05 May 2022
The Success of Two Entrepreneurs Whose Innovative Ideas Led to a Promising New Product
Launching a new product requires not only an innovative idea or an interesting concept but also—and foremost— an innovation that meets a real need or solves a true problem. When market demand connects with social and environmental values, chances are that a business opportunity is going to emerge. This scenario has materialized for two product design graduates, Elizabeth Coulombe and Valérie Laliberté. Their graduation project led to the creation of Tero, an innovative device that transforms up to 95% of food waste into a natural and nutrient-rich fertilizer that is ready to be used for outdoor plants, vegetable gardens, or lawns.
Following a frenzied market reception and a substantial number of pre-orders, the product designers and entrepreneurs were ready to take on new challenges. Surpassing their crowdfunding campaign at over 2,500%, they set out to develop a small kitchen appliance that required complex mechanical, electrical, and electronic engineering—nothing less. Proud of their pure and light design, they also realized the need to integrate critical components to achieve the desired functionalities while respecting the norms and standards required for certifications that would enable mass production.
- How could they ensure that their fairy tale would
lead to a working product that could be delivered to
its future enthusiastic users in time?
- How could they add the required functionalities
while preserving the pure and light design?
- Where could they find the overall expertise in
engineering and product development that they
- How could a pool of diversified resources combine
their experience and contribute to the development
of a sustainable and superior product that would
meet market demand and customers’ needs?
⇨ A meeting with Creaform Engineering saved our two entrepreneurs a lot of headaches and propelled them toward an even more distinctive and quality product.
The Starting Point for Innovation
The starting point for innovation most often involves tackling a complex problem that is ill addressed or unsolved, understanding the human needs involved, and reframing the problem in human-centric ways.
The lack of access to municipal composting services, adequate outdoor space to manage the residual organic matter, or composting solutions in homes empowered Elizabeth’s and Valérie’s development ideas.
They wondered if it really was possible to make composting enjoyable and accessible to all citizens. After all, most people really want to do their part for the environment and are interested in composting, but they are hindered by several irritants, including unpleasant smells, undesirable insects, and lack of space, time, and knowledge.
Determined to find a solution, the designers first wanted to gain a clearer understanding of the problem that they were trying to solve. They consulted experts to learn more about the lifecycle of household waste. They visited industrial composting centers, incinerators, sorting centers, landfill centers, and eco-centers. They met with several hundred citizens directly in their homes to find out more about their food waste management experience.
The issue was unanimous: organic matter, because of its pungent smell and humidity, is always a problem, whether it is put in the trash or composted.
Of course, people wanted to do their part to preserve the environment, reduce food waste, and limit their carbon footprint. However, they were held back by the idea of composting because of odors and flies. In addition, those living in apartments or condos did not have the space to compost.
Valérie and Elizabeth’s observations, discussions, and meetings led them to define a problem for which citizens needed a solution. However, at this point, they had no idea what product could be designed to address this issue.
As they grew to understand potential users and their needs, the designers started generating ideas by analyzing and synthesizing their previous observations. They had to think “outside the box” to identify a new solution to the problem they had identified, and yet they did not want to create a product that would turn one waste into another waste. By looking for alternative ways to view the problem, the idea of creating a natural fertilizer arose.
A meeting with an agronomist confirmed it: our soils lack organic matter. Thus, if waste were heated to be dehydrated, then crushed, it would result in natural fertilizer. Mixed with plants, lawns, and gardens, it could help them grow better, faster, and healthier.
Birth of Tero
The idea of a product that could transform food waste into a natural fertilizer had now taken shape. With their strong design background, it was clear to Valérie and Elizabeth that their alternative solution to composting had to be easy to use and easy to clean. After all, their product was going to compete with the trash. They also wanted a product that would not take up much space in the kitchen. In addition, it needed to be odorless, low-noise, durable, and accessible to all. This way, every person and family—whether in an apartment, condo, or house—could make a positive impact on the environment.
Creation of a distinctive product
By putting themselves in their potential users’ shoes, the designers were able to establish the needs that their product had to meet while eliminating the constraints inherent to its use in order to maximize the user experience and, thereby, create a distinctive product.
