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Tanner Cook is a serial advanced technology entrepreneur who has been involved with everything from Nuclear Fusion to Nanotechnology. Now he’s using AI to take on trash.
City where you’re from: Aspen, Colorado
Hobbies: Mountain Biking, Hiking, Skiing
“Today I will do what others won’t, so tomorrow I can accomplish what others can’t” ― Jerry Rice
Why did you decide to become an entrepreneur?
I caught the bug a few years ago when I began working for a nuclear fusion startup. The fast paced environment fueled by brilliant individuals really sparked my drive to learn and to build a company of my own.
Who were your biggest influences? Was there a defining moment in your life?
My biggest influences would be my high school teachers and my mentor and Ex-Secretary of Energy Dr. Robert Hunter Jr.. My teachers in high school instilled in me a drive to face challenges and let shine my aptitude for STEM. Dr. Hunter taught me how to be a top level engineer in the murky world of advanced R&D.
What are you working on? How did you come up with this idea?
When it comes to trash, humans typically do a poor job of understanding what is recyclable and what is not. Our award-winning product, TrashBot, is an automated, smart trash can that combines next-generation robotics, computer vision and artificial intelligence to sort recyclables from non-recyclable material. From corporate workplaces to stadiums and ball parks to universities, schools, airports, grocery stores, restaurants, malls, and even airplanes, the use cases for TrashBot are endless.
How is your product different and unique? What’s the vision?
Trash receptacles have been the same for centuries, were taking them to a place where they can be more useful in a variety of situations. For custodial services TrashBot lets custodians know when the bins are full, so they can save valuable time. Since our AI works so well with object recognition we can give instant waste audits to companies, communities, and governments. And beyond this all we are the first Internet of Things company to offer active and passive advertising. Imagine throwing away a Coke can, then an add and coupon for Pepsi instantly pops up. We can do that.
Who are your customers? How do you find them?
Our current customers are high traffic public indoor spaces. Think convention centers, stadiums, airports etc.. We didn’t find them so much as they contacted us! These spaces have a high use for separating recyclables out from landfill as they want to keep a green image. Often times they will hand sort out recyclables which is not only dangerous, but time consuming and costly. Because of this they actively sought us out as a solution to their problems.
Did you experience failure along the way? What did you learn from it?
Absolutely, I’ve made mistakes in everything from hiring to design issues. I learned that as convenient and easy it can be to hire your friends, it’s not always the best decision. I’ve also learned that if you reach out to more knowledgeable people and ask them for help they will often give it to you. And if you’re polite and passionate when asking, they’ll generally help for free.
Give the readers the best entrepreneurship advice you have.
Validate everything you do starting with your product market fit. The first 3 months of starting a company should just be research. All this research will prove invaluable later in the life of your start up.
Teach us something about fundraising. Can you recommend any favorite resources to learn that topic?
I’ve had a ton of experience pitching and fundraising for my companies and everytime I think about it I’m reminded of the 5 P’s my music teacher Ms. Beyea taught me in Middle School “Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance”. Being able to answer any question immediately and have resources prepared to show you are a viable company has made all the difference on the uphill search for funds. I’d also have to say an incessant drive to reach out to whoever to raise funds is necessary. You’ll talk to 100 investors, 10 will be interested, and one will invest, but all you need is one. To learn about fundraising I would recommend just googling the type of fundraising you want to pursue. In my experience a blog post will often contain more precise and useful facts than a book on the subject.
What should an entrepreneur focus on?
A problem, and a solution for it.
What are some of your favorite books?
Where do you see yourself and your product in a couple years?
I see myself branching out into other areas of Artificial Intelligence integrated in with Mechanical engineering. As for TrashBot and CleanRobotics I picture TrashBots in every airport, stadium, mall, and convention center helping to make our country cleaner, and using resources in a more viable way.
EXTRA Cool stuff
- This is my second company I’ve co-founded. My first, Higea Technologies, utilized a nanotechnology I developed to clean up oil spills.
- We were recently selected from 1000’s of teams across the world as one of 150 to compete in the Watson AI XPrize.
- I was recognized as an Emerging Innovator by the US House of Representatives.