Aidan Mouat credits “dumb luck” for setting him on a path from chemist to CEO. Mouat has for the past six years run Hazel Technologies, which invented a small packet of chemicals to keep food fresh longer before reaching grocers.
If your store shelves are stocked year-round, you might wonder why these pouches are useful in the first place. What you don’t see is what gets thrown away. The reality is that the world produces “a colossal amount of food waste,” Mouat says. “We have a food system that is focused very heavily on production, instead of efficiency.” So, Mouat and his company co-founders devised a way to help prevent produce spoilage on its way from farm to store.
Mouat met his company co-founders in an entrepreneurship class during graduate school, among a group of passionate students ready to contribute unique strengths to new projects. One co-founder, Adam Preslar, had expertise in biochemistry; Mouat’s was in materials science.
The two wanted to tackle food waste using their chemistry expertise, and their answer was, in a word, ethylene. Ethylene is a small molecule that fruits and vegetables absorb and emit into the air. Even after harvest, crops speed or slow their ripening based on ethylene levels.
Mouat and Preslar realized that by controlling how food reacts to ethylene, they could control ripening.
The entrepreneurs just needed to find the right chemical to do this. In their search, a compound called 1-methylcyclopropene (1-MCP) stood out. As luck would have it, the patent on 1-MCP had recently expired, meaning the newly founded company would be able to use it in a new product. Hazel pounced on the opportunity. The company designed and produced small sachets to release 1-MCP to interfere with ethylene metabolism in produce during shipment.
Today, Mouat’s company helps keep billions of pounds of food fresh annually. He readily acknowledges his luck in creating a successful business, but is quick to point out the value of hard work: “Fortune favors the prepared.”