Have you ever thought about preventing the oxidation of fruits by extending their shelf life? Biology student Richardos Lebbos found a solution for the apples' problem in Lebanon, seeing the extent of the damage done to the apple produce in 2017, where tons of Lebanese apples were thrown on the ground after being banned in several countries.
"I remember hearing about the crisis of apples being thrown because of the high price of cold storage and other problems. I was in a taxi at the time, and I had an idea to do something that would preserve the shelf life of the apples," Lebbos told Berytech, a dynamic environment for Lebanese startups, fostering innovation, technology and entrepreneurship.
It all began in the university lab in USEK, which Lebbos had full access to as an employed student. He started working on creating a starch-based liquid that acts as a bio-coating for fruits and vegetables and extends their shelf life. Starch, in scientific literature, is known to be a natural polymer that is used in many industries.
What Lebbos wanted to do was create a liquid that could turn starch into an invisible layer that is transparent on fruits, and that would consequently act as a barrier to oxygen and bacteria, and hence a barrier to the oxidation of fruits.
“Fruits that are not exposed to oxygen, and therefore do not have oxidation taking place, have more than twice the shelf life without cold storage,” Lebbos explained.
The liquid was invented for businesses such as big farmers and retailers that import and export fruits. These retailers usually have a wax line where they polish the fruit with a chemical to make it shiny. "I plan to replace this chemical with the Startchy liquid" said Lebbos. "Once you spray the fruit with the liquid and dry it, it will be ready for shipping without cold storage."
While working at the lab, Lebbos met pharmacologist Kayssar Eid and agricultural engineer Tony Barcha, both USEK students. They came together on that one vision and aim and founded Startchy.
With the support of Berytech, Startchy was registered in the US, which allowed the team to test their product with Stemilt, the biggest exporter of apples in the US and one of the biggest in the world.
"We did a test with Stemilt on their apples, where we coated them with our Startchy liquid, and it worked! We saw an extent of the shelf life twice and more. They gave us a letter of intent, and now we are working together," boasts Lebbos and for a good reason.
And that wasn't all. The creation of this product has come to be of benefits to other countries as well.
Döhler, the German producer of technology-based natural ingredients, invested in Startchy a total of $600,000. Maersk, the Danish growth (incubation) program for international startups worldwide selected Startchy among 30 other shortlisted global startups.
After 30 grueling days with Maersk in Copenhagen, Startchy was selected along with one other startup for a cash investment of $500,000!
The Startchy team is now finalizing the industrialization of their product by partnering with Dohler, and they’re working on getting the certification to enter different markets, beginning with the US market.
In addition, Lebbos and his two partners have started this month (September) running pilot trials with big suppliers and customers. “Hopefully, we will hit the market soon, beginning of 2020,” commented Lebbos.