Company with Northwestern roots wins Clean Energy Award with product that reduces food waste

Nora Shelly, Assistant City Editor

Hazel Technologies, a corporation with roots in a Northwestern classroom, won the Illinois Clean Energy Fund Award earlier this month for its product that slows down food aging.

The award, which comes with a $500,000 prize, was given at the Chicago-based Clean Energy Trust’s sixth annual Clean Energy Trust Challenge on April 12. Hazel Technologies won for FruitBrite, which is designed to slow down food spoilage by limiting the advancement of the ethylene hormone that causes the aging process in foods, said Hazel CEO Aidan Mouat, a chemistry doctoral student at NU.

The FruitBrite product is a small pod encasing an ethylene-inhibiting gas that essentially stops the aging process of the produce, Mouat said. Hazel is attempting to address the issue of food waste in the food chain.

“Food waste, it’s an epidemic,” Mouat said. “They’re not production problems … they’re distribution problems.”

The product was developed during the NUvention: Energy class, a graduate-level entrepreneurship course that brings together students from various departments to create a clean-technology product or service, said Jeff Henderson, the assistant director of marketing and communications for NU’s Institute for Sustainability and Energy.

The institute partnered with the Farley Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation for the class, which is run through the McCormick School of Engineering.

“Obviously (the institute) as an enterprise-like institute is really excited,” he said. “Food is a tremendous economic driver and food spoilage is a huge issue.”

The institute provided the group, which included Mouat and other graduate students, with a small amount of money after the class was over to help with initial start-up costs. Mouat said he and the group utilized patents that existed under the NU domain to “dream up” their product, which they eventually started to develop apart from the University after their course was finished.

The Clean Energy Trust Challenge is run by the Clean Energy Trust, a nonprofit committed to helping clean-technology companies in their early stages develop. The companies that entered the competition went through a 10-week process, in which the trust matched the companies with mentors who worked on their pitches, as well as provided them with advice and other services to strengthen their business, said Clean Energy Trust spokesman Ian Adams.

Hazel won the Clean Energy Trust Challenge because it had an interesting business plan and a clear problem to solve, Adams said.

“We are trying to lift them up and be successful,” he said. “There’s really a potential here to reduce food waste.”

Mouat said the mentoring provided to them during the competition has helped them advance their business. He said they are now starting pilot studies with potential customers and hope to have the product fully formed and available commercially in early 2017.

“Nobody has been able to put this technology in the hand of retailers, distributers, people who package groceries,” Mouat said. “Within five to 10 years, I would love to see the Hazel Technology ‘leaf’ (logo) stamped on every carton of produce anywhere in the world.”

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