Student Innovation Challenge: Kunal Shamdasani dreams of nonclogging toilet paper

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By Annika Tomlin

At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, consumers hoarded toilet paper out of fear it would sell out. Now that it’s easily found, UA sophomore Kunal Shamdasani has a pitch to make a cost-effective nonclogging toilet paper.

One day in February, a freshman Shamdasani was walking to one of his campus jobs and saw a black-and-white flier on a vending machine about the Tech Launch Arizona Student Innovation Challenge. Students were asked to submit an idea that could eventually be commercialized.

Tech Launch Arizona is an organization at UA that helps bring technologies and innovations that originated with the university research a meaningful application that leads to commercialization.

The Student Innovation Challenge lets students pitch their ideas to TLA, have the organization fund their experiments and get them on the market.

“Surely enough I had an idea and I went ahead and submitted it,” Shamdasani said.

His idea came from learning that a flight from his home country of India to the United States had an emergency landing because of clogged toilets.

“I was not personally on one of these flights, but I knew someone on these flights … on an airline where four of the 12 toilets got clogged because of toilet paper,” Shamdasani said. “I was like, ‘Is this a regular problem?’ and sure enough it is.

“Since then, that was what initially gave me the idea to put the proposal in the first place and then to determine if there was such technology available and if this was an achievable goal or not and then put all of those factors into concentration. I felt like it would be a feasible idea to consult.”

Through Zoom, he pitched his idea to several accomplished folks at Tech Launch.

“They were the ones who were supposed to evaluate our idea, and eventually four of us got selected and our ideas were funded by the organization,” Shamdasani says.

Shamdasani did not think he would make it to the final rounds because he was a freshman and a business major, at that.

“It was pretty interesting when I was first applying. I was sort of self-rejecting in a way,” Shamdasani says. “I was a freshman in college starting business, so not a lot of relation to dissolvable toilet paper necessarily. But when I went forth and applied because I was like that is interesting that they considered me to be a finalist.”

Finalists receive a timeline of when they are supposed to have a prototype of their idea and of when they should expect it to go forth in the market.

“Of course, this timeline can and possibly will be extended given how everything is virtual now, and of course these things require experiments that require labs and people, both of which may or may not be open given the scenario now,” Shamdasani says.

“If a prototype is successful and made, we would be wanting to commercialize the product, and for that it would have to be cost effective.”

Shamdasani and the other finalists are eagerly waiting for labs to be open once again to start experimenting and moving forward. Shamdasani would like to have a prototype by the end of the year but relies on getting access to labs to complete experiments.

“My favorite part about this challenge is … I was only a freshman in college when I applied, and I am still only a sophomore,” Shamdasani says. “So, it’s been fairly interesting to entrant with such accomplished professionals that are in Tech Launch Arizona or other people from different departments who have been helping or assisting or giving their ideas for a project.

“It becomes a different ballgame altogether when things move out from somebody who is a sophomore in college to somebody who has experience in this superverse.”

As an international student, Shamdasani realizes that his idea could have a global impact and not solely benefit the United States.

“The university, with respect to all of the regulations and all of the precautions that are necessary, the university has been really, really helpful and supportive toward me and with the Tech Launch covering the cost,” Shamdasani said. CT

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