The focus of this blog has always been female entrepreneurship – after all, the name of the blog is The Ladies who Launch! But at this unprecedented time of COVID-19, I am pivoting to include male founders, whose stories of how they are adapting to the “new normal” are instructive to budding entrepreneurs everywhere.
Featuring Harrison Hertzberg, Innovator, Inventor and Entrepreneur
Harrison Hertzberg is a 19-year old, first year student (going into his second year in the fall) at Drexel University’s Close School of Entrepreneurship. Harrison was born and raised on a ranch in the isolated wilderness of Northern Idaho. Spirit Lake is a spectacularly beautiful, wild place to grow up, surrounded by dense woods, high mountain peaks and clear, unspoiled, lakes. As the son of an inventor, Harrison grew up with an inquisitive mind and an interest in building things.
The family affectionately nicknamed their home “Invention Ranch” and from a very young age, Harrison worked by his dad’s side, inventing objects created out of materials from the natural world that surrounded him. Harrison refers to his inventions as “innovations” because they weren’t really revolutionary, but more like improvements to everyday objects. Several of his “innovations” utilized natural wood sourced from his family’s forested property. These included the “Soap Stick” (soap molded to a long, handcrafted wooden handle to increase reach), a “Clever Coaster” which solved the perpetual problem of knocking over one’s glass, and designs for imaginative and original pergolas that utilized lumber that he milled and produced himself.
In the summer after he graduated from high school, Harrison invented the devise that is the basis of his current entrepreneurial venture – AeroPest – an aerial drone spraying system designed to eliminate and prevent pests in hard-to-reach places. Harrison describes the “aha” moment that led to his invention: “I was on the roof of my dad’s second-story office building, on a steep incline, with my aerosol can in hand, spraying a wasp’s nest with wasps all around me on a 100 degree day. So, I was like ‘this is a problem, right? Is there a solution?’ And there wasn’t, so I decided to do it myself.”
With the advent of COVID-19, Harrison is back on his family’s ranch in Idaho. I am excited to share his answers to my questions in my 6th installment of “The New Normal: How Drexel Entrepreneurs are Pivoting in the Age of COVID-19.”
1) Describe your upbringing.
I have grown up my entire life in the pristine backwoods of rural North Idaho on a ranch. I am an only child. In middle and high school, (with the exception of my senior year), my father would drive me half an hour to the bus stop each morning so that I could spend another hour and a half on the long windy mountain route to attend a project-based Charter school: a daily four-hour round trip commitment for me, and a two-hour commitment for my father. This anecdote serves to demonstrate the unwavering commitment my parents had for my education. Drexel was a last-minute addition to my college applications list. I found The Close School because I had been doing lots of research on experiential entrepreneurial programs.
2) Tell me about the evolution of AeroPest.
AeroPest is a product project venture which creates drone-mounted aerial precision spraying systems for the Pest Control industry. It has evolved most during my freshman year at Drexel. My CTO and I are currently continuing the product development/prototyping process and refining the design and use of the product specifically for Pest Control professionals with no drone expertise. This technology will largely remove the need for dangerous ladder use to access elevated pest nests which is the main cause of significant injury in Pest Control.
3) How has your business pivoted in the age of COVID 19?
Being forced to come home to Idaho has been a curse and a blessing. The curse: our almost non-existent internet, which makes remote learning a complete hassle. I must drive an hour to an open coffee shop with Wi-Fi in Sandpoint, Idaho. The long orange extension cord running from the coffee shop to my car tells everyone that pulls up, “this kid has set up shop… a real out-of-home office.” The blessing: I’ve been able to put my attention to AeroPest. My CTO, Jason Giddings, is here in Idaho and this has allowed us to accumulate all the necessary hardware in one place and to hand-off parts when necessary. Jason is a forty-year-old aeronautical engineer whose daughter I went to high school with. I met Jason while attending the monthly Inventors Association of Idaho meetings as a member. Jason is a serial entrepreneur with his hand in many pots simultaneously. Previously, Jason has launched a glass-laser keyboard product, a phone rifle scope “Intelescope”, and a salivary health test which he is currently selling in bulk due to the pandemic. His other current company “RhinoHide” has created a hardening bulletproof wall filler to ‘harden’ any facility that he’s primarily selling to schools and US border facilities. Jason brings technical expertise to design, fabricate, prototype, build and eventually initiate small-batch manufacturing. Jason also has experience crowdfunding, securing investors, as well as marketing through trade shows which will be a primary sales avenue for AeroPest.
AeroPest has pivoted from a small office space in the Baiada Institute at Drexel University to a large acreage and workshop where prototype testing isn’t hampered by campus or Federal Aviation Administration laws preventing drone flight.
4) How are you turning the hurdle of social distancing into an opportunity for AeroPest?
Social distancing has resulted in more people quarantining at home, and this home living has resulted in more people becoming more aware of the other organisms that share their home! All people, and most importantly, homeowners, have been able to act as human surveillance for the past two months. This is great for Pest Control and great for AeroPest.
5) How specifically are you “thinking outside the box”?
AeroPest is thinking outside the box by creating a high-tech solution for a low-tech industry. To bring this invention to life, in a way that works in the context of Pest Control, we are developing hardware and software that presents a shallow learning curve for operators and an attractive payback analysis for ownership. We are taking an “out of the box” approach by assuming we will be able to educate the industry on the efficiency-increasing applications of drone technology. Drones don’t require physical proximity; this makes drones a great pest control solution during the coronavirus pandemic or a worse pandemic in the future.
6) How do you imagine your business will look post pandemic?
AeroPest hasn’t been adversely affected by the coronavirus. Pest Control isn’t an industry that fluctuates much on its own and it has seen steady growth due to global temperature increases contributing to rising pest populations. My business is so young and so early in development, that it never knew a pre-pandemic existence. Additionally, the basic premise of my product is mitigating downside risk: the remote spraying drone serves to mitigate high-risk situations such as ladder use. In a post-corona world, a remote spraying drone could also serve to de-risk physical proximity and the subsequent possibility for viral transmission.
7) Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
In 5 years, hopefully AeroPest will prove to be successful. In addition to having a hand in AeroPest’s future trajectory of product offerings, I hope to be involved in other product projects that overlay into the drone world, which is one of my passions. In 5 years, I see myself as a Drexel graduate with venture experience under my belt and a plethora of Pest Control and drone-related industry connections to support my future endeavors.
8) What makes a person an entrepreneur?
An entrepreneur forgoes the path of least resistance in an effort to make and share … entrepreneurship appears to be such a daunting mountain to climb – starting a business, doing anything yourself. The employer/employee track seems a lot easier. But, I guarantee entrepreneurship is more rewarding, even if you’re not successful.
Harrison will be our Featured Entrepreneur during the week of June 1st – June 5th on our Proving Ground Instagram page. Follow us at http://www.instagram.com/provinggroundpopup/ to learn more about Harrison, his life, innovations and entrepreneurial adventures. Also, like us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/pgpopup/.
He will also be our guest on Wednesday, June 3 at noon, for our Summer Stay-cation Series of Zoom interviews featuring Drexel entrepreneurs. RSVP at https://bit.ly/HertzbergZoom to receive the link and password to attend.