2016-17 Featured Students
KinoSol (April 2017)
As student entrepreneurs, the founding members of KinoSol have not only experienced growth in their educational studies at Iowa State, but also through growing a business that is enabling communities to thrive around the world.
In 2014, Clayton Mooney, Elise Kendall, Ella Gehrke and Mikayla Sullivan (pictured in order to the right), all global resource systems majors at Iowa State, formed a team for the Thought For Food Challenge and came up with the idea of dehydration in response to the challenge of feeding the growing world population. The team took second in the competition, and KinoSol was founded.
During the competition, the team brainstormed the name, "KinoSol," which is a combination of the word "kinetics," symbolizing the portability of the dehydration units, and the word "sol," for its solar-powered component.
KinoSol’s company mission is “to decrease post-harvest loss in the most sustainable way possible.” The team has accomplished this by offering a mobile dehydrator for fruits, vegetables, insects and grains that increases food preservation and requires no electricity – making it usable anywhere in the world.
“We offer a solar-powered food dehydrator with an attached storage component, a KinoSol Orenda, that is capable of saving food that would otherwise be wasted,” Sullivan said.
“Our technology allows families to have more food, better nutrition and create entrepreneurial opportunities in rural communities.”
Since the initial creation of their first dehydrator, the Orenda, the team spent two years researching and developing their product. In total, KinoSol has tested eight different functioning prototypes and conducted in-country field testing in nearly 20 countries. The end product was taken to market in January 2017.
“The KinoSol team didn't have any engineers or food scientists, but we were able to leverage our network to create working prototypes and an actual business,” Sullivan said.
In college, students experience educational growth with help from coursework, professors and research. Similarly, the members of KinoSol have reached out and continue to seek out to others for guidance as they further develop their business.
Part of KinoSol’s network is an on-campus resources available to all students – The ISU Pappajohn Center for Entrepreneurship. With the help of the ISU Pappajohn Center, KinoSol went to a business plan competition where they received additional funding for their business. KinoSol was also among the first teams to participate in the CyStarters program.
The path of growth is not always linear, especially in starting a new business – there are exciting opportunities, as well as plenty of challenges. One of the challenges the team has had with researching the product is not being able to do all of the field-testing (pictured Page 9, left) themselves. This has been especially challenging because it was difficult for the members of KinoSol to ensure the data they needed to keep growing was collected.
While managing business challenges, the team members had the added task of being students and learning to overcome the many challenges that may arise in school, as well.
“One of the biggest challenges we've had to deal with is balancing school and other commitments and running a full-time business,” Sullivan said. “For me, that's meant honing my time management skills and running on less sleep than I would like.”
Though they have encountered some challenges, the KinoSol team also has many things to celebrate. Their founding team of four has now expanded to seven members, including two interns and a permanent member, Maddie Gesell, a finance major.
They have also been successful in multiple business plan competitions. To date, the team has entered over 20 business plan competitions and secured more than $120,000 in funding and resources to continue the growth and development of their vision to offer sustainable food systems to communities around the world.
“For me, the greatest success we've had is bringing the cost of our unit down,” Sullivan said. “When we were conducting field testing with our demo units, they were $250; but today we're able to offer our technology for $110-$130. This is a huge step because it makes our technology more affordable for our end users [...] and ensures there are more opportunities to get our technology out there.”
The Orenda has already made a big impact in helping communities grow. The women at the Nakanyonyi Nutrition Center in Uganda (pictured below), for example, were dehydrating foods using tarps or just on the ground. Not only was this inefficient, taking days or weeks to complete, the women also estimated that 50 percent of their yields were lost due to pests and weather.
By using the Orenda, communities can experience increased nourishment and growth through their ability to extend food preservation and have a secured storage system. Communities also experience increased economic growth because dehydrated foods are more valuable to sell.
In addition, there is more to entrepreneurship than just growing a business. Throughout her time as a founding member of KinoSol, Sullivan has experienced growth in a number of ways and has taken away many life-growing lessons.
“Most importantly, it's taught me that I don't want to be doing something unless I'm passionate about it,” she said. “You just have to start. Find something you're passionate about, and go for it. It doesn't matter if you have the expertise or any business experience.”
The future of KinoSol is bright – the company is not stopping after one product. After coming out with their original product, they plan to grow their business by now focusing their research and development on creating a new product, a dehydrator designed for urban and cooler environments – continuing to grow their business and continuing to add growth opportunities to communities nationally and internationally.
“Our goal has always been to help as many people as possible,” Sullivan said. “If we can help millions of people around the world by giving them access to our technology, thereby making an impact on the amount of food that is wasted, I think we'll have accomplished what we set out to do. In order to do that, we'll continue to be innovative and come out with new products that address the issues and needs of communities around the world.”