Out to Lunch with HeatAway

5 October 2017

Having lunch outside of the house is usually a choice between a soggy sandwich from a lunchbox, or an expensive (and often unhealthy) meal from a take-away shop. ESA BIC Noordwijk’s new incubatee HeatAway means to change this with their portable, self-heating lunchbox.

Pressure cooker

The idea for HeatAway came – very appropriately – from a so-called pressure cooker assignment in the early stages of the RSM Master in Strategic Entrepreneurship, which the HeatAway founders followed together. Students were challenged to come up with a new business idea every other day. One idea stuck with the group throughout their studies: the self-heating lunchbox.

“So we ran with the same idea during different assignments in various courses,” co-founder Maximilian Langer explains. This allowed them to build a strong foundation for their start-up even before they graduated. So serious was the team about building the idea into their own company, that they strategically elected different courses in order to maximise their collective expertise.

From handwarmers to space tech

As the idea developed, the HeatAway team realized that their original solution, an exothermic chemical reaction like you find in handwarmers, would not work. And so they turned to ESA Broker Verhaert, who put them in touch with a French provider of technology for space applications. Joining the ESA BIC incubation program, where they would receive more technical and financial support, was the logical next step.

The first target audience of HeatAway is people who currently struggle with eating outside their homes because of their specific dietary needs: for example people with allergies, weightwatchers, vegans and fitness fanatics. These people often cannot find the food they need at school, work or in take-away restaurants.

“Fitness fanatics for instance eat 6 or 7 meals a day,” Maximilian explains. “And because their diet is very specific, they often eat the same thing during 3 of those meals – usually cold. They just don’t enjoy eating anymore.”

Cold lunches

But it’s not just athletes. More and more people seem to be on a specific diet, either out of pure necessity (for example because of food allergies) or because of an active choice to live healthier.  “Consider for example people that are trying to lose weight; the first thing they usually cut down on are carbs and saturated fats”, co-founder Koen Philippaerts says.  “For them, the typical sandwich lunch becomes a no-go, so they bring their own meals with vegetables and lean fish or meat; food that is just better eaten warm.”

It is no surprise then that many people have already offered to be test users for the first prototype. The current prototype looks like a generic lunchbox and was a first visualization in co-operation with design students. The final product however will be able to heat up your meal in less than 10 to 15 minutes by the push of a button.

This version is a big step up from their first “show-and-tell-model”, which was just a kid’s sandwich box the team bought in a store, with insulation from an icecream shop. “Very minimalist,” co-founder Jesse Hupkens admits. “But it really helped us show our concept during pitches.”

Healthy food ecosystem

The one thing that the team is somewhat struggling with, is what to call their product. “My friends usually refer to my project as “your little sandwich box” (broodtrommeltje in Dutch),” says Jesse. But that doesn’t really cover the product, nor does the term “lunchbox”, because the box can be used for any (hot) meal.

Finally, the team hopes to help reshape the entire food ecosystem, and help all people eat fresh and healthy food, when and wherever they want.