Xilinat: The successful business of a Mexican scientist who transforms organic waste into a sweetener | Future America

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It is said that a business is born out of necessity. When Javier Larragoiti was 18 years old, the year he entered university, his father was diagnosed with diabetes, a disease that, according to the National Institute of Statistics and Geography, is the third leading cause of death in Mexico, surpassed only by diseases of the heart and covid-19. Years passed and the health of his father had worsened, since, according to him, he is one of those people who did not take care of his diet at all. This need led him to think of a solution to help him and other people who suffer from this affectation. Thus, in 2018, when he was 28 years old, he became the founder of Xilinat, a company that developed a sugar substitute that is not harmful to health and has a positive social and environmental impact.

The first solution that crossed his mind was the creation of a pill that would make food taste sweeter. “That already exists in Japan. They beat us, they use it a lot to drink sake (an alcoholic drink based on rice)”, Larragoiti tells América Futura. When working he decided not to use the substitutes that are on the market such as splenda, sucralose or stevia because his father did not like the taste. At that time, her sister was studying to be a dentist and introduced her to a product called xylitol. She used it on child patients. Instead of putting fluoride on them, she applied this alternative because one of its properties is the protection of teeth against cavities.

Since he was a child, Larragoiti saw himself in a lab coat. One of his favorite shows was beakman’s world and his favorite superhero was Spider-Man because under the costume was Peter Parker – a scientist originally in the comics and in the cartoon. It is for this reason that he studied chemical engineering and turned to his teacher, Lorena Pedraza, a professional with 25 years of experience in the use of agricultural residues. Together with the chemical engineer, who is also the company’s first partner, they began with the transformation of organic waste. “We ferment the corn cob and the result of this process is xylitol, which we then crystallize for sale,” explains the chemical engineer.

The original process to obtain xylitol uses birch wood as raw material and extracts a carbohydrate called xylose that, according to Larragoiti, humans cannot metabolize. A chemical reaction is used to transform it into xylitol. At Xilinat, production costs are reduced by 40% because instead of birch they use shelled cob with a fermentation process that reduces energy and raw material costs. “The production cost of birch xylitol is around, more or less, between 3 and 3.5 dollars per kilo, we are between 2 and 2.4. We offer the same taste as sugar and health benefits such as helping the absorption of calcium in the bones, it is low in calories, it is totally safe for diabetics, it does not need insulin to metabolize it, it is keto because it is low in carbohydrates and protects from cavities,” he adds.

Four years after its foundation, Xilinat, which is already sold on different Internet portals, in health food stores and some boutiques, preserves its social and environmental spirit. The company works with 13 families from San Bernardino Tlaxcalancingo, a town in the state of Puebla, and from San Miguel Topilejo, a town in the Tlalpan delegation located south of Mexico City. A little more than 63 people are in charge of providing the cob, raw material of which seven tons are needed, for which they are paid 500 dollars for the production of one xylitol. This year the company has set itself the goal of selling 12 tons of xylitol for which they will need 36 tons of corn cob.

A sample of Xilinat sweetener.
A sample of Xilinat sweetener.

In this way, Xilinat contributes, to a certain extent, to avoiding the burning of organic waste in the open field, “the typical little piles of cob that burn and generate smoke when traveling on the road”, which, according to the executive director of the company , reduces six tons of carbon dioxide for every ton of product sold. “We are already compromising the resources of future generations, so we have to do things right from the beginning and make sure we reduce our environmental footprint. part of the DNA [de la empresa] it is that we define ourselves as hippies with ties because we are all interested in solving socio-environmental problems, but without losing sight of the fact that this has to be a business”, he specifies.

Larragoiti, whose invention led to his inclusion in 2017 on the list of leading innovators under the age of 35 from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), is aware that one of the main barriers to introducing a product of this type in Mexican society is economic. “Unfortunately, these types of solutions are only accessible to 30% or 35% of the population, when the majority of serious health problems are found in the remaining 60%. We have 40% living in extreme poverty and that is a lot. To reach all sectors we would have to have some support from the Government, as happens with sugar, in the production part and thus reduce more costs and reach very large levels of industrialization, because this works as an economy of scale, the more you produce , your production cost is also decreasing”, he adds. A kilo of refined sugar costs around 60 pesos, while one of the substitute is around 300.

For Xilinat, the sights are still set on achieving industrialization and perhaps it is still “the biggest challenge”. Returning to one of the motivations that led Larragoiti to undertake, he can safely say that his father is now convinced of the quality of the product he offers. In the beginning, in a certain way, he was a guinea pig and today he is a leader of the enterprise. “Now he abuses, he puts it in yogurt, in fruit, as it is healthy and with the same flavor. In addition, he has to be convinced of the product. In my house nobody puts a sachet of splenda, it is prohibited. Imagine, you go to the founder’s house and they offer you sugar, what an image ”, he ends joking and smiling.

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