CyStarter fellows wait to present their product ideas at ISU’s Economic Development Core Facility Friday. The group of current ISU students and graduates got office space, seed money and mentorship help to accelerate bringing their ideas to market. Photo by Dan Mika/Ames Tribune

By Dan Mika, Ames Tribune Staff Writer 

Beer subscriptions. Personal gardens. Food savers for developing countries. These are just a few of the ideas the first cohort of ISU’s CyStarter business accelerator have developed over the past 10 weeks with support from business groups at the University. The eight teams presented their products and launch plans to a group of local entrepreneurs at the Economic Development Core Facility on Friday.


Mahmoud Parto, a recent graduate of ISU, presented a prototype for YAB, a bluetooth device that uses a vehicle’s battery to determine where a user parked last. In a previous interview, Parto said he decided to develop the app after forgetting where he parked when he first began studying at ISU.

Parto will continue to develop products in his spare time as he pursues a Ph.D. degree from Georgia Tech. He’s particularly interested in internet and Bluetooth-connected appliances, along with microcontrollers and open-source controller boards that automate machinery.

YAB completed a successful Kickstarter funding campaign earlier in the year, and Parto plans to send out the first wave of devices in December. A second round of YAB pre-orders will start later this year on crowdfunding site Indiegogo.

Wolters Custom Gardens

Josh Wolters, a recent horticulture graduate at ISU, developed strategies for families wanting fresh produce from their own gardens with minimal effort. His custom gardens, which range from a 5-by-10 inch plot for small families to 10-by-20 inch plots for large groups, can be customized to grow crops suitable for Spanish, Italian, Greek, oriental or general cuisine. The company also advises customers on how to care for their gardens and do most of the maintenance over the crop’s growth.

The price of each garden is different depending on plot size and what types of crops are planted, but Wolters claims a family can save up to $1,000 a year in food costs by growing their own produce.


While at a conference attempting to figure out how to fight hunger in developing nations, ISU graduates Clayton Mooney, Elise Kendall and ISU student Mikayla Sullivan had an epiphany: much of the food that is being grown is wasted because it isn’t preserved after harvest.

The trio developed the Kinosol unit, a solar-powered produce dehydrator that can expand the edible lifespan of a crop without outside electricity. The company is currently partnered with churches and non-profits in Haiti, Africa, India and Indonesia to supply Kinosols to rural villages.

Right now, customers can sponsor a unit to be sent to a rural farming community starting at $25. Kinosol will launch a Kickstarter campaign to sell units for personal use in November.

Home Sweet College Home

Founded by ISU graduate Megan Sweere, Home Sweet College Home is an online care package store that integrates coupons and products from local businesses. She said her mother would send her care packages as an undergraduate to help her feel more at home in Ames, and she decided to use those packages to help other students become better integrated with their college towns. A typical care package would have the usual fare: snacks, candy, supplies, even medicine in the “Get Well Soon” package. But the packages would also have products and deals from shops local to the student’s college town to add a personal touch.

Care packages are currently available for between $35-$40 on the company website. Sweere said she wants to have a presence in at least one college in every state within the next five years.

Midwest Beer Club

ISU students Mason Cook and Nick Herring decided to produce their own beer subscription service after getting a few brew styles from another subscription service that they personally didn’t enjoy.

The company asks users to fill out a questionnaire about their beer likes and dislikes to send them beer they’re more likely to enjoy. Cook and Herring plan to only provide beers from local craft brewers in 32 ounce growler bottles straight to customer’s doors.

The company is still awaiting approval for certain permits from the state for their business to operate legally, but they expect to start deliveries in Ames this October and expand into the rest of Iowa next year. The company will charge $60 per month in exchange for a four-pack of growlers.


ISU student Matt Gustin started Gigroot when needed help with a project and looked at the closest bulletin board. The disorganized advertisements on that board, and on every board on Iowa State’s campus, wasn’t helpful to Gustin.

“Bulletin boards just don’t work right now in a digital world,” he said.

Gigroot is a web app that focuses on connecting students to one another for help on web development, tutoring, car repair or any other service they can offer one another. Gustin said users can set their own prices for their labor, and can use the app to connect with employers looking for interns or help while they’re in college.

Gigroot is currently available online as a beta version.


Steven Brockhus grew up in a family of farmers in northwest Iowa. As their farm operation expanded, they began looking to buy another plot of land and contacted a broker to find them a new lot. As they were waiting for results from a broker, a neighbor had told them that a plot of land directly adjacent to their farm was sold the day before in what Brockhus described as a “back-room deal.” That event led Brockhus to develop a service to bring private sales and advertisements to everyone in the agricultural market.

Terva intends to open up the land selling process to the internet by pulling sale and deed information from multiple sources, including local county courthouses. Brockhus said future versions of the app will pull topographical data from the National Resource Conservation Service and historical pricing data from realtor sources to help farmers find affordable tillable land.

Terva will launch a public beta in September.


ISU student Kenyon Brown’s father and uncle are both business owners, which led him to a key realization as he began studying entrepreneurship: company managers that struggle to keep their workers engaged and happy at work ultimately lose workers to other companies. With that in mind, Brown co-founded Pollup, a survey service that allows companies to more accurately understand how their employees feel about their job.

Pollup allows employees to publicly or anonymously share their thoughts about their workplace and offers ideas to improve workplace culture and employee retention.

Pollup intends to go fully public in December, but is opening a free pilot program in late October for early testers.

Read at amestrib.com