From chemists to entrepreneurs: TalTech`s chemistry students give new meaning to “best before”
Timey was born eighteen months ago from a TalTech Basics of Entrepreneurship course. “The task was to come up with a so-called pseudo business idea and make an actual business plan for it. In the beginning, neither us nor the teacher had much faith in the idea,“ say Martin Möllits and Laurent Läheb who are behind Timey.
Timey is a smart “best before“ indicator, which is attached to food packaging. It turns red if the product is kept at the wrong temperature. Though the exact mechanism is Timey`s business secret, the product is based on chemical reactions. The product is still the young chemists` brainchild.
The indicator turns from green to red if it is kept at warmer temperatures than indicated. “With the current solution, we are able to identify the specific temperature between-22 degrees and +16 degrees. The indicator detects temperatures at half degree point,“ explains Martin Möllits about how the indicator works. The colour change takes place within ten minutes at the latest, which is the critical line for companies.
Problem with supply chain
The boys worked on the first idea for a school project and conducted proper market research. Communicating with different food industry companies, it became apparent rather quickly that this is an actual problem. Especially in the food industry.
Food that ends up on our tables travels a long way from producer to warehouse to shop. During this journey, products are kept at different temperature. “For example, on a warm summer day, milk goes off sitting on the shop loading dock in just8 minutes“ says Martin. It is an extreme example, but even a fluctuation of a few degrees may impact food quality. Currently, there is no indicator which would identify fluctuations and badly kept products still end up in the shop. So, the traditional “best before“ marking does not provide enough information about the freshness and quality of the product.
Revolution in fishing industry
The first prototype was made for dairy products, but the Timey indicator can be used for almost all refrigerated goods. “Milk, fish, meat. It is possible ad necessary to measure the temperature of all of them.“
“Food companies told us how disappointed customers call and ask for refunds for spoilt food. But the issue is, who is actually responsible in the end,“ say the boys and add that this is the issue that Timey helps resolve.
Lorries have electronic solutions to monitor temperature, but these are not always reliable. “I saw one Norwegian documentary, where the lorry had broken down and the fish started to melt in the refrigeration equipment. In reality, those goods are still sold or written off though it is unclear what state the goods are in. Our indicator is the perfect solution for quality control in such a situation,“ Martin gives an example.
Timey focuses on the fish industry. The transportation chain for fish and fish products is often long as the fishing grounds are far from end consumers. The longer and more complicated the transportation chain, the more difficult to control the conditions. Therefore, the need for the Timey indicator is the greatest.
In September last year, the team visited Namibia, which is one of the largest fish exporters in the world. For example, the hake fish Estonians know well also comes from Namibia. Speaking with the local entrepreneurs, it turned out that the interest in the young chemists` product was big. “Africa is definitely a very important market for us,“ they say.
Production is manual
There was nothing glamorous at the beginning of the production process. “We started out very simple. The first sticker was a big disc that we had put the necessary substances in for the chemical reactions.“
The first prototype was finished with Prototron financing, which the team won in spring 2018. At the beginning of summer, they went to an international business development programme NGAL in Nebraska Wesleyan University in the US, where they won first place and a 3000-dollar award.
“We have been designing and optimising the product since mid-summer. During the next quarter, we will launch a sticker that can be attached to food packaging,“ explains Martin. Currently, the team is working on testing the product.
Right now, the team has four pilot customers. “We are working with a fisheries company operating in Estonia and the UK, the largest ice-cream producer in the Baltics, one of the largest dairies in Scandinavia and a start-up courier service operating in Tallinn and Helsinki“ says Martin, deciding not to name the companies at this time.
At Ajujaht, the team is primarily after business development mentoring and financial support to find new markets and start production.
At Ajujaht, the team has been chosen among the top 30 best business ideas. Martin and Laurent get help from friends and TalTech`s Mektory partnership. From Ajujaht`s side, support is provided by Elisa Head of New Services Kertu Kriisk, in legal affairs, the team is assisted by Law Office TRINITI attorney-at-law Ergo Blumfeldt.
Ajujaht is Estonia’s largest business idea competition. Ajujaht was established by Enterprise Estonia, partner SEB and main sponsor Elisa. In addition to the aforementioned, Ajujaht is supported by Law Office Triniti, Estonian Employers` Confederation, Estonian Chamber of Agriculture, Harku Municipality, City of Pärnu, Saue Municipality, City of Tallinn, City of Tartu. Ajujaht is funded by Enterprise Estonia`s European Regional Development Fund finances. Ajujaht is implemented by Civitta Eesti AS, Kommunikatsioonibüroo JLP and Tehnopol.