ASU alum's social venture spreads international change

March 18, 2014

In a final hurrah from Arizona State University, new graduate Jeff Malkoon sold as many possessions as he could, packed his bags and traveled to a half-dozen Latin American countries for six months. Volunteering with South American nonprofit organization TECHO: Un Techo para mi Pais (Spanish for “A Roof for my Country”), Malkoon decided to find a way to continue working with the charity once he returned to Phoenix.

“For me, it was Uruguay – but it’s the same deal in France or anywhere else in the world – and you’re standing in a grocery store in the aisle where peanut butter would be, and the only thing you see is Skippy or Jiff,” Malkoon says. “And you know exactly where it’s made. You know exactly what conglomerate owns it.” peanuts encircle an etching of a globe Download Full Image

Malkoon, who graduated from ASU’s School of Politics and Global Studies in 2009 and returned for a master’s in nonprofit studies with the College of Public Programs, came up with a solution.

Like the founders of TOMS Shoes and Ben & Jerry’s before him, Malkoon felt the call of social enterprise. With his friend Michael McGillicuddy, he experimented with peanut butter formulas in his mom’s kitchen for months before founding Peanut Butter Americano, a social venture that donates part of the proceeds from the dark chocolate peanut butter to TECHO. The nonprofit fights areas of extreme poverty by constructing housing for at-risk families in 19 countries.

Thanks to a community of locavores and supporters of small business, in its first year of business, despite losing one of its cofounders, Peanut Butter Americano flourished, donating more than $3,000 to TECHO, spreading to 16 stores across Arizona and adding two almond butter flavors to the brand’s enterprise of four distinct peanut butter flavors: white chocolate, dark chocolate, cinnamon honey and classic.

Sales haven’t slowed since Peanut Butter Americano sold its first jar more than a year ago. Malkoon credits the venture’s success to a high demand for his product in local farmers markets.

“We’re Arizona’s only nut butter company as far as I know … and I think there is a real demand for that in the farmers market world here in the Valley and around the state,” Malkoon says. “We’ve kind of filled that gap in a way. It just seems like it was a really big gap. There was a lot of demand for the products that we brought to the market.”

Peanut Butter Americano is used by local bakeries, and sold at farmers markets across the Valley, including Phoenix Public Market, Tempe Farmers Market and Scottsdale Farmers Market. Malkoon is also in talks with AJ’s Fine Foods and Whole Foods to put his products on the shelves.

“This past year in Phoenix there’s been a lot of support in our community for locally-produced, fresh and especially healthful products,” Malkoon says. “People are really out for those things in this market.”

As director of sales and events, Teresa Malkoon spends each weekend at Peanut Butter Americano’s farmers market events loudly proclaiming her son’s peanut butter as "the most delicious peanut butter on Earth." She’s noticed a growing community of consumers who are educated about the positives of supporting local products and businesses.

“People take out good local products, especially good local gourmet products, because people who support farmers markets … tend to embrace their communities and want their tax money and the dollars to stay in their communities,” Teresa says.

As Peanut Butter Americano expands in Arizona, Malkoon builds the courage to bring his product back to Uruguay and stock the shelves there.

“In five-years time, we’ll be selling our products internationally, no doubt,” Malkoon says. “One of our founding goals was to bring our products down to South America and really try and make this their company.”

Written by Adrianna Ovnicek

Heather Beshears

director marketing and communications, College of Public Service and Community Solutions


ASU Edson companies innovate future in medicine, public health

March 18, 2014

Two teams from ASU's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences are making scientific breakthroughs by developing ways to prevent fogging on surgical lenses and producing a tablet that will immediately test for contaminated water.

The teams, consisting of students, researchers and faculty, are seeing their globally impactful and innovative ideas come to life through the university's Edson Student Entrepreneur Initiative, which provides seed funding, mentorship and office space to help students launch viable businesses. Ajjya Acharya and Clarizza Watson founded SiO2 through ASU's Edson Initiative Download Full Image

The initiative selects 20 projects and provides up to $20,000 in funding per project. Edson is open for all students across ASU to apply. The deadline for 2014 is April 1.

Flat water

Nicole Herbots, ASU professor emeritus of physics, and teammates Clarizza Watson, a chemical engineer with her master's in business administration, and Ajjya Acharya, a graduate researcher with a degree in biochemistry and genetics, are developing ways to prevent fogging on microscopic surgical tools and cameras, sport lenses and vehicles with their patents for VitreOX, VitreSport and VitreShield.

“We’re changing the way the surface interacts with the molecules at the nanoscale,” Herbots said. “We force a surface to ... interact with the water so it doesn’t form a drop. It forms a sheet.”

Doctors have to repetitively clean microscopic lenses during surgery, and the process can be “highly disruptive to the rhythm of the operation,” causing a loss of view that can lead to unintentional injury to the patient, according to Eric Culbertson, a general surgeon and plastic surgery fellow at UCLA.

“It means shorter surgery time for the surgeon, shorter surgery time for the patient, less infection, less scarring,” Herbots said. “It’s not just good for everybody, it also has an economic impact – on the medical side, on the pain and suffering side, and the cost of procedure.”

Currently, SiO2 Nanotech's (their company) technology is commercialized and sold to manufacturers in the non-medical field. However, the team, with the help of Edson and other incubator programs, has expanded their potential market by patenting and working on products applicable to sports and vehicle safety.

Biosensing tablet

The idea for HydroGene Biotechnologies was born while Maddie Sands was doing research in Guatemala. Sands, a master’s student in global health who studied anthropology as an honors undergraduate, realized people in small, rural towns drank contaminated water even after being informed of the danger of germs and microbes.

“There was a real disconnect because the water looks clean,” Sands said. "There needed to be a way to easily detect contaminated water.”

Sands, who is also a pre-health student at ASU, took the problem to Nisarg Patel, Joe Yun, Hyder Hussain and Ryan Muller, fellow students she met through her science classes. “We want to help those in developing countries who don’t have a way to test for contaminated water so we can treat the water and cut down on water-borne diseases such as childhood diarrhea,” Sands said.

Most existing biosensors are too large, expensive or require electronic machinery that requires extensive technical expertise, rendering them unsuitable for people in developing countries, said Patel, a double major in molecular biosciences and biotechnology and political science.

“So our solution is to use the power of synthetic biology to solve that problem by creating a cheap, portable biosensor that can detect any source of water at any time,” Patel said.

Sands said Edson is helping them branch out to market their company's products to backpackers, the military, the meat industry and hospitals to aid in paying for the non-profit side of getting the tablets into the hands of those who need them the most.

Edson and the university have been helpful to his team, Patel said: “We’ve been able to get support from Edson Innovation challenge, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, as well as the School of Life Sciences in order to turn our idea into a reality, and we’re really thankful for the support they have given us through funding, mentorship, as well as resources to turn it from just something in the lab to something we can take to the real world, because that’s what we really strive to do.”

Written by Sarah Muench. This story is an excerpt from the upcoming issue of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Magazine.

Margaret Coulombe

Director, Executive Communications, Office of the University Provost