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8Qs with a Silicon Prairie Founder: Mikayla Sullivan

Mikayla Sullivan is a social good entrepreneur, agriculture specialist, and world traveler, from Ames, IA.

She holds degrees from Iowa State University in Global Resource Systems and Public Service and Administration in Agriculture.

While at Iowa State, Mikayla co-founded KinoSol, and leads a growing team of passionate individuals who are all focused on decreasing global food waste. Aside from KinoSol, Mikayla serves as an Entrepreneur in Residence with the ISU Startup Factory. In her free time, Mikayla enjoys reading and planning her next adventure, whether it be the local obstacle course race, or climbing Kilimanjaro.

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SPN: How did you get started?
MS: When I was 10 I took a trip with my grandparents to a small town in Mexico. It was there that I first saw food insecurity and the impact it has on families. When it came time for college, I knew I wanted a program that provided a global perspective, and opportunities to continue traveling and learning abroad. Fortunately, I found the Global Resource Systems program at Iowa State University. Less than a month into the program, I was asked to attend the Thought for Food conference in Berlin, Germany, and was inspired by young millennials who were working to change the global food system. I figured if they could do it, so could I. The following year, I put together a team of students and we entered the Thought for Food Challenge with an idea for a food dehydrator, which was the beginning of KinoSol.

SPN: Is your job what you thought you would be doing when you were a child?
MS: When I was a kid I wanted to be a princess or the president of the United States. I never once thought that I would be working in a startup, or have co-founded one. I didn’t learn about entrepreneurship until college; even when we started KinoSol, it wasn’t until a year in that I started to understand that entrepreneurship could be a career option.

SPN: What are you building right now? Why is it important to you?
MS: KinoSol is a product solution startup providing a sustainable alternative to wasted food, via solar dehydration. Everyone should have access to reliable and healthy food. It’s crazy to think that as technologically advanced as our society is, we still haven’t solved the issue of people going hungry. And it’s so easy to think that food insecurity isn’t a problem, especially when you personally don’t have to deal with it on a day-to-day basis. We often get caught up in our own lives, that we forget there are bigger issues that need to be dealt with, which is why KinoSol is so important. We’re bringing awareness to a bigger issue, educating society, and providing a solution to food waste.

SPN: What is your favorite thing that you have ever built? Why was it your favorite?
MS: I think back to when we were building the first prototype of our dehydrator. It was the four of us co-founders in one of our apartments with power tools, PVC pipes, and the belief we knew exactly what to do, even though none of us had any engineering experience. Our naivety and confidence in our limited engineering ability not only created a great team bonding moment, but established the environment where we were willing to try anything and everything, knowing that failure didn’t actually mean failure, but just an opportunity to look at the problem differently.

SPN: If you could improve one thing about your job or the place that you live, what would the change be?
MS: I think founders and the startup community need to be more vulnerable and not scared to talk about when shit hits the fan. We spend so much time celebrating success, that we don’t talk about what went wrong or how difficult it actually is to work on a startup. We glamorize entrepreneurship and try to make it sexy, so people think being an entrepreneur is the best thing in the world, and we forget to mention the sacrifice, the low points, and how lonely of a journey it actually is. I think creating the space and safe environment to talk through the negative would not only improve founder relationships, but create a better community.

SPN: Was there anything looking back that you would do differently?
MS: When I think about KinoSol in our early days, we got caught in the trap of playing startup. None of us really understood the work it would take to move the business forward, and we were all too focused on pitch competitions. And it didn’t help that we won quite a few of those competition, because it just created a cycle of wanting to do more. The competitions took time away from actually working on our business and amplified the roller coaster that is a startup. I wish after securing our initial capital, we stopped competing and just got to work. If we had, we would be further ahead then we are now.

SPN: What could the SPN community do to help you succeed?
MS: We’re currently looking to expand our team. If you or anyone you know has expertise in running an international business, working in development, or is passionate about food waste reduction, reach out! We’d love to talk to you and see how you can help us move KinoSol forward.

SPN: If you could ask these questions to anyone, who would it be?
MS: I’m currently reading the Messy Middle by Scott Belsky. I’d love to hear more of his insight on startups and the startup community.

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