Fremont, California

Serial entrepreneur Iain Milnes is manufacturing equipment to digest food waste for clients in a variety of industries.

Milnes, who established five prior companies, is the president and majority shareholder of the equipment manufacturer. Since its inception 13-and-a-half years ago, Power Knot has carved out a niche constructing contraptions that address the all-too-common conundrum of unwanted food scraps.

Photos Jonathan Castner
“The first several years, while we were doing the R&D, were difficult and obviously not profitable, but we’ve now been profitable for nine years,” Milnes says. “Every year since 2014, our sales have increased, and our profits have increased. This year is on track to be more so.”

Power Knot has inked sales agreements with cruise ships, major hotel chains, corporate campuses, universities, the U.S. military, and larger restaurant kitchens. Speaking to the core clientele, Milnes says it’s “anywhere where there’s a large amount of waste that’s being generated.”

From the get-go, Milnes says a foundational principle within Power Knot has been to serve as diverse a clientele as possible. The philosophy has helped the company withstand unexpected large-scale events, such as the pandemic.

“If you only have one customer base, when that customer base gets a hiccup, you’re going to sneeze and get the flu,” Milnes says. “We have a very diversified customer base, and we focus on that.”

Within the company, Milnes says he and the other three principals keep data — including employee head count — close to the vest.

“We don’t disclose the size of our company, either in terms of people or revenue, but we’ve been growing substantially,” Milnes says, speaking in general terms. “We’ll be taking over more office space here in the next month or so. We’ve doubled our headcount over the past year, and it’s likely to double over the next year as well.”

Beyond internal talent, Milnes attributes a number of factors to Power Knot’s upward growth trajectory, including minimal domestic competition within the company’s specific space.

“There’s more of a vision and understanding of the effect on the environment sending organic waste has on landfills,” Milnes says. “That’s not only at the company level, but it’s also at the legislative level, where people are being banned from doing this. That’s increased the visibility of the solution, and we have a solution to that problem. We can solve people’s problems.”

Challenges: Power Knot’s aforementioned physical expansion plans are a top-of-mind issue for Milnes and the other principals in the immediate future, though the company’s reported profitability does ease concerns.

Milnes emphasizes that Power Knot plans to retain his deep-rooted presence in Silicon Valley. “Rent is expensive here, which we are thinking about as we take over extra facility space,” Milnes says. “It’s an expensive deal. We’ve got to sell more machines.”

Opportunities: Currently, Power Knot manufactures eight different sizes of its food waste biodigesters. The company also has begun manufacturing ancillary products, such as vacuums, as they seek continued opportunities to serve different types of customers — particularly those that might not have the space for a full machine.

“We’ve developed other products that are aligned with our biodigesters,” Milnes says. “We have a range of pumps that can pump your wastewater. They can be used with our machines or independent of our machines.”

Needs: With continued growth on the horizon, Milnes says Power Knot is seeking workers of a variety of skill levels, though staffing up has been a challenge.

“The hardest thing we have is hiring good people here in the Valley,” Milnes says. “I’ve lived and worked in Silicon Valley for 39 years. When I came into the Valley originally, there was lots and lots of manufacturing in the Valley. Now, a lot of that has moved out. The cost of housing and other things around the Valley is expensive.”

Milnes says he is hopeful that in the not-too-distant road ahead, transportation solutions — such as high-speed rail — will provide improved commuting opportunities for workers unable to afford the cost of living directly in Silicon Valley.


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