So far, so good! Then, it was time to focus on engineering. In addition to being functional, the product also had to be suitable for mass production
Participation from the start of the project
At this point, the aspiring entrepreneurs had a well-researched concept into which they wanted to integrate grinding and drying functionalities in order to obtain a prototype to launch their crowdfunding campaign. A meeting with Creaform Engineering helped to raise other important questions.
As previously noted, odor and humidity management had to be prioritized. Choosing the right motor was also critical, as it needed to efficiently grind different combinations of food while also being quiet. In addition, getting certifications was imperative for developing a new small household appliance.
Clearly, the development and manufacturing of such an innovative device brought its share of engineering challenges and required a team of experienced engineers. Indeed, developing parts, selecting material, thinking about manufacturability and reliability are common challenges to address in product development.
Quickly, Creaform Engineering offered their expertise and responsiveness to help Elizabeth and Valérie carry out their project.
Thus, Creaform Engineering brought its scope of experience in design, engineering, testing, and simulation to the Tero team. Added to the multidisciplinary team of experts, Tero could now count on powerful technologies and sophisticated equipment to successfully bring state-of-the-art technology to their beautiful design. No doubt, Tero could be confident that their engineering was in good hands with Creaform Engineering.
Evidence of a market for Tero
The stars were starting to align in Tero’s sky. The entrepreneurs had found a solution to a real problem, as well as a team of experts to make their beautiful design functional. Nevertheless, a cloud was still hovering overhead: they needed money to bring their idea to fruition.
A technologically innovative product with an environmentally conscious design aimed at consumers (B2C) boasting attractive attributes for a crowdfunding campaign would enable the entrepreneurs to get pre-orders while also demonstrating that there was a market for Tero—evidence that future investors and venture capitalists would want before investing.
Crowdfunding campaign success
So, in October 2019, Tero launched its crowdfunding campaign on the Kickstarter platform. With a $70,000 objective (raised in 10 minutes), the month-long campaign reached more than $1,750,000. Valérie and Elizabeth were stunned. What a surprise and an honor to have achieved their objective so quickly and, also, to have confirmed the urgent need for such a device in the daily lives of so many people.
Now, with financial leverage and market feedback, the entrepreneurs could focus on the engineering that would transform food waste into a dry, natural, and nutrient-rich fertilizer for plants, lawns, and gardens.
Multidisciplinary team under one roof
Since the Tero product included mechanical, electrical, and electronic segments, and required the development of plastic parts and certifications, the designers liked having a multidisciplinary team under one roof, working on various aspects of the project in parallel. Entrusting the development to different firms or consultants, each working in silos, represented a risk because any feature or aspect straddling between two experts could end up being unintentionally omitted.
Tero benefitted from Creaform’s vast experience. After all, their team had already designed and engineered many solutions in various industries, including automotive, medical, consumer products, industrial, mining, lighting, and more. They knew the challenges that would arise during product development, which gave Elizabeth and Valérie confidence.
Creaform Engineering had to develop the Tero device’s three main functions, which were heating, grinding, and drying. Mechanical, electrical, and electronics engineers had to unite forces and design durable components while making sure to manage odor and humidity.
To support the initial compact concept, Tero’s expertise in industrial design united with Creaform’s experience to strike the perfect balance between innovation, aesthetics, and functionality. A neat shape, backlit buttons, and the perfect dimensions to fit on the counter and under the cabinet were important aesthetic aspects. Moreover, the activated carbon filter was positioned in the lid, which is sealed and locked in order to eliminate odors—an essential requirement for ease of use. Finally, the bucket containing the food waste is removable and dishwasher safe—another important feature for ease of cleaning.
