is funny to think, but at the same time, it’s been so rewarding to have put a lot of our free time to good use,” Pepper explained. “We’re 100 percent volunteer-based and we’re not taking any cuts of the orders we send out, but right now that’s not really the goal. The goal is to help out.”
Pepper said that despite entering the Hatchery program with more than just an idea to build out, the team knows there is still always room to grow the company. Plus, they have seen how the program continues to be worthwhile even when held virtually during shelter-at-home orders.
“A major portion of what the Hatchery has to offer is access to networking and amazing outreach and none of that goes away in these times,” Agresti said. “We can still tap people’s knowledge and we can still get access to great connections, so it really is valuable.”
As Disinfect Connect continues to work on getting distillery-produced hand sanitizer to what they call “high-risk, high-need” recipients like nursing homes, healthcare facilities, first responders and grocery stores, the team hopes to expand to the general public when critical demand lessens.
To learn more about their mission or support this startup, visit the team’s GoFundMe page or their website at https://disinfectconnect.com/. You can discover more about the CIE student-focused startup incubator program at https://calpolycie.wpengine.com/prepare/hatchery/.