About four years ago, Paul Koenig, the product of a Hutchinson-area farm, was talking to his brother, who farms the family homestead.
Koenig’s brother had a plan to buy chicken manure from growers near Le Sueur and spread it as fertilizer on their land for about $1,000 an acre.
“My jaw dropped,” recalled Koenig, 47, a former Twin Cities real estate developer. “I was the entrepreneur. I thought I could negotiate that deal and get the manure spread for half that.”
A few weeks later the brothers left the Le Sueur growers with no deal, but an appreciation for how much it costs to collect, truck and spread hundreds of thousands of gallons of heavy manure miles to western Minnesota.
“I was fixated on nutrient value in waste streams and how to transport nutrients without water, about 75 percent of the weight,” Koenig said. “I got a machine from China that didn’t work. Tried chemical processes. One try worked; 17 tries didn’t. We have developed a vacuum drum dryer that extracts bio-solids … through electrocoagulation, kind of a gravitational pull … and it comes out clear water. Our other claim to fame is that we came up with a new filter aid made out of cellulose fiber, chopped up trees. The system has been vetted by a team of technical experts.”
The company built from the technology is called Viroment. And CEO Koenig and Viroment won the Global Cleantech Open water-category award last month in San Francisco, after also being a finalist in the Midwest Cleantech awards earlier this fall.
Koenig and several other partners who have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars of their own money, are starting to hear from investors.
“We’ve figured out how to get the value. We concentrate and dry the waste. Animals can eat it or you can burn it [instead of coal or wood]. We can do high volumes at low cost. And we process the sludge into water that can be made potable or used in factories or for watering … crops.”
Koenig said the company has patented the technology and plans to raise up to $2 million in an inaugural round of equity, outside of the roughly 10 founding shareholders. It expects to announce the first of several deals in January.
Arc Suppression Technologies of Bloomington also advanced to the national competition after winning in this fall’s Cleantech Open Midwest competition. Cleantech features companies in electrical efficiency, waste reduction and renewable energy.
Former MAC executive guides airport-software enterprise
Lynn Richardson, who served 20 years until 1997 as director of finance and deputy director of the Metropolitan Airports Commission, has had a nice follow-up career as a ground-transportation software executive.
Richardson, 69, CEO of GateKeeper Systems, runs a 25-employee, ground-transportation management software firm that will post about $5 million in revenue this year and just inked Las Vegas’ McCarran International Airport for its latest product. The airport has used GateKeeper’s commercial vehicle management system for a decade.
The new version is the first, due partly to traditional airport regulations, that provides a comprehensive traffic network system, including rideshare companies such as Lyft and Uber.
“We’ve done about 32 [airport] systems since our inception,” Richardson said. “They cost $200,000 to $4 million for each system, including the infrastructure [connections]. We offer an ability to sequence vehicles, open gates, close gates … and keep vehicles away from where they should be. We automate the compliance process. Most airports charge a fee per trip to each cab or limo so the system pays for itself or generates revenue. And our systems pay for themselves in 18-24 months in most cases.”
Richardson, who had a business background before the MAC, sees himself as the “surrogate customer” for airports, not the software developer.
“We make it so airports can better use manpower,” he said. “It’s business-improvement software.”
Richardson’s customers include airports at Denver, San Diego, Philadelphia and Seattle. Sales are growing 13 percent annually since 2012.
Back to jail for former Bixby CFO
Serial fraudster Dennis Desender is back behind bars.
The former fundraiser for defunct Bixby Energy Systems violated terms of his release just four months after getting out prison early as a reward for his testimony that helped convict the company’s former chief executive of defrauding investors of $57 million, court papers say.
In February, at the request of U.S. prosecutors, a federal judge cut in half Desender’s 97-month securities fraud and tax evasion sentence. Desender got out of prison in July. He was under court order not to work as a financial consultant or consort with felons, among other conditions.
But Desender immediately took a job as a financial consultant to retailer Love from Minnesota without mentioning his criminal past. He then introduced another convicted fraudster to the company as a job candidate and hid his earnings to evade paying restitution in the Bixby fraud, said a detention order signed Nov. 25 by a federal magistrate judge.
Judge Janie Mayeron said “serial, ongoing” violations by Desender make it clear that “no condition or combination of conditions of bond will reasonably ensure the [financial] safety of the community.” He gets another chance to defend himself at a court hearing Monday.
Desender, 68, whose fraud convictions date back to 1997, once served as CFO of Bixby Energy in Ramsey, Minn., helping its CEO Bob Walker attract investors with phony promises about “clean coal” technology. Walker is serving a 25-year prison term for fraud, thanks in part to Desender’s testimony at a 2014 trial in U.S. District Court St. Paul.
CEO Eileen Manning of the Event Group, which owns and staged last week’s annual Robotics Alley conference, said a record 550 registrants attended, including 170 college students. Kurt Amundson, director of Esko Labs and a keynote speaker, demonstrated how man and machine increasingly work together to help survivors of stroke and spinal cord injury to walk again.
Meanwhile, Mack Traynor of ReconRobotics, the maker of “throwbots” for the military and police agencies, said he’s hopeful that creditors and shareholders will soon accept a restructuring settlement on their investments that will help the company pay down debt and stay in business and out of bankruptcy court. Recon’s former management blamed government spending cuts on a 2013-14 near-death experience.