Wetenschap - 28 juni 2019

For sale: high performance mosquito traps against malaria

tekst:
Albert Sikkema

Start-up PreMal BV wants to provide new odour-baited mosquito traps to contribute to the eradication of malaria in Africa. The core of its business is a newly designed trap by PreMal founder Henry Fairbairn. The next step is: how to sell them in Africa?

© Guy Ackermans

PreMal, an abbreviation for Preventing Malaria, is officially 3 months old, but founder Henry Fairbairn actually decided that he wanted to start a company in December 2018. Englishman Fairbairn was following a master’s programme in Integrated Product Design at Delft University of Technology. ‘I was looking for a thesis project and found a poster in the elevator at Delft University of Technology mentioning that Wageningen was looking for a designer to develop mosquito traps. I hate mosquitoes and was hooked on the idea of catching them.’

MTego
Fairbairn had a talk with the laboratories of Entomology and Experimental Zoology in Wageningen and started to conduct a 5-month project in which he designed and tested nine different prototypes of mosquito traps. After that, he combined the best parts of the nine designs and developed the MTego trap. ‘MTego is “trap” in Swahili’, Fairbairn explains. ‘This trap catches up to four times more mosquitoes than existing traps, like the Suna trap that Wageningen University used in 2016 to eradicate malaria on Rusinga Island in Kenya.’

Business plan
The results with the MTego trap were very good, but the issue was: how to make the trap available to people in Africa? Fairbairn came in contact with StartLife and decided to move to Wageningen. During the intake, StartLife asked him a few difficult questions about his business plan, so Fairbairn decided to invite his Italian study friend Lorenzo Fiori to join him as a business partner. ‘Lorenzo had already gained experience in another start-up in Delft.’

Market
While on the StartLife Accelerator programme, the two of them were mainly focussing on the market validation in Africa. Who would be interested to buy their traps? ‘We first had a look at high-end markets, like hotels, safaris and food companies. Western hotel customers and tourists on safari like to have their dinner outside, but they may be bothered by mosquitoes during their meal. A number of our traps would surely improve the customer service of these companies’, says Fairbairn. ‘We have already installed a few of our traps in the dining areas of several hotels in Kenya, so people see our product working.’

Solar panels
But PreMal also wants to deliver mosquito traps to low-end markets in Africa, including rural households. For that purpose, Fairbairn has been looking for collaborations with companies that provide solar home systems in Africa. ‘Many companies already sell solar panels for 500 to 1000 euros to low-income households who pay off in a period of two to three years. We want to provide the trap as an add-on, an extra option with the solar system.’ PreMal traps need a small amount of electricity, because they use a fan to catch the mosquitoes.

Field test
PreMal wants to continue within StartLife, because Fairbairn still has to prove that his trap really decreases the number of mosquitoes outside a building. To this end, he intends to conduct a scientific field trail with WUR and the Dutch solar company SolarWorks in Malawi. They want to provide the MTego traps to 30 to 40 households and monitor the mosquito catches.

Clients
At the moment, PreMal is finalising deals with their first clients and intends to enter the market in early 2020. A trap will cost approximately 150 euros a piece. PreMal is looking for production facilities in Africa to produce them locally at lower costs.

Fairbairn: ‘We have a close collaboration with Wageningen University, both with Florian Muijres of the Experimental Zoology Group and Sander Koenraadt and Jeroen Spitzen of the Entomology Group. They are on our supervisory board, and they supplied students to help with our research. Without the university, this company would not have been possible.’’


Re:ageer