This is part of our series, “Banking on Change,” which showcases local entrepreneurs who are creating a positive impact in their community. The series spotlights one local business each month.
The story starts thirty-five years ago when Ahmad Kian and Ehssan Taghizadeh, both young immigrants, were college roommates at the University of Minnesota. Taghizadeh focused on electrical engineering. Kian enrolled in Pre-Med and Engineering. “My goal was to serve people. Engineering was a backup, in case I couldn’t get into medical school,” Kian recalled.
Following graduation, the pair each pursued separate, highly successful corporate careers. Kian in engineering, global procurement and operations management. Taghizadeh in medical device and computer products engineering, then corporate leadership. But they never lost touch with each other.
In 2004, Kian was challenged by his 7-year-old daughter, who asked him what he was doing for her future. She wasn’t asking about savings accounts, Kian points out. Rather, she wanted to know what he was doing to improve the world.
“That question changed my life,” said Kian. “From that day, I have been on a quest to eliminate waste and improve efficiency.”
The pair reunited in 2013 to launch one of the first companies in the Twin Cities focused on conserving energy through LED lighting upgrades.
Searching for a name for their new business, Taghizadeh’s son reminded them about the great hall of the ancient Persian culture – called Apadana. “This hall was viewed as a gateway to the future,” Kian explained.
Armed with science, economics, and considerable charm, the pair began convincing companies that LED lights were good for business. “We had tremendous success and grew rapidly,” Kian said. “Our competitive advantage stemmed from our selection of the best lighting technology and our ability to source products at attractive prices.”
Even with this success, the pair was not done. “Reducing energy waste was only part of the equation,” Kian explained. “The other factor was generating clean, sustainable energy.”
In 2017, the partners launched Apadana Solar with the goal of bringing solar power to homes and businesses. For Kian, promoting both technologies makes complete sense. “People talk about sustainability. But that’s not enough,” he said. “We have to reverse the damage that’s been done. That’s why we talk about “thrivability.”
In 2019, again prompted by a conversation with his daughters, their focus on thrivability grew again.
“I had seen a very moving documentary about clean water,” Kian recalled. “A week later, I was approached by a water-filtration company that was seeking new partners to help them grow.” Notably, the company had solved the urgent problem of removing PFAS, or “forever chemicals,” from drinking water.
“I felt we had to do this,” Kian said. “My wife rightly said I was too busy – but my two daughters looked at me and said, ‘Dad, this isn’t a choice. You have to do this!’”
So, in late 2019, Apadana jumped into the clean water and Waste-to-Energy conversion business with the acquisition of Clark Technology.
“Now, with the ability to work on clean water, our cause of ‘thrivability' is more complete,” Kian said. “We’re not done yet.” Emerging technologies, such as wind and energy storage, could be their next venture.
Clean water also makes a fitting end to this chapter of Kian’s story, as he’s known to recite an old, but inspiring Farsi proverb: “It takes droplets to create tiny streams, which finally create the ocean.”
Illustration by Justine Lecouffe