Creaform’s mechanical engineers also joined the Tero team in order to conduct performance analyses and select components that suited product specifications in terms of durability, cost, and safety. A heating plate to dehydrate food waste, an engine with the right speed, duty cycle, and torque to grind various types of food, and a fan with the right power to dry residue were studied and chosen. Their analyses took into account the noise (60 dB max) generated by the device, the odors emanating (null) from it, and the time required (3 to 8 hours) to complete the cycle. To do this, engineers used fluid flow analysis. Finally, each element of the system had to be tested, inspected, and certified according to the standards of the Canadian Standard Association (CSA) and Underwriters Laboratories of Canada (UL).
Combining expertise in fluid mechanics and heat transfer, Creaform’s CFD consulting team helped achieve superior product performance and quality levels. Using numerical solution methods, the CFD experts were able to optimize Tero’s airflow, heat, and humidity. CFD simulations helped to design, optimize, and troubleshoot both of the following: 1) humidity dissipation in order to dehydrate food waste faster and 2) odor management in order to equilibrate the odor maintained in the carbon filter. These adjustments helped to reduce the cycle time and fan speed, and save massive time in physical tests.
Electrical engineering experts provided sound advice to help the team carefully choose UL and CSA registered components, which would have a major impact on certifications. The engineers had to look for the right power supply unit (PSU), choose multiple sensors for safety, and select the best fan according to the criteria identified. It was also necessary to choose components that would fit into the dimensional envelope of the product. To do so, the team relied on sophisticated tools for electrical design, drafting, and testing.
Designing the electronics for a new small kitchen appliance based on today’s technology requires high-level and long-term experience. Writing specifications, defining the hardware architecture, selecting the electronic components, and designing the printed circuit board (PCB), among other things, were all entrusted to Creaform’s team of electronics experts. Their task was critical because, in the end, the final product had to be compliant with the CSA and UL standards.
With their in-house FEA expertise, Creaform’s team analyzed the material behavior and helped select plastic resins. FEA was essential to dimensioning the machine parts correctly and ensuring that they would adequately withstand the temperatures and mechanical stress during the complete product lifecycle.
Several prototypes were built during the product development process. In addition to test benches, correlations with numerical simulation models (FEA and CFD) were performed. Smell, noise, and vibration parameters were tested over and over again. Mechanical and electrical testing was also carried out to validate each of the heating, grinding, and drying functions and to ensure maximum durability and performance.
Collaborative teamwork and daily discussions
During the months of product development, Tero and Creaform Engineering engaged in collaborative teamwork. Daily discussions allowed them to explore and address each issue as it arose, and Tero felt supported throughout the process. The engineers and entrepreneurs joined their forces, participated in open discussions, and contributed together to the progress and success of the project. Therefore, the delicate balance between customer needs and functionalities was preserved and resulted in a distinctive product.
Next step: Mass production
Tero is also benefiting from Creaform’s manufacturing experience to guide the design in order to make mass production simpler, easier, and leaner. Everything from assembly and tooling to storage, right down to the choice of screws, has been thought through carefully. Thus, Valérie and Elizabeth now feel confident in the next stage of their project: the production of the pre-orders that are due to be delivered during the summer of 2021.
Improvement and New versions
The partnership between Creaform Engineering and Tero is not over yet. To limit the creation of waste, a durable product has been designed, and it can be repaired if necessary. Thus, Creaform Engineering will remain in Tero’s landscape in order to continue improving the product and developing new versions.
Tero’s entrepreneurs and designers, Elizabeth and Valérie, who had little to no previous experience in product development, faced several challenges when conceiving their new small kitchen appliance. They looked for a multidisciplinary team of experts that could bring ideas, be proactive in the face of problems, and available full time to support them.
By entrusting their project to Creaform Engineering, they were able to acquire peace of mind, as they knew that each product development step would be carried out according to the rules, and the required experience and expertise (electronic, electrical, mechanics, certifications, CFD, FEA, etc.) was grouped under one roof.
Creaform Engineering has always believed in the Tero product. The engineers jumped into the product development from the start, which gave wings to the Tero team. From a final graduation project to a successful startup, the development of the Tero product, led by Valérie Laliberté and Elizabeth Coulombe and supported by Creaform Engineering, has a promising future. The presold products are already at work in users’ kitchens. As a result, less food waste will be thrown away, and flowers and gardens will grow resplendent.