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Iowa State grads are using the sun to cut global food waste

KinoSol-Iowa State University

Homework is taking a different form.

KinoSol—a three-year old Ames-based company producing solar-powered food dehydrators— has over 100 units in 20 countries but still the founders still had homework because they were students at Iowa State University.

But co-founder Mikayla Sullivan says the team is looking forward to finally working—without homework—on their company that originally started as an idea at a student business competition in September of 2014.

“The four of us that started KinoSol all had backgrounds in international development and had traveled a lot and saw the problem with global food waste,” Sullivan explains. “We wanted to tackle the issue that is already being produced, but because a third of it goes to waste, a lot of people end up going hungry. So we knew there had to be an innovative and relatively cheap solution to solve this problem.”

There was, because Sullivan, Clayton Mooney, Elise Kendall and Ella Gehrke designed it.

A KinoSol unit during field-testing in Uganda. Photo a Special to C&M

A long-lasting battery

In December of 2016 Sullivan traveled to Thailand and saw how those rural farmers dehydrated their produce.

It wasn’t sanitary, or efficient.

“Typically in a lot of the rural communities we visited farmers layout their produce on a tarp or the dirt on the ground,” Sullivan explained. “Sometimes they have a basket but you see a lot of bugs and insects crawling all over it.”

So KinoSol designed their dehydrator be enclosed and leverage the sun to dehydrate fruit, vegetables, insects and whatever else can fit in the 450 inches of hydration space.

“It’s cool because every place we send a unit we find that there’s different foods and products they are dehydrating,” Sullivan says. “We always talked about being able to positively impact more than 1 million people around the world so if we can do that we feel like we have made some sort of impact on global food waste.”

To compliment the bulkier version that launched in January, Sullivan said they are working on a consumer product for urban lifestyles that is much smaller in size.

Mikayla Sullivan (left) visited a school in Thailand to talk about the issue of food waste. Special to Clay & Milk.

Cyclones impact

Sullivan credits the resources at Iowa State University for helping get KinoSol off the ground.

Diana Wright, Marketing and Program Coordinator for the Iowa State University Pappajohn Center, says KinoSol and other startups can succeed in Ames because the ecosystem allows them to flourish.

“The runway for a startup is a lot longer than what people realize,” Wright says. “So having those supports and resources over the last three years for them was probably pretty crucial.”

Wright acts as a community builder and is involved with many programs, such as CYstarters—a 10-week accelerator program for ISU students or recent graduates— which KenoSol was part of.

“The Startup Ames scene, all our events are to get our community together and out of all those different silos that can occur in a college town,” Wright says. “Just get people to collide and listen to what other people are working on and can help each other. That’s the Ames group that we have.”

Domestic Prototype 6 (1)
The 6th prototype for a domestic unit.

Valuing core values

Sullivan says KinoSol did not pursue a patent because if a family in Zimbabya decides to copy their design, at least somebody is getting help.

“I think that’s still a positive,” Sullivan says. “Our goal was never to monopolize the market, we set out to help people.”

KinoSol has three core values, that are posted in bright post-it notes in Sullivan’s office: Collaboration, creativity, sustainability.

And they will be factored into every decision the group makes moving forward through expansion.

“Those come into effect when we are looking at our partnership opportunities, we don’t just partner with anyone,” Sullivan says. “We want to make sure they are doing sustainable development work and that they are not just giving handouts or doing good but really hurting and not making an impact.

We aren’t just sending technology somewhere to not be used, or we don’t want it to break and have nobody be able to fix it.”

Sullivan says they partner with Regal Plastics in Des Moines to manufacture their units and are partnering with eight different organizations to help distribute dehydrators around the world.

“By partnering with them we can scale up the amount of units we can distribute because we can overcome a lot of those cultural barriers that might be in place” Sullivan says.


Iowa State grads are using the sun to cut global food waste | Clay & Milk
A central Iowa ag-tech accelerator has secured more backers and finally has a name. The Greater Des Moines Partnership first announced the accelerator last year, naming four initial investors. On Monday, the Partnership said the program will be called the "Iowa AgriTech Accelerator" and named three new investors. The new investors include Grinnell Mutual, Kent Corp. and Sukup Manufacturing, all Iowa companies. They join investors Deere & Co., Peoples Co., Farmers Mutual Hail Insurance Co. and DuPont Pioneer. Each investor has agreed to put up $100,000 for the first year of the accelerator. Startups entering the program will receive $40,000 in seed funding in exchange for 6 percent equity. Tej Dhawan, an angel investor and local startup mentor, is serving as interim director until the AgriTech Accelerator names a permanent leader. Dhawan held a similar role with the GIA before Brian Hemesath was named as managing director. As interim director, Dhawan said his main job includes hiring the accelerator's executive director, establishing a business structure and initial recruiting for the first cohort. The accelerator will place few filters, such as location and product, on the applicant pool, Dhawan said. "When you’re seeking innovation, innovation can come from every corner of the world so why restrict ourselves," he said. One area the the AgriTech Accelerator won't recruit from is biotech. For its first cohort, the AgriTech Accelerator will work out of the GIA's space in Des Moines' East Village, Dhawan said. A future, permanent home is still to be decided. The accelerator's program will host startups from mid-July through mid-October, ending with an event connected to the annual World Food Prize. The GIA, which the AgriTech Accelerator is based on, also ends with presentations at an industry event. The accelerator has also started lining up a mentor pool. The Iowa Corn Growers Association, Iowa Soybean Association and the Iowa Pork Producers Association have agreed to provide mentors, as has Iowa State University. While the AgriTech Accelerator is loosely based off of the GIA, it will differ in its business structure, Dhawan said. The GIA runs through a for-profit model for both operations and its investment fund. The AgriTech Accelerator will have a nonprofit model for its operations and a for-profit setup for its fund. Dhawan said the nonprofit model is being used so the accelerator can better work with other nonprofit partners, such as trade associations. "These are all organizations that are nonprofits and can be amazing stakeholders without ever having to be investors in the accelerator," he said. "It becomes easier to work with trade associations in their nonprofit role when we are also a nonprofit." When it's up and running, the AgriTech Accelerator would be one of a handful of ag-focused startup development programs in Iowa. Others include the Ag Startup Engine out of Iowa State University and the Rural Ventures Alliance from Iowa MicroLoan. Matthew Patane is the managing editor and co-founder of Clay & Milk. Send him an email at
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