As we roll out toilets across Nairobi today, the citizens of Thomaston, Maine (population 2,781) are preparing us for tomorrow. Mike Hahn, Sanergy’s Product Design Manager, spent six months with us in Nairobi, then returned to his hometown, Thomaston, to develop the prototype for the next iteration of the Fresh Life Toilet.

Mike had wanted to do this work in Nairobi. But one impediment kept getting in the way: prototyping tools and supplies were difficult to get his hands on. Sanergy is committed to changing this as we build a sustainable industry across the entire sanitation value chain. That includes creating space for design innovation and reliable manufacturing with well-trained local staff. In the meantime, we get by with a little help from our friends.

In Thomaston, a tight-knit town known for its centuries old tradition of shipbuilding, Mike certainly stands out, designing a toilet for the developing world, and has earned the affectionate nickname “the toilet guy.” But it is those traditions of shipbuilding and community that are making Mike’s work possible. Indeed, it feels like the whole town is supporting Mike: lobstermen and high school friends stop by the shop to help Mike pour cement, lend him their trucks for supply runs, and offer to lend a hand in anyway possible. Local cabinet maker Bench Dogs has even allowed Mike to source the large quantities of wood necessary to produce various patterns through their supplier, and allows Mike the use of their shop at times.

Most critically, Drew Lyman, Mike’s fellow high school alumnus, generously opened the doors of Lyman-Morse Boatbuilding, makers of custom yachts. The company’s eighty employees – many of them third, fourth, and fifth generation shipwrights and custom boat builders – have been mentors to Mike. Their years of knowledge have been invaluable to Mike and his prototyping efforts. Lyman-Morse has also provided workshop space, access to tools and materials at bulk pricing.

Lyman-Morse Vice President Drew Lyman., Lyman-Morse Composites Guru Roy Lupien, and Sanergy's Mike Hahn showing off Sanergy's new squat plate thermoform mold in Lyman-Morse's new 'green' boatbuilding facility

Lyman-Morse Vice President Drew Lyman, Lyman-Morse Composites Guru Roy Lupien, and Sanergy’s Product Design Manager Mike Hahn showing off Sanergy’s new squat plate thermoform mold in Lyman-Morse’s new ‘green’ boatbuilding facility

When asked why he supports our work, Drew Lyman said, “I wanted Lyman-Morse to support Sanergy and Mike’s project because it presented an opportunity to directly assist the development of a systematic approach to sanitation, waste management, and community development. It’s great to have an indirect connection to places like Kenya and in a sense live vicariously through the project. Hearing about the lifestyles and people that Mike has had the opportunity to work with, pulls up old memories of my family’s travels in Africa (a place I love). I also know Mike and his family, having grown up a couple of blocks away from each other, so it’s always great to support a friend and neighbor.”

A fifteen minute drive north of Thomaston in Camden, Maine Tim Marchetti of CNC Routing & Design has applied his talents in computer aided drafting for houses, kayaks, mandolins, and bamboo fly fishing rods to help Mike create wooden patterns that, with the help of Lyman Morse’s fiberglass expertise, become molds for the various parts of the toilet, some plastic and some concrete. Tim’s problem solving skills have been especially helpful in producing the intricate details featured throughout Mike’s designs.

Moving from design to production, Mike has cris-crossed the US and found support in kayak manufacturer Eddyline Kayaks, located in Burlington, Washington. Eddyline’s owner, Tom Derrer spent two eight-hour days with Mike, helping Mike iron out details in the thermoforming process that will allow Sanergy to quickly and affordably build the new Fresh Life Toilet squat plate. Tom enjoys helping small start-ups like Sanergy work through initial prototyping and short-run production. The proprietary design was an interesting challenge for Tom, but nothing he couldn’t work through.

Owner and Thermoform Expert Tom Derrer (left) showing Sanergy's Mike Hahn some design details on the latest Fathom sea kayak

Eddyline Kayaks Owner and Thermoform Expert Tom Derrer (left) showing Sanergy’s Product Design Manager Mike Hahn some design details on the latest Fathom sea kayak

Janicki Industries, which builds high-tech composite patterns, molds, and parts for the aeronautics industry, and Fast Passage, a maker of fiberglass sea-kayaks, in Sedro-Wooley, Washington, are friends we met through The Gates Foundation. They have also contributed to Sanergy’s product development by training Mike and Sanergy co-founder Nathan Cooke in composites production processes.

All of this product development work is supported through the generosity of the SIDA’s Innovations Against Poverty Program and our R&D partner PATH.

When we walk through Mukuru and Makadara and see the impact that our Fresh Life Toilets are having on the community, we know that people all over the world are helping to make our work possible. Thank you.