Stories

A Collapsible, Cheap and Transportable Fridge

Startup Spotlight

Evaptainers has developed a cheap and collapsible cooler that increases produce shelf-life. It was one of the seven winners at the MIT Enterprise Forum Innovate for Refugees Competition in partnership with Zain Group and MBC Hope.

 

By Maya Sioufi

 

A professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology challenged his students to find a solution to a problem faced by 1 billion people. 30-year-old Quang Truong was attending that class.

 

“I took the challenge to heart. I wanted to help farmers, most of them are poor people. The problem they have is keeping their produce fresh along the cold chain. The available solutions are either not working, too expensive or need a functioning grid” says Quang who holds a degree in Development Economics and International Business from the Fletcher School at Tufts University. He wanted to develop coolers that can be used in the place of fridges and that don’t cost much and don’t need electricity.

 

As Quang started digging deeper into this topic, he looked into the zeer pot, a locally made device widely used in Nigeria. A pot-in-pot refrigerator, the zeer pot does not need electricity and cools produce by 10 to 15 degrees. The problem with the zeer pot though is that it is heavy and made of sand. So Quang asked himself, “Can I take this device and redesign it with modern material to make it lightweight, durable, sturdy and mass produced quickly in a factory?”

 

Partnering with Spencer Taylor (the current CEO) and Jeremy Fryer-Biggs (the CTO), Quang managed to create a portable device that significantly lowers the temperature of produce. As water is poured into it, the water goes into the membrane where it evaporates without needing sand or ceramic. The evaporation pulls heat from inside and cools it down. Unlike the zeer pot, this device only weighs 1 kilogram versus 33 kilograms for the zeer pot and it is collapsible and can easily be transported. It can hold about 60 liters of capacity, the size of a medium to large cooler and can be made in different sizes depending on needs.

 

Kick-off in Morocco

 

For the pilot project, the Boston team settled on Morocco for several reasons. “The geography is great because there are a lot of different climates;  it is close to Europe so close to the high-tech components needed and we have a personal contact with the ministry of agriculture. Also for legal reasons, Morocco makes a lot of sense because it launched the green Morocco plan with a goal of improving the agricultural sector while making it more eco friendly” adds Quang.

 

While there is a 95% electrification rate in rural areas in Morocco, it is merely enough to provide lighting and not cooling. Evaptainers’ aim is to provide their devices to farmers enabling them to transport goods.

 

Quang started working with 28-year-old Moroccan Yassin Maghnouj who has been now part of Evaptainers for over a year and a half as the marketing manager. The company now has seven members on board of which four are in Boston.

 

Produced in China, the prototype is now in its final version and 150 units are being rolled out for the pilot test in the first quarter of 2017. It will retail in rural areas at a price of $30 per unit. The company is working on testing the device within refugee camps. They recently won one of the top prizes at the MIT Enterprise Forum Innovate for Refugees Competition in partnership with Zain and MBC Hope. After this pilot test and if all goes well, the team is ready to launch. Their goal for the first year after launching is to sell 10,000 units.