SANDPOINT — It started with a dangerous, wasp nest-spraying situation at his father’s office building.
Just six months later, Harrison Hertzberg’s AeroPest invention — an aerial spraying system for eliminating pests in hard-to-reach places — took the top prize at Drexel University’s Startup Fest, hosted by the Charles D. Close School of Entrepreneurship on Nov. 14.
“I was completely shocked to even know I was a contender, and then I won first place, which was completely baffling,” said Hertzberg, a 2018 Forrest Bird Charter High School graduate who is now in his freshman year at the Close School of Entrepreneurship.
What made it baffling, Hertzberg said, was that he was not a finalist in the startup fest’s Baiada Incubator Competition. After a full day of fast pitches by all the competitors and presentations by the five finalists, competition officials called two wildcards. So it was about 20 minutes before the competition ended that Hertzberg learned he would be presenting, he said, and he ultimately took home the $12,500 prize.
It is the first time in the competition’s six-year history that a wildcard presentation, much less a first-year student, has won the top prize. In addition, Hertzberg said the other wildcard student took second place, making it “double impossible.”
Hertzberg started college at CSE this fall to study entrepreneurship and innovation. Like FBCS, the college program is small, he said, with about 150 students over the four years.
Going back to that moment six months ago, Hertzberg described being on the second story of his dad’s home office. It was about 100 degrees that day on the roof, he said, yet in full gear with net around his face, he climbed up there and took aim at the many wasps nests.
“Man was it dangerous,” Hertzberg said. “A steep roof, there are wasps all around, you are sweating, there are 100 nests under the thing, you have liquid running down the roof and you know you are going to slip off — that is definitely not an ideal situation.”
That is when he realized it was the ideal situation for something automated. At the time, he was doing some drone videography for real estate agencies in Sandpoint and it all came together as he thought, “Why not have a drone do this?”
After doing some research, Hertzberg said the “biggest surprise” of the entire project was that no one had done it before. He found some that farms use drone technology for fertilizing and some other uses, but nothing in the way of pest control.
“So I went for it,” he said.
He got “right on it,” he said, doing market research and filing a provisional patent, though he didn’t do much work on the project itself until a couple months ago after starting college and learning about the competition.
Hertzberg said he knows a guy who prototypes drones for xCraft, a successful startup company originally from Sandpoint that was featured on the show “Shark Tank.” So the two of them began working on the prototype for AeroPest, developing a drone with an undermounted spraying system with a reservoir, interchangeable nozzles, and an electric sprayer sticking out on a boom, giving the nozzle a 100-degree field of motion to look up under eaves and down into crevices for the hard to reach wasp nests or other pests.
“As I did all this research, I found that there are a lot of applications for this technology in a lot of fields beyond pest control for this precision spraying technology,” Hertzberg said. “I am really optimistic about where this could go.”
Also through his research, Hertzberg said he became acquainted with the owner of Aardvark Pest Management, the largest pest management company in Philadelphia, servicing Drexel University among others. He is now an advisor for Hertzberg’s project.
“He is really getting involved and he is so happy that I won, because I have an operating budget now to really start something, and the resources and connections, which are some of the most valuable pieces of the win,” Hertzberg said. “I am hoping I can keep the momentum because I have always dreamed of being an entrepreneur.”
Hertzberg said he took inspiration from his dad at a young age. His dad, Bill Hertzberg, is an inventor and member of the Inventors Association of Idaho. Harrison Hertzberg said his interest in being an entrepreneur, however, really began to take shape when he was 14 and went to the store and purchased cases of soda for an average of $.25 a can. He then loaded up his wagon with ice, donned a fanny pack, and made his way to Sandpoint’s Fourth of July celebration.
“There were a bunch of people who walked away with free drinks because I was mismanaging everything, but anyways … that was really fun,” Hertzberg said.
Also, at FBCS, he created his own soap company in Mark Webber’s economics class. It started with making his own soap and seashell soap dishes in an ocean theme, and morphed into a nature-oriented soap stick invention, he said. The soap sticks were on wooden dowel for people to be able to scrub their backs.
He again transitioned, going from soapmaking to woodworking, where he came up with the “Clever Coaster.” The coaster has side walls with a balancing system, he said, so the drips and condensation from the drink wouldn’t spill on the table. While he described the coasters as a “really weird idea,” it was also a big moment for Hertzberg because they ended up being sold at local businesses, including Northwest Handmade and Zany Zebra.
Through all his entrepreneurial efforts thus far, Hertzberg said he “can’t stress enough” how important it is for young entrepreneurs to put themselves out there.
“I have so many friends who have all these ideas and they are so passionate,” he said. “I try to get them involved in doing the projects, and there is always some sort of uncertainty factor. I think it is so important to motivate people to independently initiate and realize their ideas.”
Mary Malone can be reached by email at email@example.com and follow her on Twitter @MaryDailyBee.