Last Updated: 13:50 June 22, 2012
In the meantime, you’ve scrubbed the stove top and bleached the sink — determined to rid the kitchen of that rotten smell you’re sure is the result of some little spot you forgot to clean.
Then you realize the source is a byproduct of your best efforts to be an environmental guardian.
“We looked at a lot of research that showed a good 70 percent of people who were aware of composting would be likely to compost if the smell wasn’t so bad,” said Kristen Hess, co-founder of a company that has developed a way around that smell.
She and her father, Van Hess, launched CompoKeeper LLC this year. The company offers three containers that clamp down on the odor of kitchen compost with an airtight seal.
Resembling an ordinary trash container, the CompoKeeper uses a clamshell closing mechanism that’s operated by either a hand lever or a foot pedal. Kristen compared it to a giant Zip-Loc bag in concept.
Van developed the containers originally to make his own kitchen smell more like good food cooking and less like old food rotting. As former owner of Boulder Printing Co., he brings a background in business to CompoKeeper.
“I was a CU marketing major,” Kristen said, “and after a sustainable operations course, I saw that there were a lot of things businesses could do to protect the environment. I wanted a job to be passionate about, and this is a great opportunity — although at my age it seemed a little intimidating.”
She just turned 26.
The Hesses self-funded CompoKeeper with $200,000.”We started building prototypes in our home garage in 2009, which were used for prototypes,” Van said. “The field tests led us to do four redesigns.”
In addition to their time and labor, they invested the initial funds in development, marketing and setting up shop in Gunbarrel. Other investments include writing a provisional patent, creating a business plan and a website, attending a conference and covering materials.
CompoKeeper containers come in three sizes: a 3.5-gallon model that sells for $39.95; a 7-gallon model for $49.95 and a 13-gallon container for $69.95. Orders include three compostable bags, which will need to be purchased elsewhere thereafter.
Kristen suggests the smallest container for one or two people, the middle container for families or households larger than two people and the large container for businesses and small offices.
The sizes should accommodate those groups and need emptying about every 10 days.
To date, CompoKeeper has sold 150 containers through its website.
“We’re not profitable right now because my dad builds each one by hand, and it takes three to five hours for each one,” Kristen said. “Ideally we’d like to sell 10,000 in our first year, which we really haven’t started, yet,” she added, describing the automated manufacturing process they’re hoping to have in place by the end of the summer.
To get the equipment needed to do that, the Hesses are pursuing outside investment — targeting $400,000 to take that next step.
Kristen sees the pursuit of outside investments as one of the company’s bigger challenges to date.
“I’m a first-time entrepreneur and young and don’t really have credentials.”
Working to enhance the power of the brand, the Hesses are filling out the roster of CompoKeeper.
“People are looking for teams, so we’ve gotten some advisers,” Kristen said, describing the process she and Van are co-creating to secure funding.
Advisers already onboard include Steve Savage, founder of Eco-Products Inc., as well as Toby Krout and Jeff Donaldson, co-founders of Scrib.
Rather than hiring employees, the Hesses work with professionals who include graphic designers and mechanical engineers using a commission-like model.
“We have a licensing agreement with them,” Kristen said. “They create their IP for our company, and when we make a sale, they get a percentage.”
While CompoKeeper grows, its founders continue to outline client profiles, partnerships and long-term considerations such as turning the business into a franchise.
Clients and potential clients include schools, cafeterias and restaurants. Partnerships would include curbside compost companies.
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