Fort Worth business wants to make what it calls the first true innovation for the waste disposal industry since the garbage bag: a trash can that eliminates odor.
After pausing the business during the pandemic, founders David M. M. Taffet and Christie Zwahlen are taking another whiff at turning the plan into a reality.
Company name: Petal
Year founded: 2020
Inventor: Brian Petz
Founders bio: Petal is founded by husband-wife duo David M. M. Taffet and Christie Zwahlen. Taffet, the CEO and co-founder of Petal, has experience in law, investment banking, venture capital, fund management and building companies. Zwahlen, the executive vice president of social impact and co-founder, was previously director of community engagement service at Miami University of Ohio and also worked for AmeriCorps VISTA.
Taffet and Zwahlen, co-founders of the startup Petal, recently pitched their product to Procter & Gamble as part of MassChallenge’s Home Cleanovation Challenge. The company could partner with P&G on the product or win $10,000 for the best pitch if selected. The call for the pitch renewed excitement about the company after the pandemic pause, Taffet said.
“We weren’t expecting it,” he said. “As we geared up to apply … we just got a whole new head full of steam … and realized we remember why we like this so much.”
Petal is characterized by its creators as what would happen “if your freezer and trash had a genius baby.” The trash can freezes the waste and removes the moisture, which gets rid of any smell. Moisture is a key ingredient to creating stench,” Petal inventor Brian Petz said. He uses a wet dog as an example.
“You got your dog, it might not smell very good, but he doesn’t smell that bad either,” Petz said. “You get that dog wet, and you can smell it everywhere.”
Rotting and bacteria also cause a stench. But freezing trash stops all of the biological processes and causes of odor, he said. Petz, who used to build jet engines at Pratt & Whitney, said designing the product wasn’t quite like rocket science, although he did take three thermodynamics classes in college. He had to take apart a mini refrigerator to understand how they work and are manufactured.
“You’ve got to innovate, but you don’t want to innovate too crazy because then you can’t actually build it and get it done,” he said.
Taffet and Zwahlen acquired the intellectual property for Petal and started a presale in 2020. It did well, they say, but then came a “trifecta of pain,” Taffet said. The cost of shipping, manufacturing and advertising the product skyrocketed.
The COVID-19 vaccine also had to be transported at very low temperatures, and they worried their product would compete with the manufacturing of products to keep the vaccine cold. They paused the business on Nov. 13, 2020.
“Frankly, we were kind of like, that’s a lot more important,” Zwahlen said. “And we don’t want to be fighting for space to get our trash cans when people need a vaccine.”
Now the duo is back in business. The supply chain challenges they experienced in 2020 have improved, and Taffet said there’s more manufacturing capacity, lowering the price to make the Petal.
Petal spokesman Antonio Naglieri estimates the Petal could cost $399 but will decrease over time.
Taffet and Zwahlen pitched their product as a finalist in MassChallenge’s Home Cleanovation Challenge on Aug. 29. Taffet said they were told they would be notified before the end of September whether they would be selected. Petal is competing for a $10,000 prize for best pitch, a partnership to pilot with P&G and mentorship from a Fortune 500 company.
Taffet and Zwahlen are deciding whether to get financial backing to manufacture, or go direct-to-consumer sales. They are waiting for the results of their pitch to P&G.
“We feel really fortunate because they did a whole international search,” Taffet said. “We know that it’s down to just a few semifinalists that got to present.”
Seth Bodine is a business and economic development reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow on Twitter @sbodine120.
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