Portland entrepreneur takes on the portable toilet
Randall White is excited about toilets, toilets that offer a so-called alternative user experience, that is. “We’re looking to disrupt an industry that is ripe for disruption,” says the co-founder of Nature Commode, a startup that makes compost-based portable toilets.
A veteran entrepreneur who founded the sharing-economy startup Bright Neighbor, White and business partner Nicole Cousino (founder of Nature Commode and acting CEO) have revamped the classic portable toilet for the green generation. The Nature Commode is constructed with sustainable materials and uses the waste produced for compost rather than adding chemicals to flush it away. “Why are we wasting this great stuff?” White asks.
Three models are available: a hard shell for long-term projects, a pop-up tent and a two-person urinal. Each comes equipped with a bucket of sawdust to cover waste.
Current customers include the OMSI Maker Faire, Pickathon and Willamette Week’s Beer Pro/Am.
The Nature Commode does cost more than its portable toilet counterpart — about 33% more — but White says the figure isn’t unreasonable considering the environmental benefits and overall comfort. Nature Commode is odor and chemical free.
The team funded the startup out of pocket and is currently exploring an equity crowdfunding model. “We want to look at this as something others can support and get a return on their investment rather than a donation campaign,” White says.
Until then, the company is growing by word of mouth. “People have this epiphany of how much of a better experience it is,” White says. Green consumer trends also help fuel Nature Commode’s expansion. “This should be the standard way of it,” he says. “Five years from now everyone should be doing this.”
Speaking of the future: White gives his 7-year-old daughter credit for pushing along the new business idea. “I’m giving it my all to do what I think is right for her and the market,” he says.
Many entrepreneurs get tripped up when they need capital beyond what their ‘friends and family’ can invest. They don’t always understand the difference between funds that can be acquired from state and federal economic development sources, angel investors, venture capitalists, bankers and other corporations. All those sources of funds have specific investing criteria related to the market space the company operates in, the stage of development of the company, the track record of the management team, and the degree of traction the company has in acquiring customers and booking revenue. Entrepreneurs need to get assistance in understanding the differences between these sources of money so they can target their efforts on the right sources.
— Ken Vaughn, Director of Commercialization Programs at Oregon BEST
Where they are now
Women’s Plaza has struggled to find a suitable space since the co-working-child care project was featured in our November 2015 issue. Chief Empowerment Officer Glaucia Martin-Porath says the team hasn’t been able to find a building that is the right size, has been seismically retrofitted and can accommodate infants. Instead of relying on landlords, Women’s Plaza now aims to buy its own building. That could take another year, Martin-Porath says.