Student company ‘Clean ‘Em’ advances to semifinal of national competition

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Photo Credit: Eddie Gaspar

A year ago, finance senior Juan C. Merlo and his roommate, finance senior Alan Aziz, were living in a trashed apartment after a back-to-school party. Out of this grew the inspiration for their contract cleaning service, Clean ‘Em, which is now projected to earn $100,000 in revenue by October. The company is now in the running to pitch to a group of investors at South by Southwest.

Earlier this month, Clean ‘Em, along with 31 other student tech companies, qualified for the semifinal round of Student Startup Madness, a nationwide competition, where student entrepreneurs compete for the chance to pitch their digital media business to tech investors. There is no monetary prize for winning, but Merlo said he wouldn’t trade a million dollars for the chance to pitch at SXSW.

“(A million dollars) would be small compared to the possibilities just by simply having a stage to pitch at SXSW,” Merlo said. 

If Clean ‘Em advances from the round of 32, they will be one of eight startups to present their business at SXSW on Monday, March 11. The eight finalists will be announced before the end of January.

Clean ‘Em uses independent contractors instead of employees. Cleaners are paid $18 an hour and supply their own cleaning supplies and transportation. Cleaners also choose their own hours and can build their own relationships with clients.

Recently, the company signed contracts with apartment complexes such as The Nine at Rio in West Campus, and businesses such as Lamborghini Austin.

“As we grew, we realized that a big area of opportunity lies within creating a service for businesses,” said Sofia Figueroa, marketing senior and Clean ‘Em marketing intern. “Whether that be for people who own Airbnb, or if there’s like a regular office … it’s not only Clean ‘Em for individuals, but also Clean ‘Em for business.”

 
 

Twenty-seven colleges and more than a dozen industries are represented in the semi-final round of SSM, according to the competition’s press release. Clean ‘Em is the only student company from Austin to reach the semifinal round of the competition.

Some of the student tech companies competing are earning over $1 million, said Merlo. Merlo said he thinks Clean ‘Em is getting attention because it’s disrupting the cleaning industry with modern technology. 

“The people we’re competing against, they’re all amazing companies, but a lot of those are poking around the buzzwords with ‘AR,’ ‘VR,’ ‘AI,’” Merlo said. “We’re disrupting a really old industry that no one has really impacted.”

Judges are evaluating each of the 64 companies’ profile on Gust, a social media platform which connects startups with investors.

Daniel Muñoz, computer science junior and Clean ‘Em chief technology officer, said he is proud his company gets to represent Austin.

“If you look at the other teams … pretty much half of them are from Ivy Leagues,” Munoz said. “It’s going to be a hard competition, but we have to represent Austin and the school and we’re going to give it our best.”