Kaitek Labs

Kaitek Labs: RTDK: Red tide detection kit

Santiago, ChilePuerto Montt, Chile
Year Founded:
Organization type: 
for profit
Project Stage:
$250,000 - $500,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

Kaitek Labs harnesses the computing power of bacteria, turning them into in vivo testing assays for virtually any target metabolite. Our bacteria can identify, measure and ultimately translate the assessed information to the user. Our first product: an in situ red tide detection kit.

WHAT IF - Inspiration: Write one sentence that describes a way that your project dares to ask, "WHAT IF?"

What if we could use bacteria as environmental computers, having them help us decide if our food, water and air are safe for us?
About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

There are currently no methods that provide a fast and easy identification of seafood and water contaminated by red tide toxins, while remaining cost-effective. There are at least 28 countries gravely affected by the red tide phenomena, with economic losses that amount to more than a billion dollars per isolated incident, and around 60.000 intoxication deaths per year. Intoxication cases can range from minor discomfort to death.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

RTDK will be able to indicate by a simple color change whether or not a certain sample has been contaminated by red tide toxins. This will be accomplished by generating a genetically engineered cell culture known as a biosensor that will have the ability to measure the amount of certain toxins present in said sample. This test will be easy to apply, and will display results in no longer than an hour, time we hope to reduce to minutes. It will also be applied in situ, eliminating the necessity of special laboratories and also making it possible for someone with no background on biology to understand the results. The user interface will be as simple as a pregnancy test, enabling even scientifically illiterate users to make use of it.


ETN by Corfo (USD350K), International Business Model Competition (30K), Jump Chile (7K), Aplica tu idea (5,5K), GIST (1,5K)
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

Picture this: Maria gathers mussels every morning in the shores of Puerto Montt. She takes enough to feed her family and sell a fair amount at the local market. 2015: Maria does not have any way of testing the mussels she gathers, and has to risk not only selling them to people who might get gravely sick, but also feeding her kids who could die if the shellfish proves to be extremely toxic. 2019: The local health authority hands out RTDKs every week. Before extracting mussels, Maria fills a cup with water from the shore, puts the kit inside and waits for it to change color. If it turns blue, Maria gathers her mussels, sells them and eats them with her family. If it turns red, she lets her community know and they avoids shellfish that day

Impact: What is the impact of the work to date? Also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

Our project has gathered national and international traction, mainly from participation in contests and one on one meetings with key opinion leaders both in our technological area and our industry. We have over 20 international alliances that will allow us to test our kit in the field, assuring that it does indeed work at a worldwide level, allowing us to detect toxicity in any part of the world. We are working closely with the ministry of health in Chile, and some groups of artisan fishers and gatherers have approached them as well after seeing us in the news, asking to use our kit. According to FAO, the fishing industry is essential to the economic well-being of millions of rural people in the developing world, providing employment for almost 200 million people, 70% of whom work in the small-scale sector. We could not only save their businesses, but also their lives and their families'

Spread Strategies: Moving forward, what are the main strategies for scaling impact?

We will begin the field trials in Chile, spending 2016 making sure the kit shows no false negatives. On 2017 we will beta test the kit in key countries we have secured alliances in: Australia, New Zealand, UK, US. We will also continue our work with the ministry of Health in Chile to make sure they will be the main distribution channel to reach artisan fishers. The kits bought by the fishing industry will subsidize the cost of the ones delivered free of cost to the artisan fisher communities. By 2018 we hope to be accepted as a testing standard in America and Oceania, with Europe following.

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is this solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

We have secured government funding that covers the laboratory development of our prototype (usd 350.000 for three years) and we are developing more applications of the technology that could provide a more profitable income until we manage to go to market. We will launch two products, a simple low cost qualitative one for the health industry and a high cost quantitative one for the fishing industry. This way, the fishing industry subsidizes health

Marketplace: Who else is addressing the problem outlined here? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

Unlike traditional methods such as mouse bioassays, the Red Tide Detection Kit will be used in situ, therefore avoiding the necessity of specialized laboratories. This kit will also provide an immediate identification of contaminated samples, whereas the mouse bioassays and other similar methods may take from 24 to 72 hours. Lastly, the kit is devised in such way that anyone will be able to use it, without need for specific knowledge, therefore enabling anyone to use it. There have been other attempts at in situ kits, but they were based on antibodies, giving many false negatives.

Founding Story

When I was 20 I took a class in synthetic biology. I was studying engineering, thinking of specializing in computer science. During this class, we were taught to think of bacteria as machines, and since my favorite machine was (obviously) a computer, I started thinking of ways to make them work as such. After obsessing about it for years, I applied to a contest where I proposed to use these "bacterial computers" to solve a problem with a big social impact in my country, that also happened to have a considerable economical impact worldwide. I won third place and usd10.000, which was enough for me to understand that I could finally dedicate myself to develop this crazy technology, and so I did


Kaitek is comprised by four young scientists: - Emilia Diaz. Bioentrepreneur with a background in engineering, computer science and biotech. On 2014 she was chosen as one of the 100 young bioleaders of tomorrow by Global Biotech Revolution. This year she attended Singularity University's GSP program, and was chosen as one of the 100 young leaders and women leaders of her country. Works full time in Kaitek, and mentors a couple of projects. - Cristobal Aller. Engineer specialized in environmental biotechnology. Even though he is young, he has years of experience in lab work and bacterial culture optimization. He is also a teacher and passionate scoutmaster. Works full time in Kaitek. - Felipe Varea. Last term engineering student, specializing in biotechnology. He is a fermentation kinetics guru after working in biochemical reactor designs. A fanatic cyclist and sustainability enthusiast, he makes sure Kaitek is as green as possible. Woks part time, but will start full time after he graduates. - Carol Rivera. Biochemist, holds a masters' degree and is the go-to person for experimental development in Kaitek. She is experienced in water treatment, an environmental care enthusiast and a budding entrepreneur. As an animal protector, she fuels our view of avoiding animal testing for toxicity tests.
Please confirm how you heard about the Unilever Awards:


Please confirm your role in the initiative (eg Founder/co-Founder) and your organisational title:


Which of the 8 UN Global Goals (Sustainable Development Goals) pre-selected for this competition does your solution relate most closely to? [select all that apply]

Zero Hunger.

Leadership and the Unilever Awards
Please provide examples of any previous entrepreneurial initiatives you have pioneered.

Apart from Kaitek, I co-founded a company that focuses on apps that improve human interaction, and another one that aims to bring scientific equipment to sites that need biochemical testing. During my stay in Singularity University, I co-founded Xanana, an NGO focused on supporting female entrepreneurs creating disruptive innovation in developing countries. My partner for this venture is Shiza Shahid, who co-founded the Malala Fund.
I serve as a freelance consultant in innovation and entrepreneurship, and I have also mentored many projects, ranging from handcrafted luxe leather goods to web platforms that supply independent laboratories with necessary equipment.

Beyond your existing team, who else are you working with to achieve your objectives, eg partners, advisors, mentors?

We have many mentors from different areas, with special attention to biotech, fishing and investment. But the coolest mentor we have happens to be the scientist who invented our competition, and whom after internal skirmishes decided she would find somebody capable of overcoming the faults in her own tech. She found us, and decided to support us in every way she can. Needless to say, we are immensely honored.