The produce industry in Sub-Saharan Africa has long been racing against expiration dates. The solution? Change the dates. Karpolax extends the shelf life of fruit by 33 days – an invaluable amount of extra time for growers and retailers to get their product to market. We asked Karpolax founders Samuel Muyita and Sandra Namboozo to share with us how being selected as a 2022 Solv[ED] Youth Innovator has propelled their company and impacted their journey.
What was your biggest motivation for trying to expand the shelf life of food?
Sandra: I came from a background where my parents were farmers who majorly harvested fruits and kept them at home as they looked for a market. There were always great losses when they did not find a market in time, and this meant that they would have little or no profits at all. This was a motivation for me to solve this problem. When I joined university, I studied chemical engineering, which exposed me to the knowledge that became a building block to the Karpolax company.
Can you explain what green nanotechnology is and how it is used in your solution?
Samuel: Nanotechnology is the branch of engineering that deals with things smaller than 100 nanometers, especially with the manipulation of individual molecules. Green nanotechnology is basically about making green nano-products and using the nano-products in maintenance of sustainability. At Karpolax, we combined the principles of green engineering and green chemistry, which in turn comprise the “green nanotechnology” used to make our products. We combine a number of green polymers in precise ratios to form a nano product which we pack in a sachet to help amplify the natural mechanism within fruits to delay senescence. The product targets and inhibits the enzyme within the fruits called Phospholipase D that is responsible for senescence. Once the enzyme has been inhibited, the shelf life is extended, without a reduction in the fruit nutrient quality during the preservation period.
(The Karpolax solution uses a chemical that inhibits Phospholipase D, the enzyme that causes produce to ripen.)
What has the last year looked like for Karpolax?
Sandra: The past year has been a turning point. In 2020 we focused on research and development. In the last year we have been implementing our product with a number of new end users. Seeing how many market vendors have been able to make more money and reduce the spoilage of their fruits has been a rewarding experience. We have worked with a number of farmers and exporters. This has been a great experience for us seeing how much value we have created and the impact we have had. We are indeed sure that the problem of fruit waste can truly be solved.
What are your tips for other young innovators who are interested in submitting solutions to the Solv[ED] Youth Innovation Challenge?
Samuel: The first and most important thing is to invest time in your application and give it a thoughtful analysis. This is more easily done when one is passionate about what you’re innovating about! The other thing is that there should be clarity concerning what exactly is the innovative part of your solution. Lastly, you should consider; “is your innovation potent enough to change the world?”
How has being part of the Solv[ED] community impacted you or your organization?
Sandra: Being part of the Solv[ED] community has given us access to a number of people during the events and online sessions who have added a thoughtful contribution to the progress of our company. We have also been privileged to be mentored by some of the most amazing people from the MIT Solve community, I think this has been a game changer for us! It would take forever to get to the bottom of how impactful this has been. As founders, we became better and our interpretation of the business world became more astute. From starting as just innovators, we learned how we were going to get to making money through building value with our customers.
Samuel: I was inspired by Noubar Afeyan, founder of Moderna, when I attended Solve at MIT. He said, “If you cannot state with conviction what it is that you imagine can be done, and why you're doing it, then you’re not going to have the courage.” It brought to my attention that the horse of conviction will always go before the cart of courage.
(Karpolax Founder, Sandra Namboozo, displays a Karpolax sachet.)
What new things are you looking to do or expand on in the next year?
Sandra: We are looking at extending our solution across Africa to meet the huge, untapped fruit preservation market. More importantly, we are looking into having a number of products for more types of fruit. In the past year, we focused on mangos, bananas, oranges and apples. We plan on having a product for the shelf life extension of pineapples, capsicum and berries.