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Turning food scraps into renewable energy

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June 28, 2023

NORTH FOND DU LAC – Three teens from the North Fond du Lac School District are already getting their feet wet as budding entrepreneurs.

Aylah Arndt, Madeline Langolf and Morgan Fowler, 15- and 16-year-old students entering their junior year of high school, are the brains behind COMPromise Compost – a startup aimed at turning food scraps into renewable energy.

Similar to a garbage pickup service, Fowler said COMPromise picks up food waste, and through a partnership with the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh Biogas Systems and Research Development, converts it into renewable energy.

“I want us to be as commonly known as recycling and garbage pickup because it would benefit everybody,” she said.

How things started
COMPromise got its start through INCubatoredu – a business program at Horace Mann High School in the North Fond du Lac School District.

Under the guidance of business teacher Kurt Wismer, students are given an opportunity to develop real-world services and products.

“Entrepreneurship education is important, not necessarily for them to understand how to start and run a business, but more so to learn and become comfortable with non-technical skills such as grit, perseverance, presenting and communication and sales,” Wismer said. “Also, it is important for kids to learn how to fail fast and fail often so they can learn and grow.”

Wismer said entrepreneurship is as much about grit, perseverance and being comfortable with failure as it is about the service or product.

He said Arndt, Langolf and Fowler not only have a great concept that serves a need but also have “consistently demonstrated those skill sets that make an entrepreneur successful.”

“They have pushed through ‘no’s’ to get to ‘yes’ and have proven their business model,” he said.

Langolf said the trio began brainstorming the idea for COMPromise last September and quickly landed on the topic of food waste.

“I quickly found out food being wasted bothers me, because I know that some are in need, but I also know food can promote energy and nutrient-rich soil,” she said.

Up next, Arndt said, was market research.

“We started off by interviewing a lot of people to see if there was interest in a composting service and to see if this is a problem for people,” she said. “We got a lot of good feedback from that.”

Recognizing the need and desire for a food-waste composting service, Arndt said they took the next step – securing their first client.

“We started working with the school first in the middle of October – so one month from our idea we started collecting food scraps,” she said.

The teens gathered five-gallon buckets, outdoor dumpsters and information stickers (which clarified which items were compostable) – which they either purchased using funds they received from a concept pitch contest last fall or received through donations.

COMPromise partners with the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh (UWO) to turn collected food scraps into renewable energy. Submitted Photo

Fowler said much of the first few months were spent figuring out what they needed to do and learn as business owners to support their customers with the service they were looking to provide.

“We learned we had to make a list of what can and cannot be composted,” she said. “We created a slideshow for our culinary arts teacher to show the students how this works.”

After working with the high school’s culinary classes for a few months perfecting COMPromise’s services and learning as they went, the trio got its first outside client – Annie’s Fountain City Cafe and Catering in Fond du Lac.

“In January, we started with Annie from Annie’s Fountain City Cafe and Catering, and we’re still working with her,” she said. “She’s a paying customer now.”

COMPromise’s most recent client, Arndt said, is Thunderbird Bakery, a sourdough-based bakery located in Oshkosh.
“We started working with them in June,” she said.

How things work
Fowler said the first step in partnering with a client is figuring out if they are a good fit for the business and if the business is a good fit for them.

“First, we interview (potential clients) about their food waste and gauge whether they are interested in our service,” she said. “Then we tell them more about what we provide and what we offer, and if they would like to, we consider working with them.”

The next step, Fowler said, is providing customers with the necessary equipment – including a five-gallon bucket, as well as an outdoor dumpster.

“We give them five-gallon buckets to keep in their establishment, and we also provide them with an outdoor, large garbage bin they can empty the food waste from the buckets into,” she said.

After pickup, which Fowler said is based on customer need, the scraps are sent to an anaerobic digester at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh (UWO) where it is turned into renewable energy.

“We pick up the food waste, empty it into a truck and then bring it to the biodigester at Oshkosh, where it is turned into renewable energy that powers the school in that area,” she said.

Eventually, the teens said they plan to turn the leftovers into soil, which they will then sell.

Fowler said the partnership with UWO came to fruition thanks in part to Langolf’s dad’s (Brian Langolf) connection to the university’s Biogas Systems and Research Development – serving as its director.

