One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.

Rose Hsu (‘18), Whitney Tran (‘18), Thomas Chen (‘18), and Sean Chen (‘18) stood in front of a whiteboard, trying to come up with 100 new product ideas in 15 minutes. An app for making friends? A soap bomb, an algae planting service, 3-D printed food?  What about water-proof socks or a sail-driven car?

The AvoTo team works to prototype their product on the second day of the event. [Julie Oh for NOVA Weekend]

It was Friday night, and the five students were participating in NOVA Weekend, a start-up challenge event that took place from Sept. 29-Oct. 1. Teams of three to five competed to brainstorm, prototype, and pitch a product. The prize: a full scholarship to a summer entrepreneurship boot camp in Boston. For three days, D-Block was transformed into a playground for entrepreneurs, complete with workshops and a networking event with TAS alumni.

This year, three other schools also sent teams to NOVA. Students addressed issues ranging from workplace productivity to overcrowding in urban areas. Flair, the Asia American International Academy (AAIA) team, designed a table that would be made entirely of ocean waste.

Rose, Whitney, Thomas, and Sean were members of the winning team AvoTo, which came up with CanIt!, a garbage bin that compresses and sorts trash with the push of a button. “Our current trash flow requires two stops to be made: first to the compacting and sorting facilities, then to its final destination of a landfill, recycling facility, or incinerator,” says Thomas. “Because our product both sorts and compacts trash, the trash is able to go immediately to its final destination.”

The team initially had trouble sorting through all the ideas they had brainstormed. After noticing the overflowing trash cans at

The AvoTo team celebrates their win during the awards ceremony in the Lecture Hall. [Julie Oh for NOVA Weekend]

dinnertime, they eventually settled on the self-compressing garbage can late Saturday morning, then worked on prototyping and 3-D printing it until 8:30 p.m. “When it gets late at night everything is just funny,” says Sean, when asked about his favorite NOVA memories.

But one particular moment stands out. For the sake of the infomercial the team created to introduce their pitch, Thomas reached into a trash can to press down on a pile of food boxes. “It was hilarious,” says Rose. “We took several takes, so he had to do it multiple times.”

AvoTo hopes to ultimately pitch and sell their product to schools, the government, and companies. Rose says, “One of the judges who runs a research company in Taiwan has offered to help us in the process of creating a full scale model. So that’s definitely our first major goal.”

“Can CanIt! do it?” says Thomas at the end of AvoTo’s promotional video. “It can!” Can AvoTo do it? We’ll see!

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