The Ground Floor: An Exclusive Conversation with Quang Truong, CEO of Evaptainer
October 30, 2017
by Michelle Pelletier Marshall
When a business trio – one with a world view of agribusiness, one with a passion for starting new companies, and one with a focus on stewardship of the natural world – comes together, agtech products like the Evaptainer are born. Tackling the infrastructure problem faced in developing markets for affordable refrigeration, the Evaptainer is a scalable, electricity-free, mobile refrigeration solution using time-tested evaporative cooling technology.
GAI News caught up with CEO Quang Truong, at the company’s headquarters in Boston, Massachusetts, to get more information, and to better understand the implications of the development of Evaptainer’s technology for the agtech space.
What was the impetus for developing the Evaptainer?
I came up with the idea during an MIT class called “Development Ventures.” During the very first lecture, our professor challenged everyone to come up with a business solution that “could benefit at least 1 billion people.” Obviously, this dare was meant to provoke and stimulate out-of-the-box ideas; I thought of my own experience working in developing countries and thought about the high costs of food spoilage for producers and consumers. I also thought of my travels throughout the world, where I witnessed traditional devices, such as Zeer Pots, used successfully to address spoilage. My “aha!” moment was realizing that in Boston (and at MIT) there had to be high-tech materials that could enhance and modernize these traditional devices so that they could be used by more people.
How does the Evaptainer work? What are the biggest benefits for the ag sector, and what sets your product apart from the competition?
Our Evaptainer is actually a small fridge that requires no electricity at all – no solar panel, no wiring, completely electricity-free. It works using “evaporative cooling” – basically the same phenomenon that makes us feel chilly whenever we get out of a swimming pool in the summer. The Zeer Pot, which is made of ceramic, operates on the same principle and has been used in Nigeria for decades to keep produce like tomatoes, carrots, and onions from spoiling. Our device simply swaps out the ceramic (which is heavy and fragile) with a lightweight synthetic fabric, making mass-production and shipping easier.
It’s important to note that evaporative coolers don’t have the same benefits as conventional fridges – they never get as cold, and are dependent on low humidity – but for many applications throughout Africa or India, it does the job well enough. Also, unlike refrigerators, our unit is lightweight and completely collapsible, bringing down the cost of shipping to remote areas.
The Evaptainer was created with Africa in mind, where 30 to 40 percent of produce spoils before reaching the consumer. Is this your current market? How has the product fared in the field thus far?
Yes, we’ve been in Morocco for the last few years testing our prototypes and getting feedback from our users. We’ve only recently finalized our production model, and are currently working to set up our mass manufacturing to create the first batch of 500 units for sale. We’re expecting the first batch will be ready by spring of 2018.
Where do you see the growth for this product, and future adoption?
Interestingly, it’s our specialized fabric membrane that’s at the core of our potential growth. Our first device is a 60-liter capacity portable fridge meant for home use, but because of how versatile the membrane is, we can easily manufacture products that are smaller, bigger, or created for specific uses. We’ve talked about creating an “evaporative cooling wrap” that can go around a truck, or larger modular evaporative panels that easily assemble into an on-field storage shed to protect recently harvested produce from spoiling in the field. The opportunities are endless…we could potentially create small packs designed to keep insulin cool, and also have been approached by a company that is interested in putting our fabric into medical hazmat suits as a way to keep medics from overheating while in the field.
What opportunities exist for the ag investment community with this new technology?
Excellent question! We’re actually looking for angel investors right now that will help us get into mass production. We’re looking to raise between $50,000 and $250,000, which would allow us to make a few trips to visit manufacturers in China and also purchase the molds required for large-scale production. The ag investment community can check out or website or e-mail me at email@example.com if they want to hear more.
Truong, a former research associate for HighQuest Partners, and co-founders Jeremy Fryer-Biggs and Spencer Taylor founded Evaptainer in 2014. Truong has worked on development projects that span from Haiti to Liberia to India to Vietnam, and possesses expertise in M&E, agricultural supply chains and agribusiness. He holds a Master’s of Law and Diplomacy from the Tufts Fletcher School with a focus on international business and development economics. Fryer-Biggs has a passion for starting companies and nurturing new ideas and founded one of the first accelerator programs in East Africa, Strivers Foundation, with proceeds from winning the 2009 Tufts 100k entrepreneurship competition. Taylor’s passions focus on the stewardship of the natural world and the improvement of society through technology and efficiency. Learn more at www.e-tainers.com.
~ Michelle Pelletier Marshall is the managing editor for Global AgInvesting’s quarterly GAI Gazette magazine and an occasional contributor to GAI News. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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