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  • Ani Vallabhaneni, co-founder and CEO of Sanergy

    Ani Vallabhaneni (second from left), co-founder and CEO of Sanergy, works in Kenyan slums to provide sanitation infrastructure. (Courtesy photo)

Alumnus Profile

Entrepreneur Saves Lives With Sanitation 

Ani Vallabhaneni, BSBA ’02, BSCS ’02

by Blaire Leible Garwitz

A native of India, Ani Vallabhaneni, BSBA ’02, BSCS ’02, knows firsthand about the lack of sanitation in developing countries.

An estimated 2.5 billion people lack ­access to adequate sanitation in the developing world, and 1.6 million children die each year from diarrheal disease as a result.

Now, as co-founder and CEO of Sanergy, Vallabhaneni is working to alleviate this problem by “providing sanitation infrastructure in Kenyan slums and then converting the waste to valuable byproducts like energy and fertilizer.”

The idea for Sanergy originated in 2009 while Vallabhaneni was pursuing an MBA at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). In his first semester there, he pitched the idea for Sanergy to a few friends, and they developed a business plan.

The team entered the 100K Entrepreneurship Competition at MIT. After competing against hundreds of other companies, Sanergy ended up winning the grand prize — $100,000 to help make Vallabhaneni’s dream a reality.

“Convincing a jury that they should put their money into sanitation in the slums of ­Africa, rather than the next Facebook or Google seemed like an impossible feat,” he says. “We were shocked when we heard ­Sanergy announced as the winner.”

“At each step, Sanergy creates jobs, opportunity and profit while addressing serious social and economic needs.” —Ani Vallabhaneni

The business decided to first implement its plans in Nairobi, Kenya. According to Vallabhaneni, residents of the Kenyan slums have three options for sanitation. One, they can collect their own waste in plastic bags, which many then dispose of in public areas. Two, they can pay to use makeshift toilets that drain into pits and waterways, polluting the environment. Or three, they can pay to use public toilets in commercial areas.

“These public toilets are often located far from home — which is not only a time-consuming inconvenience, but can also put women and children at risk for sexual assault and rape,” Vallabhaneni says.

Housed in cement enclosures, Sanergy toilets will provide the three key elements that users in the slums say they want from good sanitation: hygiene, affordability and accessibility.

The toilets are manufactured at workshops in Nairobi and franchised to local entrepreneurs.

“We provide them with the branding, marketing, training and support to run a successful franchise,” Vallabhaneni says. “We also provide them with a daily waste collection service that safely removes the waste from the community and brings it to our central processing facility, where it can be converted to high-margin byproducts such as electricity and fertilizer.”

In addition to improving sanitation, ­Sanergy creates jobs.

“We employ people from the community to do marketing, training, operations, manufacturing, waste collection and waste processing,” Vallabhaneni says. “At each step, Sanergy creates jobs, opportunity and profit while addressing serious social and economic needs.”

Vallabhaneni has more than 10 years experience working with startup companies. While a freshman at Washington University, he co-founded OmniMedia Studio, an IT services company. Within four years, the business expanded to 20 employees with offices in the United States and India.

“My time at Washington University gave me the opportunity to learn in the classroom and immediately apply those lessons in my startup,” Vallabhaneni says. “I could then bring the dilemmas from my work back into the classroom for discussion.”

After graduation, Vallabhaneni worked for four years at a health-care technology firm. In 2008, he had the opportunity to turn around a chain of dialysis clinics for low-income patients in the Philippines. “This allowed me to combine my professional skills with my passion for social issues,” he says.

Vallabhaneni plans to stay in Nairobi for five to eight years — time to grow Sanergy enough so that the local managers can take over — before beginning work on another startup company.

“Opportunity is always where others perceive risk,” he says. “Despite all of its issues, Africa will be an incredible growth market in the next decade. My hope is that Sanergy continues to grow and expand as a profitable enterprise well beyond my involvement and that we can replicate it across Africa and the world.”

Blaire Leible Garwitz is associate editor of this magazine.

MY WASHINGTON:

Investing in People: Key to Realizing Potential Howard Wood, BSBA ’61, is a successful businessman in the telecommunications, real estate and cattle ranching industries. A scholarship recipient himself, he enjoys helping current students reach their potential.

ALUMNI PROFILES:

Restaurateur Serves Up Authentic Chinese Since graduating, Jason Wang, BSBA ’09, is helping take his father’s New York restaurant, Xi’an Famous Foods, to a new level of success.

Author Captivates Kids, Expands Imagination Janni Lee Simner, AB ’89, AB ’89, has published seven books and several short stories in the fantasy genre, primarily for children and young adults.

Entrepreneur Saves Lives With Sanitation Ani Vallabhaneni, BSBA ’02, BSCS ’02, co-founder and CEO of Sanergy, works in Kenyan slums to provide sanitation infrastructure.

ALUMNI ACTIVITIES:

A&D Launches New Website Looking for a new way to stay connected to the Washington University community? Visit the new A&D website, alumni.wustl.edu.

Reunion 2012 Join the 1st through 35th Reunion classes for Alumni Weekend at Thurtene Carnival, April 20–22. Undergraduate alumni from the classes of 1972 and back will celebrate during Commencement Weekend, May 18–20.

Strengthening Alumni Connections On Nov. 4, 2011, the Alumni Board of Governors (ABG) gathered for its first meeting of the academic year at College Hall on the South 40. One of ABG’s goals this year is to help prepare students for their lives after graduation.

CLASSNOTES:

Read news of your classmates, and submit your own classnote.

In Memoriam

ASIA EXTRA:

Asia Extra is a supplement to Washington Magazine for alumni and friends in Asia. (PDF download)

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