Business

ISU grad Clayton Mooney: From online poker to agtech entrepreneur

1 Million Cups speaker turned online experience into a career

Clayton Mooney

Nebullam
Clayton Mooney Nebullam

Growing up on a farm in southeast Iowa, Clayton Mooney had no intention of becoming a farmer or pursuing a career that had anything to do with agribusiness.

“In 2008, I transferred to Iowa State University, where I focused on business and economics with a plan to go off to law school and become a patent attorney,” Mooney said. “I lasted just over a semester before I dropped out to coach and play professional online poker full time.”

His parents didn’t get it at first, he said. They thought had left a more secure career path to pursue gambling for a living.

“For me, poker is a mathematical science. Playing online, you can play a lot more hands and tables at once,” he said. “It was like a video game where you could win and lose a lot of money.”

Mooney said he had to learn the hard way to treat online poker as a business. He created three revenue streams by coaching and investing in lower stakes players, charging players hourly for coaching them, and playing mid-stakes poker and bringing on investors to play those games.

That came to a halt in April 2011, when the U.S. Department of Justice shut down three major online poker websites and seized several of their bank accounts.

Mooney had two options — move abroad to continue playing online poker or return to ISU and pursue a more traditional career path.

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”I had been blogging about the strategies behind online poker, all the mathematics and my experiences traveling to online poker tournaments,” he said. “I noticed that I was pretty bad at writing and I wanted to become a better writer and storyteller.

“When I made the decision to return to Iowa State, I switched to an English major with a focus on creative writing and a minor in technical writing.”

After graduating from ISU, Mooney took a job as a marketing and technical writer at Dish Network’s corporate office in Colorado. He quickly realized that he was not cut out for writing marketing copy about new Dish Network products and enjoyed freelance writing about people and their stories.

“I was visiting with friends from out-of-state one day and they asked me why I was staying in Colorado if I wasn’t happy,” Mooney said. “They suggested that I move abroad and go back to coaching online poker.”

Mooney took their advice and moved to Ireland on a one-year holiday visa. While there, he met poker players who had become angel investors.

“They told me that tech start-ups were more fast paced than playing 40 hands of online poker. I was intrigued and said I might start a company some day, but I had no business ideas whatsoever.”

Returning to Iowa in 2014, Mooney enrolled in a couple of classes at ISU and began inquiring about tech start-ups that were hiring. He came across several students — Elise Kendall, Ella Gehrke and Mikayla Sullivan — who assembling a team to compete in the annual “Thought for Food” challenge, sponsored by Microsoft and Syngenta.

“We had to come up with a product idea that focused on food security and food production for a growing population,” Mooney said. “I found myself coming full circle with my agricultural background.

“I met with the team, and we were fortunate enough to make it into the finals in Portugal.

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KinoSol (connect with food), formed by Mooney and his fellow ISU students in September 2014, developed and markets the Orenda, a solar-powered food dehydrator that can dehydrate fruits, vegetables, grains, and insects using only solar energy.

The original Orenda was constructed of wood, which since has been replaced by plastic. The units, which use natural convection, do not require any tools for assembly.

Mooney, who remains on KinoSol’s board of directors, turned over day-to-day operations to other members of the team. In 2016, he co-founded Nebullam, which helps home and commercial growers operate efficiently and sustainably using high pressure aeroponic units and automation software.

“We want to sell full turnkey solutions for new and expanding indoor farms,” Mooney said. “We are a 50 percent hardware and 50 percent software company.

“We sell the equipment and license the software. The software works as the on-site horticulturist.”

Mooney primarily is focused on Nebullam, where he serves as president. The company, co-founded with Danen Pool and Mahmoud Parto, is building a model indoor farm in the ISU Research Park in Ames.

With a desire to balance life and work, Mooney has enjoyed boxing for the past six years and has taken a strong interest in ultra running, the sport of long-distance running. The standard definition is anything past the marathon, or 26.2 miles. The shortest standard distance that is considered an ultra is the 50 kilometer distance, or 31.07 miles.

“I’m always looking for other ultra runners in the community,” he said.

Mooney will be interviewed Wednesday by Eric Engelmann, executive director of NewBoCo, at 1 Million Cups as part of the entrepreneurial event’s Founder Fireside presentations.

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Doors open at 8 a.m. for the event at the Geonetric Building, 415 12th Ave. SE, Cedar Rapids, and the presentations begin at 8:30. Admission is free.

If you go

• What: Clayton Mooney will be interviewed by NewBoCo Executive Director Eric Engelmann, at the Founder Fireside presentation, part of the 1 Million Cups Series

• When: Doors open at 8 a.m., with the program to begin at 8:30, Wednesday

• Where: Geonetric Building, 415 12th Ave. SE, Cedar Rapids

• Admission is free

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We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

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