Nigerian team Coating+ were selected as the Grand Prize winners, receiving a cash prize of $10,000 USD. Led by biochemists Albert Kure, Basheer Balogun, Lukman Abdulwahab and Suleiman Alakanse, the team has developed a safe coating for fresh foods that extends their shelf life while also providing hard-to-access micronutrients to help tackle hidden hunger. When food is coated with their chitosan/soy protein-based product, fresh produce has been shown to retain its quality for up to three times longer in laboratory trials. Coating+ is currently undergoing regulatory approval for their product, and are ramping up production capabilities with a leading global nutrition company.
Learn more about Coating+, one of 2018 TFF Challenge Finalists, and their plans for the future in this Q&A with Albert Kure, led by Thought For Food Program Manager Monika Jiang. Enjoy reading, and get in touch if you have any questions.
What inspired you to start Coating+ in the first place?
Coming from a background in biochemistry, we tried to come up with a solution from the scientific perspective. So the questions we asked ourselves about food spoilage were around: “What is the mechanism of this spoilage? How do you curb microbial action while simultaneously tackling issues caused by water/oxygen exchange?”
By using this approach, and merging our previous research findings around food preservation and nutrition, we aimed to preserve food as well as improve nutrient quality in order to target both the problem of malnutrition and food waste. That’s why we tried to develop a single solution to multiple problems at once – that’s what we’ve now created with Coating+.
Looking at your journey with Thought For Food the past months, what are the key learnings and benefits you’ve achieved?
Thought For Food’s approach helped us to develop our business model from the user perspective, right from the start – instead of anticipating potential consumer needs. Also, at first we struggled with the decision of either building a for-profit or social impact-driven business. What we now realize is that we don’t actually have to sacrifice the one for the other, but could merge it together in a Benefit corporation; being a for-profit business that also values social impact.
During the TFF Startup Bootcamp, we were prepared for the real world, as TFF exposed us to a range of knowledge and skills, we didn’t have an understanding of. As we’re all scientists, we were able to learn and apply our idea from the business perspective, too.
The pitch week itself in Rio de Janeiro was amazing. We were lucky to work with experienced coaches like David (Treyford), Holley (Murchison) and Jared (Yarnall-Schane) who helped us to turn our idea into an impactful story on stage. Also, we trained together as a team, so that after Thought For Food, anyone could deliver our pitch at any given time. This was definitely a valuable experience that brought us closer, and where we could learn and grow together, too.
Congratulations again for winning the Grand Prize! Can you tell us #whatsnext for Coating+?
First and foremost, we’re focusing on getting traction, finding the right partners, and solidifying our financing as part of our product commercialization. To successfully launch our product by the end of the year, we’re planning to establish local partnerships.
At the same time, we’re now building up our digital brand presence to raise awareness and lay the groundwork that would enable us to leverage different marketing and sales channels.
You’ve met a part of the TFF Global Community of next-generation innovators. What would you say is the role of your generation as innovators of the current food system? What is different about the Millennial mindset and approach of changemaking?
I love Einstein’s quote that states how “problems cannot be solved in the same way they were created.” Now in the case of our generation, the fact is that we grew up in the global problems of food security, destruction of the environment, and so forth. Instead of considering only one solution or approach, we are used to bringing together different backgrounds, and experiences, leading to an out-of-the-box way of thinking. That’s why at the core of the Millennial mindset lies collaboration and change making by transcending barriers. In that sense, our perspective really is: “We cannot do it alone, we need to connect, collaborate, and work together to solve these global problems.” It sure is a bonus doing so directly or indirectly with an entire generation of talented, energetic, fun-loving but dedicated Millennials.
What was your experience like as a TFF Finalist and how did that experience shape where Coating+ is today?
Before Thought For Food, we just had an idea without a real plan on how we wanted to approach our vision of growing and leading our business, even beyond Africa. During our experience with TFF, we learned how to bring our solutions to the people that will actually need, and gain the most from it. We’re really glad to have learned so much and met a lot of people from different backgrounds and cultures who share a common set of values, and the same concern for the current food system. Also, we made great contacts with companies who would like to collaborate with Coating+, which pushes us further in achieving our goal of feeding 9+ billion people by 2050 and beyond.