SALT LAKE CITY — A group of BYU students who created a product that cleans dirty cell phones are competing this weekend to win a share of $1.3 million.
The creators of PhoneSoap, a product that simultaneously charges and sanitizes cell phones, were invited to compete with 41 teams from around the globe in the Rice Business Plan Competition. The competition will award a total of $1.3 million between Thursday and Saturday through a variety of contests.
The group recently won $2,000 in the Intel Innovators competition, which they put toward production costs. And on Thursday, they met their goal of raising $18,000 on Kickstarter to fund the first production run.
Kickstarter is a funding platform for creative projects. Investors can put any amount of money toward a project, which is not funded unless it meets 100 percent of its goal.
"We haven't had to pay out of our own pocket for anything yet," said Jordan Monroe, one of the creators of PhoneSoap. "We've used winnings from different competitions to fund everything."
Between their previous winnings and the Kickstarter funding, Monroe said he and his team have enough funding to have PhoneSoap available to consumers by September. The product will initially be sold in the BYU Bookstore, and Monroe said several larger companies have approached the group about the product, including XO Skins.
PhoneSoap's creators are going into the competition an underdog, they said.
"The other projects are not really consumer products, Monroe said. "A lot of them are social ventures — helping people in Africa with micro-enterprise, that sort of thing. All the way to biomedical innovations. We're very much like the underdogs."
Up next for the team is getting the product licensed, meeting with investors and figuring out manufacturing. Monroe said the team will start production in Asia, but would love to eventually move production to the U.S.
"Of course, we would love for it to be made in America," Monroe said. "But we would need more money and to be able to automate the process more. Eventually, we hope to bring it back."
Regardless of what happens with the project, though, Monroe said it will have been a valuable experience.
"I would love this to turn into my career, but even if it's a failure, I'll be really happy with it because I learned from it." he said. "It's my dream. I walk into younger companies and look at how many jobs they've created, and it inspires me."
"I get really excited thinking about creating something that is more than myself, that will make a difference in the world, regardless of what that difference may be."