Jayden Parsons and Shey Rearick came up with the idea of CartWash as a solution to eliminating bacteria on shopping carts.
Community helps young entrepreneurs launch cart cleaning business
A grocery cart is even dirtier than a public toilet, according to 21-year-old Shey Rearick, who rattled off a laundry list of stats to back it up. There are roughly 8,112 colonies of bacteria per square inch on the handle of a shopping cart, for example, which is 270 times more than the bacteria on a toilet handle in a public restroom and 11 times more than the bacteria at the bottom of a dog’s food bowl. And that’s just the handle, he said. The cart itself has on average more than 540 million bacteria, some studies show, 75% of which could potentially harm humans. This was a study done by insider.com, which tested more than 100 carts at various stores throughout the nation.
“It’s pretty disgusting,” Rearick said, making a face behind his desk at the FUEL Business Incubator in the Energy Capital Economic Development building on Sinclair Street, where he and business partner, 20-year-old Jayden Parsons, have an office.
Prior to last November, neither had given much thought to grocery carts or germs, but now it’s their life as they get ready to launch their new CartWash business, which kills the bacteria using UVC lighting. Even prior to the pandemic, cart sanitation was done, the difference is that many retailers use chemicals to clean them or a combination of chemicals and UV lights. Their goal is to remove chemicals from the equation, and they think their idea just might work.
Sitting underneath a wall-size whiteboard filled with a fury of equations, notes and ideas scrawled in different colors at various slants and angles, the duo talked about the genesis of the business, which they launched in earnest last spring after graduating with two-year degrees from Gillette College, where they also both played soccer. Parsons, a business major, had been compelled to attend the Startup Weekend challenge hosted by the college last November. His former professor, the late John McGuire, had been a huge advocate of the Google-sponsored 72-hour brainstorming, free-for-all where groups pitch five to six ideas to a panel of experts who then choose the best ideas. Their group collectively came up with the idea of sanitizing carts using UVC lighting, which is a Federal Drug Administration (FDA) approved germicidal irradiation method for killing microorganisms and has been widely used to disinfect drinking water, wastewater, air, pharmaceutical products and surfaces among other uses.
The idea was a hit with the judges, earning them first place. Part of the prize was a year of free rent in the Energy Capital Economic Development (ECED) center, along with access to mentors and other resources to help get the idea off the ground.
Rearick, who had been an engineering major but plans to switch over to dentistry when he goes back to school, pulled up a 3-D model of a box on his computer. The idea is pretty simple, he said. Nested carts are pushed through an aluminum box under a panel of UVC lights with a short-wave nanometer (nm) between 207 to 222 nm, which disrupts the germ molecules without producing ozone.
Sounding more like physicists working on the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos, Rearick and Parsons rattled off numbers and acronyms and the efficacy rates of UVC lamps on germ killing. Weeks ago, they put their prototype to the test in their own trials involving a dozen petri dishes, a furniture-size, cardboard box wrapped in aluminum foil and two borrowed shopping carts from Home Depot. Checking samples at different intervals and light densities helped them hone their germ-killing process, though they plan to eventually employ a team of scientists – likely from the University of Wyoming – to officially validate their results for marketing purposes.
Since then, they’ve built a new machine out of aluminum for maximum reflectivity, Rearick said, with brush bristles on either edge to knock off dirt and other particles as they push the carts through. Later today, they’ll be meeting up with master electrician Dan Hanson of Scott Brothers Electric at Area 59, where he will help them wire their ballast on their now, much fancier prototype that was recently welded together by staff at L&H Industrial, who invited the boys down to the floor, for a first-hand glimpse of putting the pieces together.
That in itself was a huge lesson, Parsons said with a grin, primarily as it taught them that they should not be the ones to do their own fabricating.
“I don’t think we’ll ever do that again,” he said, noting the difficulties the welders had as they tried to fit the mismatched pieces together.
“We learned a lot,” Rearick agreed, not just about how uneven cuts add to welding difficulties but also how to incorporate other metals to help reduce the amount of time and money invested into creating each product.
Other components of the machine include chipping each cart to record data, which retailers can use for a multitude of purposes, both for protection against lawsuits in cases where customers sue after contracting bacterial infections such as salmonella from carts or produce as well as to provide stores with up-to-date information about when an individual cart was last sanitized.
For this more complicated programming, they’ve brought on fellow FUEL tenant, Blaine Swaney of Black Swan Studio, who will also be meeting up with them later today to discuss implementing scanners and radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology to read the chips in the carts.
Along with help from local businesses and mentors sharing space at FUEL, they’ve received lots of help and guidance from local business owners like Dana Eiland at Sign Boss, who will not only be providing the boys with a plastic cover for their prototype but who has also provided guidance from the start.
“She’s been amazing,” Parsons said, which is true of other business owners and family friends like Dan Hanson, who have stepped in to lend the guys a hand getting their business off the ground.
This is not to say that they haven’t already made lots of mistakes along the way – which along with fabricating snafus also involved finding a cheaper vendor from whom to buy lights – but that’s just part of the process, they said good-naturedly, as they talked excitedly about additional ideas and upgrades for their invention, such as building a track on which to automatically move the machine back and forth over the carts to cut out the need for staff.
“We’ve got so many ideas,” Parsons said with a smile as Rearick nodded.
Already, they’ve received real-life insight into one of the primary tenets of a successful business in that ‘timing is everything.’ The fact that they culminated the idea in November prior to an international pandemic is a bit of fortuitous luck on their part, they noted and makes it even more important that they stay focused and get their business off the ground.
And Parsons, who said he has learned much more about business now than he ever learned in school, also noted the importance of connections and having access to resources and mentors that he couldn’t imagine happening outside of Gillette.
“I had no idea how important that would be,” Rearick said, “but we’ve been helped every step along the way.”
Now, their next hurdle will be wiring the prototype and getting it ready for their presentation at the Sheridan Start-up Challenge next week, where they hope to bring home another first-place win.