WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Creating a solar food dehydrator has served up national acclaim.
Five years after starting his company, Dr. Klein Ileleji has been recognized by the U.S. Small Business Administration as one of the top small business exporters in the nation
JUA Technologies International – a company that aims at making drying food easy, safe and sustainable –was recently named both the Indiana and Great Lakes Region Exporter of the Year.
In 2016, Dr. Klein and Dr. Reiko Ileleji, cofounded JUA Technologies International, which produces the Dehytray, a solar food dehydrator.
The idea behind the product intentionally came from research that Dr. Klein Ileleji conducted with the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering at Purdue University, trying to address food insecurity in developing countries.
Through his research, he found that was a significant need to develop an affordable method to dry fruits that had been harvested before they spoiled.
Klein Ileleji took his findings back to Purdue and created Dehytray, and began to sell his product to farmers in Asia and Africa.
“I created a dehydrator that encompasses all kinds of food," Klein Ileleji said. "It’s small enough for the main crop, but it’s more important for the produce, and that is how it started. Once the technology was developed, the question is how do you take it to the people? And that’s when I started the company.”
Programs offered at Purdue University, such as the Purdue Foundry program, give startups a platform to experiment and develop next-market blueprints.
“Luckily I developed the technology at a time when Purdue was really scaling up the entrepreneurial ecosystem on campus," Klein Ileleji said. "The Foundry, the entrepreneurship academy, just many things to support faculty, to create companies and to take them to their next level.”
“I knew it was going to be very difficult if I left this idea to investors, because it’s in Africa, and a lot of people will say that the market is not there. So being an immigrant from Nigeria, and understanding the problems as a child, I decided to take it upon myself, with my partner, my wife, co-founder, Dr. (Reiko) Ileleji, we started the company together.”
Although Purdue helped the Ilelejis develop their business, the pair ran into several issues once they tried to sell their product internationally, especially trying to covert international currencies, as well as developing a strong foothold in several countries.
The pair reached out to the U.S. Small Business Administration for assistance, and SBA offered them courses on how to sell their products in international markets.
Ileleji received the awards at a press conference at the Purdue Convergence Center, on May 5, where Andrew Reinke, SBA’s Indiana District Export Council chair, shared a few words regarding the Ileleji business.
“The product itself and the company is unique because it wasn’t first identified going after the domestic market. And there was a reason for that. Normally, you have to do that to become a participant in the export accelerator (program). But in this case, Klein and Reiko knew well that the best market for their product was the developing countries, not the developed countries. Where food insecurity is a real issue and the availability of electricity is scarce,” Reinke said.
Although Klein and Reiko were very humbled to receive the awards and recognition from SBA, they mentioned that they’re still relatively early in growing their company.
“We’ve only sold a drop in the bucket. The marketplace is huge, we're talking of billions of farmers and we’ve only sold thousands. So, first of all, the market for this technology is huge and we would like this technology to be accessible to any farmer that wants to have it, which are millions of them.”
“We also have several technologies in the pipeline already being developed as part of this. In fact, we have four other technologies, solar-powered dehydrator in a variety of shapes and forms, which do a varies of things, in development by the company.”
“This technology is not just for developing countries, but it’s also for the U.S… We have the local U.S. market to develop and we’d like at-home gardener to give it a try in the U.S.”
Noe Padilla is a reporter for the Journal & Courier. Email him at Npadilla@jconline.com and follow him on Twitter at 1NoePadilla.
This article originally appeared on Lafayette Journal & Courier: U.S Small Business Administration honors West Lafayette company