Meet The Prize-Winning Biotech Startup That Uses Shrimp Shells To Preserve Food

By  |  August 16, 2018

A Nigerian biotech startup known as Coating+ is on the move to solve a trio of problems facing the most populous black nation.

In Nigeria, the aquaculture industry is responsible for a substantial partition of the nation’s industry. With more than 1,00,00 metric tons of seafood being produced each year, the industry brings about both wealth for the economy and a significant volume of shrimp shell waste.

As a matter of world record, 32 percent of food that is produced goes to waste, and the waste is just about enough quantity to feed 1.6 billion people. In Nigeria alone, more than NGN 28.4 Bn is wasted in the tomato market, and that stands as the one thing which proves that the world is in need of more food production. But in order to achieve this apparent food revolution, we have to make an effort to save the quantity we already have at hand.

In some parts of Africa, malnutrition is a force to be reckoned with, micronutrient deficiency and protein-energy malnutrition in particular. A damming 35 percent of children under the age of 5 are troubled with stunted growth, and 24 percent are underweight as a result of lack of proper nutrients which they should be consuming in their food and drinks.

Braced and motivated to combat these three seemingly Pan-African demons plaguing the food industry, biotech startup Coating+ has everything in the making of a food revolutionist. The company has created a transparent gelatinous coating that has all preservative properties. The substance can be sprayed on the surface of fresh fruits and veggies to prolong their shelf life. The coat is thrown together using a combination of chitosan – a sugar that can be extracted from shrimp shells- and with soy protein and micronutrients, both of which affords the substance preservative qualities that are set to save farmers huge loads of cash on produce stored yet to be sold.

In order to ensure that the nutritional value of the coating is as well consumed by people, Coating+ is out to use the spray on fruits and veggies that do not require peeling before they can be eaten, such as grapes, guavas, and tomatoes. The nutrients enclosed inside these farm produce are locked and kept fresh for an incredibly extended period of time, saving farmers all the stress of preservation and the risk of spoilage.

Coating+ is the brainchild of entrepreneurial chemistry between a group of biochemistry students at the University of Illorin. One of these masterminds is Albert Kure, who works to get the startup into the market. He also pitched this innovative idea of Coating+ to the 2018 Thought For Food Summit panel of judges and had all it took to bring the win home for the team – a victory which was rewarded with USD 10 K to complete their NAFDAC registration and fund the automation of the coating process for farmers.

Other members of the team include Basheer Balogun, Lukman Abdulwahab, and Suleiman Alakanse.

The innovative concept and objective to harness biotech in a bid to preserve fruits and vegetables, is however not unique to Coating+. Another company known as Apeel, uses a plant-based material to solve a similar problem, just like Cambridge Crops who base their content on silk. Both startups are nonetheless based in the United States and have not disclosed any plans of extending their operations to Africa. So, Coating+ stands as the only company in Africa bring about this revolution – and the Nigerian market is already in the yearning of this lifetime solution.

Worthy of note is that the USD 10 K won by Coating+ is sufficient to power the team through their hindmost stages of development into the market by the conclusion of 2018. Thought For Food is a global food and agriculture competition that holds annual summits, and this year’s edition was in Europe. The startup academy and pitching competition took place in Rio de Janeiro, and it brought together entrepreneurs from all nooks and crannies of the planet. A larger number of the finalists highly needed comparatively small fund sums to get their startups to the stage of commercialization, highlighting the opportunity that lies in early-stage localized solutions to problems that are present from country to country.

As far as Coating+ is concerned, the USD 10 K is not the only thing that will drive their business. The award does claim for them international recognition in the community of food and agriculture business, investors, and enthusiasts, and that goes a long way in opening up the opportunity for corporate collaborations and other of such inbound interests which entrepreneurs in the startup-heavy localities keep to tabs with.

The first runner-up was a team from Kenyan Safi Organics, who developed a decentralized organic fertilizer production system and proprietary biochar formula that has the potential to increase yield by up to 30 percent while bringing about a correction in soil acidity. This team took home a prize of USD 5 K, and they are starting to scale up sales and production capabilities to secure key distribution and training partners.

Commenting shortly after snatching the world title, Kure commented that the entire process had been one of much work and that gaining international recognition is a huge turnout for Coating+.


This development first appeared on Forbes.


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