VerdiLife got its start in 2016, but its story begins much earlier for founder Mahdi Eghbali. Now earning his Ph.D. in Economics, Mahdi recalls his introduction to wood vinegar through research into other products and finding an untapped market in the United States. Since then, he has participated in every competition and program Iowa JPEC has to offer in order to build his business.

 

How was VerdiLife founded?

VerdiLife in its entirety was started in 2016, but I first got the idea for wood vinegar while I was working to market a related by-product. After learning about wood vinegar, I began trying to validate the effectiveness of wood vinegar as an organic fertilizer and pesticide through R&D and then, commercializing the production in large scale. I also learned wood vinegar was being used in other countries as an organic pesticide and fertilizer while the market in the United States remained untapped. Combining these two things, I set out to produce a 100% organic fertilizer and pesticide for farmers in the United States at an affordable cost and thus, VerdiLife was created.

What are some of the biggest milestones VerdiLife hit this past year?

The biggest highlight this year was winning the Megawatt Venture Competition, a national competition for CleanTech student startups across the nation. I won first place, which came with a $50,000 prize. Not only was it great because of the capital and services I received to go towards the commercialization and regulation approval of my product, but it also allowed the work I had started at Iowa JPEC to expand and grow on a national scale. After this competition, I knew VerdiLife could make it to the next level.

The International Business Model Competition (IBMC) was another highlight for VerdiLife. With Iowa JPEC's support, I directly applied to the IMBC to participate. The experience was eye opening as I was able to connect with other companies from across the world and beneficial from earning more capital for my company.

What have you learned from participating in Iowa JPEC and national student competitions?

I have learned how to use my resources better to my advantage. Iowa JPEC has many "official" resources like Founders Club and mentors, but also "unofficial" resources such as my fellow peers in Founders Club. I learned the most from participating in the Megawatt Venture Competition because not only did Iowa JPEC prepare me through their competitions but getting to talk to past participants of other national competitions was greatly beneficial. It was from a mixture of these two things that I created a better presentation and gained confidence in speaking to ultimately win the Megawatt Venture Competition and place in others. 

What have you found most beneficial from being connected with Iowa JPEC?

The most beneficial thing about being in Iowa JPEC is the connections it offers and helps you create with others. Not only do they offer a bundle of resources, they are willing to help you find out more information if they don’t personally have it. They have helped me meet with not only members of the academia world but also experts in my company’s industry.

What advice can you offer to other students who are looking to participate in national business competitions?

Talk to a mentor! Iowa JPEC has some amazing connections to experts in a variety of areas. I know getting connected with former participants of the competitions I was competing in, like Shamus Roeder (ABAL Therapeutics) or Matthew Rooda (SwineTech), made a difference in my skills and confidence. The feedback I was given helped me in creating a great presentation that I was proud to show at competitions and built my confidence that carried into my presenting. 

What's next for VerdiLife?

My company has some really good traction right now. I am most excited to finish the regulation approvals with the Environmental Protection Agency and United States Department of Agriculture and commercializing our product. After that, I will start fulfilling orders from across the nation.