Arndt said future plans for the business include the purchase of a biodigester truck and anaerobic digester.

“In the future, we plan to buy our own truck, house our system and do it ourselves, but for right now, since we just started and we are young, partnering with UWO is a good starting point,” she said.

Currently, COMPromise offers clients two subscription options – a three-month and one-year option.

“Our three-month subscription is $180, and our one-year subscription is $700,” Arndt said.

No ‘green’ allowed
When it came time to name the business, all three teens said they were very adamant about avoiding the words “green” or “eco.”

“We didn’t want to choose something that was basic or used the word ‘green’ – because everything that’s eco-ish is either green-something or eco-something,” she said. “But, we also wanted it to describe what the business is about.”

Fowler said the play on words includes their “promise” to compost and a business’ “compromise” of separating their food scraps to be converted into renewable energy.

Eventually, COMPromise hopes to use the leftover food scraps to create nutrient-rich soil. Submitted Photo

“That was basically it,” she said. “That was the only name we thought of, and we really liked it.”

What’s next?
Equipment purchases aren’t the only plans the COMPromise trio have in mind for the future.

Over the summer, Fowler said COMPromise will continue to reach out to area businesses in hopes of adding even more possible customers, while still continuing to strengthen the relationship with the current businesses they are working with.

Come fall, Fowler said they will officially organize the business as an LLC.

In the upcoming school year, the teens will be enrolled in their high school’s ACCELerator course where, in addition to creating an LLC, the trio will open a business banking account, continue to gain traction for their business and continue to pitch for additional funding.

“I have no doubt they will be successful and show our other upcoming student entrepreneurs what is possible,” Wismer said. “I’m proud of them.”

Looking one, five, 10 years down the road, the teens have big dreams.

“I hope we get into at least a franchise to help us build the business – that’s one of my main goals for us,” Arndt said.

Fowler said one of her goals is to offer food waste collection services to private households as well.

Teamwork makes the business work
Arndt said one of the reasons COMPromise has seen success is their strong-willed personalities.

“Our group is very headstrong and ready to get anything done,” she said.

Fowler said though they have received no’s, that hasn’t stopped them.

“It’s okay to hear ‘no,’” she said. “That can help push you to move forward and figure out why ‘no’ is being said and learn more about what makes people say ‘yes.’”

Confidence, Fowler said, is also a strong aspect of the team.

“We know we are going to do good, and if we don’t, that’s fine, too – we’ll do better next time,” she said.

Fowler said the team also knows when it’s time to have fun and when it’s time to focus and work.

“We don’t want to be so in the zone that we are boring our customers, but then we also don’t want to use the wrong tone when we’re supposed to be serious – it’s a balancing act,” she said.

The three teens created, grew and continuously maintain the budding composting business all while attending high school and participating in extracurricular activities.

“We’re all busy with extracurriculars – student council, Key Club, basketball, all the sports, really,” she said. “But, we also always make time for the business. I don’t think we’ve ever had a problem where we were like, ‘Oh, we don’t have enough time.’ We make time. We are good at making time.”

Langolf said being part of a team of young entrepreneurs allows for “problem-solving in a group environment,” something she said she appreciates.

As teen business owners, Fowler said there have been times when they haven’t been taken seriously.

“It depends on the mindset of the owner or whoever we’re talking to,” she said. “It’s okay to say ‘no,’ and to hear that. We just move on to the next person, because if they say ‘no,’ then they’re not our ideal customer.”

Getting noticed
Recently, COMPromise was noticed on a national level through the national INCubatoredu program.

The teen entrepreneurs made it all the way to the top 12 semi-finalists vying for a chance to pitch COMPromise at the program’s national pitch contest.

Though the trio wasn’t selected as one of the five budding businesses to make a pitch, the recognition, Arndt said, is just as rewarding.

“It was good to know what we are doing actually means something to people and that people actually care,” she said.

Fowler said it is also fuel to keep going.

“It’s okay we didn’t get to the top because there’s going to be other opportunities for us,” she said. “We’re going to keep reaching out to get into more pitches, so we can get more funding for our business.”

All three students are unsure what areas of study they want to pursue once they graduate from high school – but wherever that is, they are confident COMPromise Compost will be along for the ride.

For more information on COMPromise Compost, check out or visit them on Facebook.

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