The 2018 MIT Solve Finals has just been concluded. And from the 33 winners across the four major categories, African startups accounted for 10. Interestingly, two of these African winners are from Nigeria: Lifebank and Coldhubs. However, while Lifebank is already relatively well known, Coldhubs is not.
So, what is Coldhubs and what makes it so special?
Congratulations to @Coldhubs for joining the @SolveMIT community. Brillant solution with a 100% solar-powered walk-in cold rooms installed in markets and farm clusters, for #Smallholders. With more of their harvest to sell, they will be able to increase their annual income by 25% pic.twitter.com/pCkhUAJb6Q
— Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture (@SyngentaFDN) September 28, 2018
What is Coldhubs?
Post-harvest issues have been a big problem in the Nigerian agricultural sector. Post-harvest activities include storage, distribution and consumption of agricultural products after they have been harvested. These seem like innocent issues.
But do you know that each year, Nigerian farmers produce 23 million metric tons of fresh fruits and other vegetables worth $4 billion? Yet we lose between 35% and 45% of these due to post-harvest issues.
It’s one of challenge the Nigerian agricultural sector has battled for so long. How do we reduce post-harvest losses to make food more available and farming more profitable?
That’s where Coldhubs comes in. Although it doesn’t promise to solve all the issues, Coldhubs is one startup addressing a key issue in the agricultural sector.
Coldhubs is an Agritech startup providing a solution to the storage problem in the post-harvest agro activities. Founded in 2012, the startup provides cold storage to small farmers in Nigeria. But its real innovation is that its refrigeration units are powered by solar energy.
Cold Hubs are 100% solar-powered walk-in cold rooms installed in markets and farm clusters, for small-holder farmers, retailers and wholesalers, to store and preserve food. Let’s look at #vaccines too!
— Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (@NOIweala) September 25, 2018
This helps to drastically reduce operating costs for farmers and poses as a far more sustainable solution than anyone in existence. Being solar powered, the cold storage systems guarantee an increment in the shelf life of perishables especially fruits and vegetables.
According to some quarters, Coldhubs helps increase their shelf life from 2days up to 21 days. This is a significant boost. And more important is that the solution reduces the cost incurred from fueling, and also contributes to making a more sustainable environment.
How Does It Work?
Coldhubs’ storage solution works in a pretty simple way. Running on solar-energy, the solution works independently from the national power grid. And as a result, this allows Coldhubs units to function in very remote communities.
The solar panels are placed on the roof of the refrigerator systems and it stores the energy onto batteries. The batteries pass on the energy to an inverter and the inverter uses this to power the refrigerator.
Each refrigerator, called a hub, is 7 feet high and 10 feet wide. And inside, its 150mm insulated steel panels ensure that it can hold approximately 2 tons of food items.
Revenue Model and Growth
Coldhubs operates a subscription-based revenue model. Farmers and retailers pay N109 for each 30kg plastic crates they store. Although it’s been in business since 2012, there’s no information about its revenues so far.
We did it again, ColdHubs is one of eight Microsoft Airband Grant Fund recipients that will be using TV white spaces and other technologies to expand access to internet-enabled solutions. https://t.co/c0cIbHIRoP
— ColdHubs Limited (@Coldhubslimited) August 2, 2018
Talking about growth, however, the company says it has plans to scale across Africa over the next five years.
“When we set up in 2014, we were not sure it was going to work out. We have a cold room that takes approximately $27,000 to put together and if people don’t patronise that service, it means that it’s a failure. Today, we have more than 200 customers across the board. It means, there is a business there that has not been explored.”
In Nigeria, the company already operates five cold room operations in five locations in the country. Three are located in Owerri, two in Kano and the fifth in Lagos.
The support and funding from the MIT Solve Challenge will be key to driving its growth over the next few years.
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