This story is part of a series featuring each of the fifteen startups in the 2018 CYstarters summer cohort. Each team has the opportunity to focus on their startup or business idea while receiving $6,500 or up to $13,000, along with mentorship, accountability, and educational sessions on how to build a business.
Get to Know: Max Gangestad
School: Iowa State University, bachelor’s degree in agricultural engineering, emphasis in soil and water quality
Hometown: Clarion, Iowa
Max Gangestad officially joined Gross-Wen Technologies as a process engineer after graduating from Iowa State University in 2017, but had worked with the company as an undergraduate. Originally founded and developed at Iowa State University in 2014, Gross-Wen Technologies provides an algae-based water treatment technology which is reliable, affordable, and effective at treating wastewater. Today, as the Director of Business Development, Gangestad has taken the company’s patented algal wastewater treatment technology to another level, and has seen tremendous success for his efforts.
We recently caught up with Max to talk about Gross-Wen Technologies, what Minerals to Algae is, and how Iowa State as impacted his entrepreneurial journey.
What is Gross-Wen Technologies?
We have a system that can grow algae extremely efficiently, and it does that by growing it attached to vertically-oriented belts that go in and out of the water. Gross-Wen Technologies is in the wastewater industry, removing nitrogen and phosphorus from water by using this RAB system.
What is Minerals 2 Algae?
We are looking into using the same RAB technology in clean water to grow high-value, clean algae that can be consumed by humans and animals; algae that is specifically meant for consumption. By taking a low-value mineral and putting it into the algae-growing medium, we have the ability to increase the value of minerals and make them bio-available, which determines whether our bodies can absorb a mineral or not.
In layman’s terms, we are taking low-value minerals and converting it into a more natural, high-value form that is consumable by animals and people.
Where are you at today in developing Minerals 2 Algae?
We received a Phase One Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Grant to show the technology works. We recently submitted our Phase Two application which will show that we can increase our product to a commercial scale. The grant money would also allow us to look into other minerals. We are also working with companies here in Iowa to grow the algae, harvest it, and sell it.
Who is your market?
Our end user would be people who are looking for a more natural form of a mineral. A growing market for us are millennials who want more nutrients and healthy options without putting a bunch of chemicals into their bodies. They care about there pets too, and want to give them a more naturally sourced mineral as well. Our markets are animal feed and nutraceuticals. We would act as a supplier and market our products towards companies that already have existing feed lot lines and nutraceutical producer lines.
How have you grown since you started?
I was hired as the first official employee of Gross-Wen Technologies, and we have been able to actually structure two companies inside of one: a clean water system by using algae, which is the main value proposition, and the branch of which I am looking at that focuses on actually harvesting algae.
What are some of the challenges that you have faced?
CYstarters has helped me the most to communicate to all of the different audiences that are interested in our system. The biggest challenge that I have faced, is understanding that our company’s concept is very technical. I have to know whether I am talking to someone who is going to want to know all of the technical details, or if I am talking to someone who wants to know the broad view. Using the right words and knowing my audience has definitely been the hardest thing.
What has been your favorite resource to date?
CYstarters brings in people who present and lead workshops to help you learn the things you didn’t necessarily know you needed to know, and that is what I needed. The presenters helped with communicating my message. Working with such a scientific and technical company, it has become easy for me to get away with scientific terms, but then I go out and talk to other people who don’t necessarily use that language everyday. The program has helped me to be able to explain it in a more efficient fashion.
What was your favorite part of CYstarters?
I got the most out of the presentations, the workshops, and the comradery that everyone is learning these things as well and bouncing ideas off of eachother. Judi Eyles and Diana Wright have helped me with wordsmithing everything
Advice for aspiring Iowa State entrepreneurs?
Do not be afraid to mess up and ask questions. It is really easy to walk into a room and feel like you should know it all and have all of the answers, but the best thing you can actually do is be the one that is asking the questions rather than giving the answers.
How should people get ahold of you?
You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.