A team of MIT and Harvard University students won the first-ever MIT Food and Agribusiness Innovation Prize this month for an idea to make India’s temperature-controlled supply chain for food — or cold chain — more affordable.
The team, GoMango, is developing smart, modular, refrigerated shipping boxes that can be rented out individually to cut costs and save billions of dollars in spoiled perishable goods in India. This innovation earned GoMango the first-place prize of $12,000 at the competition, which was organized by the student-run MIT Food and Agriculture Club to support early-stage ventures focusing on food and agriculture sustainability.
For the competition, six finalist teams pitched ideas to a panel of judges from academia and industry, and a capacity crowd, in the Samberg Conference Center. A team of MIT students,Safi Organics, earned the $8,000 second-place prize, and a team of MIT and Harvard University students, Ricult, won a $5,000 third-place prize.
Competition co-sponsors were MIT’s Abdul Latif Jameel World Water and Food Security Lab (J-W AFS) and Rabobank, one of the largest banks in the world that caters specifically to food and agribusiness clients.
In GoMango’s pitch, team member and MIT alumnus Naren Tallapragada ’13, now a PhD student at Harvard University, said refrigerated trucks are rare in India, because they’re too expensive for producers and wholesalers to rent or own. By some estimates, there are as many refrigerated trucks in Boston, U.S., as there are in the whole country of India.
With shipping routes sometimes spanning hundreds of miles in very hot temperatures, nearly 40% of India’s fruit and vegetables spoil before reaching customers, Tallapragada said: “This means hundreds of millions of people are malnourished [and] billions of dollars are wasted.”
To address the issue, GoMango invented refrigerated boxes that can be collapsed, and stored in partnering cold-storage warehouses. Food producers and wholesalers can rent exactly as many boxes as needed and stack them on traditional dry trucks, which cost roughly $100 less than refrigerated trucks.
Boxes are stuffed with packs filled with innovative phase-change materials, much like giant ice packs. They’re kept frozen until packed with food — such as fruits and vegetables and meats and fish — and liquefy throughout a trip to keep contents cool for up to three days. Each box also connects to the Internet to track location, temperature, humidity, and payment information.
“We think that we can have a great social impact by getting more food to market, affordably and in an environmentally friendly way, thereby doing our part to keep the developing world healthier, wealthier, and a cleaner place,” Tallapragada said.
GoMango’s prize money will go toward developing commercial prototypes to pilot in India in the coming months.
This post is based in an article published in MIT News.