MITO Materials Solutions Founders Make Forbes List
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Back in 2017 Forbes magazine recently named MITO Materials Solutions co-founders Haley Marie Keith and Kevin Keith to its annual 30 under 30 Manufacturing and Industry list.
The couple launched MITO in earnest in 2018 — when they were still students at Oklahoma State University — after receiving a National Science Foundation grant and technology license from OSU.
“Initially, Haley was going through an entrepreneurship course at OSU where they pair up MBA and engineering students to create a business plan,” Kevin said. “I came on the team and we started doing customer discovery and mapping out the market when we realized the business could be something.”
MITO uses graphene oxide additives in materials like fiberglass, epoxies and thermoplastics. They use materials based on OSU’s patented technology that incorporates graphene additives into composite materials such as epoxies or polymers, making them substantially stronger and lighter. MITO’s proprietary graphene functionalization technique lets them make hybrid polymer modifiers that can boost performance and cut the weight of numerous products.
As an additive, this technology could strengthen enough plastic to build five trucks. Their products are easily used in existing manufacturing processes, which could make them game changers in the aerospace, sport, and automotive industries.
“Over time, it was cool to get immersed in the composites industry,” Kevin said. “It is something that we were always slightly familiar with, but we did not realize how complex, yet simplistic it was.”
Kevin and Haley first started their company in 2016. After that, they gained funding from a Phase 1 Small Business Innovation Research Grant in 2018. From there, they moved into a lab space at the Meridian Technology Center in Stillwater and started a chemical lab.
With Haley’s passion for recreational vehicles and Kevin’s passion for engineering, the couple was able to take the idea and scale it into the business it is today. To date, MITO has raised more than $1.5 million from investors, $1.3 million in grants and aims to continue growing.
“At MITO Materials, we make polymer additives with a functionalization technique that is very scalable and very robust,” Kevin said.
“Somehow, I have been able to take a lot of what I have been taught in school and apply it to a singular job. I am sure I would be bored to tears anywhere else.”
Haley earned her MBA from OSU while Kevin was completing his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering technology from OSU in 2017. Haley has received the Courageous Women in Entrepreneurship Award from the Rice University Business Plan Competition. MITO also received second place in the same competition, where they competed against 750 teams around the world.
Lisa Mitchell, a program director at Techstars, nominated MITO for the Forbes’ 30 under 30 list. After nomination, the company underwent rigorous interviews and background checks for over six months. Ultimately, Forbes chose MITO out of 3,000 applicants for their division alone.
“When I received the announcement that we made the list, I was not only in disbelief, but also elation,” Kevin said. “It takes a lot to push a materials company to the forefront of peoples’ minds. Even in today’s age of being concerned about where things are coming from, it takes so much effort.”
In the future, MITO has many options as to where they go.
“We have so many things coming down the pipeline,” Kevin said. “We are trying to push them all at once and then plug them into a contract manufacturing facility, then into a product.”
The Keiths envision going into more specialized application-type materials, as well as thermoplastics and automotives to enable the upcycling of nylons.
“We anticipate that we will be going into some composite freight trailers,” Kevin said. “Even if half the trucks on the road adopted next year, it would save $12 billion in gas and 60 million metric tons of carbon dioxide. This is just from them switching to an all-composite trailer.”
MITO recently moved to Indianapolis, but maintains a research and production lab at Meridian Technology Center in Stillwater and continues to work with chemistry and engineering faculty members at OSU. The Keiths are excited about the future, but Kevin is quick to credit the couple’s Cowboy roots for their MITO’s meteoric rise.
“Dr. Ranji Vaidyanathan and Dr. Frank Blum have been amazing advocates and are extremely kind and humble people,” Kevin said. “I appreciate everything they have done for and with us.
“We would not be here today if it wasn’t for Dr. Vaidyanathan and Dr. Blum.”
Today, MITO Material Solutions is a leader in applying graphene technology in composite materials. In 2019, MITO was awarded over $1M in grants to continue technology development and became the first Oklahoma-based company to participate in a TechStars accelerator. To date, MITO Materials has raised over $6M in capital, hired 6 full-time positions and plans to expand its company operations into Indianapolis where MITO will open its first product development facility”