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Smartbin.io Founder Hamoun Karami on Building Smarter Waste Management

Introduction

Robots powered by artificial intelligence are more capable than ever and are serving a wide variety of functions. It’s only a matter of time before robots start handling our trash.

Smartbin.io hopes to introduce a trash bin robot that would fully automate the process of trash collection in airports, office buildings, and other public places. So far, smartbin.io has created a smart waste bin that measures its own fullness. We reached out to founder and CEO Hamoun Karami to hear about how he met his team and why sustainable waste and recycling solutions are more necessary than ever.

Note: This interview was conducted over phone and email. It has been lightly edited for clarity and length. 

Yasmin Sharbaf

In your own words, how would you describe your company?

Hamoun Karami

At smartbin.io, we are building an autonomous waste and recycling system for commercial buildings in North America. The solution includes a trash-bin-collecting robot, smart waste and recycling bins, and a recycling sorting machine. We help our customers lower their operating expenses and achieve 95% or more waste diversion rates.

Yasmin Sharbaf

What inspired you to take the leap and start this company?

Hamoun Karami

I have always been highly interested in and motivated by solving large, complex problems. The way waste and recycling is managed today is still much like the way it was done 50 years ago. After discovering this, I made a promise to myself that I would not stop until I made a positive dent in the industry.

Yasmin Sharbaf

Who is on your team and how did you come together?

Hamoun Karami

Believe it or not, Alexander Lehnert and I first met on Discord. We had a common interest in waste and recycling, and Alexander’s design skills were second to none. Alexander brings the design pillar to our core team’s skill set, one we believe will prove to be critical to our success. Alexander has worked on multimillion-dollar design projects with some of the largest brands in the world, including Mercedes, BMW, and Lufthansa.

Andrea Bulgarelli and I also met online. Andrea is a Techstars alum. He first attended the program in 2015. After smartbin.io joined Techstars in 2021, Andrea became our mentor. Andrea decided to join our company full-time as the new CTO in December 2021. He has taken product concepts from napkin to production several times in his career. In his last startup as CTO, Andrea shipped more than 12,000 robots globally and gained international recognition in 2019, with his product receiving Time magazine’s Best Inventions Award and the Red Dot Design Award.

Yasmin Sharbaf

How is smartbin.io transforming the smart waste management industry?

Hamoun Karami

The janitorial services industry is experiencing the largest labor shortage in history. The costs to manage waste and recycling in a building are high, and waste contamination continues to cripple the supply chain, rendering all our plastic waste unusable. Through the use of smart waste and recycling bins, an autonomous trash-bin-collecting robot and a recycling sorting machine, smartbin.io helps commercial buildings take in waste and recycling and output pre-sorted, high-quality recyclables that can be sold to the commodities market.

Yasmin Sharbaf

Who is your target customer? Do you plan to sell your products to households?

Hamoun Karami

Our target customers are commercial property managers in North America. Specifically, we do product demonstrations for operations and sustainability employees at these companies. Since our product offers both a financial incentive and an environmental one, we are able to scale our impact linearly.

Yasmin Sharbaf

How is smartbin.io contributing to a more sustainable future?

Hamoun Karami

Our system significantly reduces the pains and challenges associated with high contamination rates and alleviates the single point of failure in our broken recycling systems of today. Since the cost to manage our waste and recycling is so high, the recyclables that are baled and sold to the commodities markets reflect this cost. This ultimately deems recycled materials more expensive than raw, high-quality materials.

We significantly reduce the cost to manage waste and recycling by bringing the technologies to weigh and sort these materials. The cost of our collected recycled materials becomes more competitive, and this inherently promotes a more sustainable and circular economy.

Yasmin Sharbaf

What does the competitive landscape look like, and how do you differentiate?

Hamoun Karami

A lot of companies are using computer vision and sorting mechanics on every smart bin that they produce. Although the technology is exciting, the smart bins cost thousands of dollars, must be plugged into a wall, and come with a flatscreen TV (not kidding). Solving recycling contamination is the most important aspect of anyone working in our industry. However, without clear financial incentives built into the solution, these types of products simply do not scale.

Unlike our competitors, we use simple low-tech sensors to only detect fill levels of our waste and recycling. Once the bins become full, they send an alert to our robot, which comes and collects it. The robot captures the weight of the waste and takes the waste to be processed in our back-of-house sorting machine. Instead of sorting waste and recycling at every smart bin, our sorting machine uses computer vision and robotic arms to sort the waste fed into its conveyor. This allows our customers to achieve 95% or more waste diversion scores and pay less for waste and recycling collection.

Yasmin Sharbaf

How do you intend to use the money you raise this round to scale the business?

Hamoun Karami

We are using the funds from this round to build our trash-bin-collecting robot prototype. Once the prototype is ready, we plan to conduct two to three pilots at different locations to calibrate and improve our design. Within the next eight to 12 months, we will begin our seed raise to take our design commercial.

Yasmin Sharbaf

What do you want potential investors to know about you and/or your company?

Hamoun Karami

There are not a lot of people in this world who know about commercial building waste and recycling as well as our team at smartbin.io. With the advancement of computer vision and robotics technology, we are confident that we are the team to execute this vision. We love investors who get involved. If there is someone in your network who you think we should connect or partner with, please let us know.

Yasmin Sharbaf

As you think about the business 5-10 years down the road, what do you see exit opportunities looking like? Have you set any future goals for the company?

Hamoun Karami

Our team is dedicated to seeing this company go all the way. If we are offered a merger and acquisition opportunity with a company that we respect and see as a great partner, we would welcome the opportunity.

We look forward to seeing where Hamoun and his team take the company. Smartbin.io is currently raising on Wefunder.

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About: Yasmin Sharbaf

Yasmin is passionate about the intersection of business, art, and science. Prior to KingsCrowd, Yasmin worked on a cryptocurrency investing research project for Wellesley College Investment Office where she assessed the risks and rewards for university endowment investment into cryptocurrency. She has also previously worked in a neuroscience lab studying language and memory of songbirds. Yasmin’s dream is to make investing and financial education accessible to everyone. In her free time, Yasmin enjoys going on adventures, learning new languages, and exploring different cultures. Yasmin studied Neuroscience and Studio Art at Wellesley College.

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