When it comes to his career path, Clayton Mooney has learned to never say never. After growing up in rural Iowa and swearing he would never pursue a career in farming, Mooney is the co-founder of two agtech startups.
But that’s not all he’s working on. After moving back to Iowa from Dublin, Ireland, Mooney followed his passions to the entrepreneurial community where he’s not only built companies but also fostered new community events.
“Really, it’s pretty awesome that I ended back in Iowa,” Mooney said. “When I moved away in 2012, I never thought I’d come back. I loved my time abroad, but I can say I’m proud to be here. I’m proud to say that I’ve co-founded companies here and proud to say that they’re Iowa-based. I’m happy to be an Iowan back in Iowa.”
This interview has been edited for conciseness.
C&M: What are you working on?
CM: I like to tell people there are six main ventures for me. The first that started it all was KinoSol, which I co-founded in September 2014. (KinoSol’s first product, the Orenda, is a solar-powered food dehydrator that can dehydrate fruits, vegetables, grains, and insects using only solar energy.) Then in 2015 I co-founded Nebullam, which helps home and commercial growers operate efficiently and sustainably using high pressure aeroponic units and automation software. In 2015, I also co-founded the Young Entrepreneur Convention, which is a once a year entrepreneurial event held in Des Moines.
Outside of two agtech startups and an event, my other three points right now are that I’m a Junior Entrepreneur in Residence at Iowa State’s Agricultural Entrepreneurship Initiative. From there I’m co-authoring an entrepreneurship book. Last but not least—because I think it’s what keeps me going—I’m an assistant boxing coach for Iowa State.
C&M: How did you find your path to these ventures?
CM: I grew up on a farm in Blakesburg, Iowa. When I moved from Blakesburg to Ames in 2008, I started as a business and economics major at Iowa State. I told myself I didn’t want to have anything to do with farming. I lasted two semesters before dropping out to coach online poker professionally. My career in online poker lasted three years and took me all over, eventually moving to Dublin for a year. When I moved back to Iowa, I wasn’t planning on sticking around, but my family had a lot of health concerns pop up. I told myself if I wanted to be here, then I wanted to be involved in startups, having discovered that culture in Dublin. With Iowa State in my backyard I just fell into the agtech space. I hit the ground running with the team that would become KinoSol, and things grew from there.
C&M: What keeps you motivated to pursue all of your passions?
CM: I think it’s very difficult for someone to reach their full potential in life. I think people find a level of comfortability and stay that way for the rest of their life. I believe that if I don’t give it my all, I’ll have missed out on opportunity. I’m the type of person who wakes up in the morning and plays “The Last of Mohicans” soundtrack to get my day started.
C&M: What has been an unexpected source of inspiration for your work?
CM: When I went from online poker to startups, I went from a career where you could only measure success on the amount of money won or lost. With KinoSol it feels good to know we’re helping people on a global scale. At the end of the day, I’m happier knowing that we’re helping people have more food in developing countries, we’re making food hyperlocal and allowing growers to better utilize their space to create a higher quality product.
C&M: How do you get new ideas or fill your non-work well?
CM: Having a background in marketing and tech writing, there’s always the age old issue of writer’s block. Early on, it was never a problem to have a wealth of ideas ready. But I’ve come to realize the importance of setting aside dedicated thinking time in order to think critically and solve problems conceptually. Whether that time is in the shower or in a team brainstorming session, it is so important.
C&M: Who has been your biggest fan?
CM: I’d have to say my parents. Early on they realized that I had my eyes on non-traditional career paths. They were terrified when I dropped out of Iowa State to play poker full-time. But they saw that I treated it like a business with multiple streams of revenue. Now that I’m working in the startup scene I’m sure they’re still worried at times, but it’s great to know they’re always following along and supporting me.
C&M: How do you think these ventures will continue to grow?
CM: With KinoSol, I’ve seen since day one that we’re a product solutions startup. We have a very sustainable, practical approach. Now that we’re in these local communities, we can see other markets and opportunities to help people. We don’t want communities to rely on humanitarian aid as a handout. We want to boost the local economy and create opportunities that can lead to the development of other products.
For Nebullam, we’re pretty excited that we’re moving toward a plug-and-play system for commercial growers that can be run via machine learning. We’re aiming for full automation by 2020.
With the Young Entrepreneurs Convention, the branding is very strong and we offer a unique event to mostly college-aged individuals who are thinking about entrepreneurship as a career choice. We just want to show them there’s a big support system and to encourage them to get your hands dirty in order to see what you can build, especially in college. We’re hoping to evolve it into conventions around the world.
About Clayton Mooney
Location: Ames, Iowa
Twitter handle: @mooneymillions
Megan Bannister is a freelance writer based in Des Moines and a regular contributor to Clay & Milk.