KinoSol, Reducing Food Waste One Dehydrator at a Time
Four Iowa State University students created a solution to help reduce the number of people in the world that lack nutrition and it involves the sun.
What’s better than seeing your hard work earn you a win in a competition? Becoming a champion of reducing global food waste and having a positive impact on helping communities meet the nutritional needs of their people while you’re at it. In the most recent edition of the Global Nutrition Report released in 2017, the World Health Organization highlights the dire nutrition situation that the globe is facing, and the co-founders of KinoSol are hard at work doing their part to help reduce the number of people in the world that lack key vitamins and minerals and making strides against the fact that 88 percent of all countries in the world face two to three forms of malnutrition.
When the four co-founders of KinoSol, Clayton Mooney, Elise Kendall, Mikayla Sullivan and Ella Gehrke, all global resource systems majors at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa, first set out to enter a business plan competition requiring them to develop a full product or service centered around finding a solution to how to feed 9 billion people by 2015, they had not given much thought to the problem beforehand. While fact-finding and brainstorming ideas for a product that could make a difference, they focused in on dehydration as a way to reduce the abundance of food waste that comes from spoilage.
“Over 30 percent of all food is wasted, and millions of people are malnourished and do not have food security,” Mikayla Sullivan said.
Combined with the fact that inadequate preservation and storage methods are not readily available in the developing world and food waste equals lost revenue for many farmers. KinoSol decided that a solar-powered dehydrator could offer a simple solution to these problems. Dehydration offers a way to preserve fruits and vegetables that would be lost to rot, while at the same time making it lighter and easier to transport any excess to market to earn profit from the overage.
Their idea and business plan earned them a first prize and helped them build momentum. In a span of 60 days, KinoSol was given local coverage in the Iowa State Daily, The Ames Tribune and the Des Moines Register. They won two more business plan competitions and were suddenly sitting on over a years’ worth of funding to get the ball rolling.
When it came time to think about the business structure, KinoSol was incorporated as a specific benefit corporation in the state of Minnesota because they wanted to hold themselves accountable to their mission while being able to control the direction that the company took, something that isn’t as easily achieved with non-profit status. With a product solution company, sales drive the mission. Understanding that millennials are responding very positively to mission-driven business models, and knowing that people want to use their purchasing power to contribute to something bigger, KinoSol is guided by the fact that they must pursue their mission to decrease post-harvest loss of produce and reduce food waste.
A lofty goal in mind and plenty of ambition to see their vision turn into a reality, the next year saw them in the thick of designing, prototyping, field testing, and data collecting and analyzing to see what they’d got right and what they’d need to improve upon.
With only large-scale food processing dehydration operations, often miles away and requiring that farmers transport their produce, and inefficient traditional dehydration methods as the existing alternatives, food loss is still a large problem. The KinoSol solar dehydrator offers a dehydration method that does not require transport and that allows communities to use traditional methods for crops that it is practical for, like greens and beans, while dehydrating fruit and vegetables in the dehydrator where they wouldn’t risk damage from insects, birds and mold.
“We weren’t all about making a perfect product to get out there to market, especially when we were dealing with developing countries. We just needed something that works,” Clayton Mooney said. “Functionality was the top priority for us.”
The company’s first field test was in a community in Uganda, and once the first round of testing was finished, the positive feedback and the impact they had on the community really propelled them to carry on. To see their product out there in the world, having a real benefit on real people, in only their first round of field testing was a huge motivator.
“That kept pushing us forward, because if we can help this one community, why can’t we help all of them?” Sullivan said.
Using that developing momentum, they worked through a series of prototypes and landed on one that was durable, packaged well, could be shipped around the world and worked well in really hot climates. In cooperation with testing partners including independent contractors, NGOs and aid organizations, church missions and hospitals, 35 KinoSol dehydrating units were in 17 different countries in 2015.
Always staying true to their focus on sustainability and making KinoSol be a hand up rather than a handout, they want to see their Orenda dehydration units help families directly preserve their food so that any excess of produce benefits them either by providing future nutrition or through earnings from sales that would have otherwise been lost.
“The people in those communities need the added nutrients, so we need to keep everything within the communities. It’s a very big focus for us and it’s something we are all very passionate about,” Mooney said.
Looking to the future, they set out to build a domestic prototype to be marketed in the U.S. and Europe to combat consumer food waste, so families in the developed world can also reduce their waste when they purchase too much at the grocery store. They successfully ran a KickStarter campaign to develop a consumer prototype, and having progressed through that process, they have developed an efficient model that they will take to market in the near future. The next goal is to make sure sales of domestic units are good so that they in turn help to subsidize international unit costs and that communities in need will be able to continue to reap the nutritional benefits produced by KinoSol’s dehydrator.
“Conservatively, we aimed to impact over a million people and realize a 5% reduction in food waste. But, ideally, we hope that KinoSol units can be in every country across the world and they act as a vehicle to help hundreds of thousands to millions of people,” Sullivan said.
Right now, join KinoSol on a mission to impact 6,000 more lives when you head over and donate $13 to sponsor an Orenda dehydration unit. Your modest donation will impact one life, bring KinoSol that much closer to its goal, and give you the chance to win an amazing trip to Africa where you will be immersed into the culture, and involved in both community training and travel expeditions. Pick up a tee and help spread awareness about reducing food waste today.