During an entrepreneurship course in 2013, Quang Truong’s professor posed a lofty challenge: Come up with an idea that can help one billion people.
With a background in agricultural development work for nonprofits, Truong, F14, immediately thought of food spoilage, a problem in developing countries where refrigeration can be scarce. Without refrigeration, he knew, produce quickly goes bad, which for rural families can mean frequent, costly journeys to faraway markets.
In his work in places like Nigeria, Kenya, and India, Truong had seen variations on a simple, inexpensive refrigeration device that ran without electricity: a ceramic pot encased in sand, and situated inside a larger pot. When the sand between the pots was saturated with water, the water would eventually evaporate, pulling heat from the inner chamber of the pot.
“We’re in Boston,” Truong thought, “a place with smart engineers and interesting materials we can experiment with. Can we take this traditional device and improve it somehow?” That question eventually led him to cofound Evaptainers, a company based in Somerville, Massachusetts, that in 2015 began shipping prototypes of lightweight, portable, low-cost refrigeration units to families in Morocco. Using minimal water, the Evaptainer units reach internal temperatures that are fifteen to twenty degrees Celsius cooler than the surrounding air, which can triple the shelf life of fruits and vegetables. “Every prototype has proven that this can work,” said Serena Taylor, F14, the company’s chief strategy officer.
The potential benefits of Evaptainers go beyond food. The units could store electronics, cosmetics, even shelf-stable pharmaceuticals. The company is seeking partners to distribute Evaptainers in refugee camps and post-conflict areas. Having already raised more than $500,000 in grant funding, they’ll soon begin looking for investors to support a consumer launch (the units will cost around thirty-five dollars each in developing countries). First, though, the company will test the latest Evaptainer model, the EV-8, by distributing five hundred units to homes in Morocco with the help of USAID. The company may not be helping a billion people just yet, but that’s an impactful start.