Sungroya floated his idea and LPU, the only private university with an agriculture school accredited by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), mentored him. It did not charge for the produce and allowed him to use an on-campus shop. “LPU has sanctioned `10 lakh for Green Grocer,” says Manish Saini, deputy director, LPU Startup School. “After the first year,” Sungroya says, “my business plan evolved into a B2B model, supplying to the 230 commercial vendors on our campus. I’m now also sourcing from Jalandhar. Monthly sales turnover is Rs 70,000-80,000.” Green Grocer, which will launch operations in Jalandhar and Phagwara in six months, is looking at an annual turnover of Rs 2.5 crore. Sungroya, who plans to add grocery products such as atta, wants to start sourcing directly from local farms.
Green Grocer is an example of how universities and research institutes are helping entrepreneurs germinate, incubate and scale up agriculture-focussed businesses that combine science and technology with management and marketing skills. ICAR is supporting such universities encourage students to dream big about agriculture. The National Academy of Agricultural Research Management (NAARM) in Hyderabad, also plays a major role by acting as a business incubator. Other major institutes across the country that have ICAR-supported incubators for farm sector startups include Tamil Nadu Agriculture University, Coimbatore; Indian Institute of Food Processing Technology, Thanjavur; Central Food Technological Research Institute, Mysore; Central Institute for Research on Cotton Technology, Mumbai; Central Institute of Fisheries Technology, Kochi.
There are 24 agribusiness incubators at ICAR-approved institutes.
FOUNDED BY: Shanky Sungroya in 2017, as a student venture at Lovely Professional University.
AIM: Market and sell produce made on LPU campus; next stage is to expand to nearby markets of Jalandhar and Phagwara and source from large local markets and farms.
SUPPORT: LPU has sanctioned `10 lakh as working capital.
STATUS: Has a monthly sales turnover of Rs 70,000-80,000 to 100 clients across 15 states.
FOUNDED BY: Babbar Singh & Manoj Kumar Maurya, BTech graduates from National Dairy Research Institute-Karnal, in 2017.
AIM: To make rapid and easy testing solutions for detection of adulteration in milk.
SUPPORT: Incubated at NDRI, got mentorship and seed funding from IITKanpur.
STATUS: Markets milk testing strips to 100 clients across 15 states.
These are incubating around 200 startups. If successful, these projects will go a long way in improving food security and helping farmers. Kiran Sharma, head of the agri-business incubator of International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), says: “There are various areas such as agri-supply chain management, action-based localised crop advisories, farm mechanisation, soil health management, food processing and post-harvest management that are of serious concern for small farmers. These areas have the potential for innovative agri-tech startups.”
ICRISAT is currently supporting 36 startups develop technology solutions to address dryland agricultural challenges. LPU’s agriculture school, on its part, has 11 greenhouses for students to develop products. It also helps them secure and monetise their intellectual property (IP) rights, says Mittal. NAARM has incubated 39 startups and invested seed money in six since 2014. In 2017, ICAR and Bionest (under the Ministry of Science and Technology) sponsored its agricultural incubator. NAARM helps startups get market access, investors and legal expertise. Bootstrapped ventures can get up to Rs 25 lakh from the ministry.
It is relatively easier to get support and funding for technology startups — where ventures become multi-million-dollar companies practically overnight. The agri sector, however, does not have it that easy. “Typically, startups in the IT space attract investors and receive funding easily,” says Kondapi Srinivas, principal scientist at NAARM. “In the early stages, incubation support for those in non-conventional sectors, like farming, is essential to provide sector-specific mentoring, access to mentorship networks, office space and other facilities. Help is also needed for field-testing ideas as well as getting access to farms and linkages with scientists and laboratories.”
IND MILLET FOODS
FOUNDED BY: Dibyajyoti B and Madhavi Pomar in 2015
AIM: Develop, produce and market healthy millet and other snacks made using grains
SUPPORT: Indian Institute of Millets Research and ICRISAT through access to laboratories and research facilities for product development and market access to government agencies
STATUS: Hyderabad-based startup markets 13 products under brand name Rigdam
The focus is on a certain kind of ventures. “There are a lot of non-agricultural entrepreneurs launching farm startups. We are, however, working towards encouraging students from agricultural colleges and universities to enter the entrepreneurial ecosystem, by giving them seed funding and mentorship,” adds Srinivas.
One such effort birthed Delmos Research, which designs easy-to-use tests to detect adulterated milk. Ten years after graduating from the National Dairy Research Institute in Karnal, Babbar Singh decided to put his experience to entrepreneurial use, and started Delmos. “Besides being incubated at NDRI, we are also associated with the technology business incubator hosted by ICAR-NAARM,” says Singh, whose 100-strong client list already boasts of Amul, Paras, Lactalis, Heritage Foods, Heinz as well as the Special Protection Group, among others.
FOUNDED BY: Pradeep Palelli & Prathyush Akepati in 2015
AIM: To provide drone-based services such as aerial spraying of pesticides for conventional sectors such as agriculture
SUPPORT: Incubated by ICRISAT and IIIT, Hyderabad; company is boot-strapped but now in the process of raising Series A funding
STATUS: Has built an autonomous agri spraying platform that can cover an acre in 10 minutes
To understand the challenges NAARM helps entrepreneurs tackle, look no further than BharatRohan Airborne Innovations. Aeronautical engineers Amandeep Panwar and Rishabh Choudhary had charted a career path — build something that would help the poor. They realised that technology can be of immense use in farming, which often sees a lot of uncertainties. So they set up BharatRohan Airborne Innovations, incubated at NAARM, to give farmers early reports on pest attacks, disease outbreaks and mineral deficiencies.
Data is collected using drones, machine learning and artificial intelligence technologies. Agronomists and other experts analyse the data to generate actionable advisories, which are implemented on the ground through a network of farmers. “We require R&D. Research has to be carried out at experimental farms to test our models. Also, precision agriculture advisory needs to be generated by a reliable source. NAARM’s technology business incubator has been phenomenal in supporting us in all of these aspects,” says Panwar, CEO of BharatRohan.
NAARM helped him connect with B2B clients, conduct field trials, connect with investors and advisors and also provided seed investment. “Agricultural institutions have started taking pride in saying that their students are becoming entrepreneurs and solving the challenges of the world. It is an exciting time,” says Panwar.
FOUNDED BY: Rajeshwari Ravikumar in 2014 at Thiruvaiyaru, Tamil Nadu
AIM: Develop innovative and healthier products from millets, including nutritional instant mixes, using traditional knowledge
SUPPORT: Incubated at the Indian Institute of Food Processing Technology, Thanjavur
STATUS: Produces and markets millet based ready to cook and ready to eat products in Tamil Nadu
Another tech startup that got similar help was Thanos Technologies. It, too, uses drones to survey land and give solutions to farmers. “Ours is a technology startup and we have entrepreneurial experience. However, agriculture is a tough domain and it was new for us. Being incubated by ICRISAT and IIIT-Hyderabad helped a lot,” says Pradeep Palelli, cofounder, Thanos.
Another ICRISAT effort has become a brand now. Ind Millet Foods, a Hyderabad-based startup founded by Dibyajyoti Borgohain and Madhavi Pomar, makes food products using millets. It uses the labs of ABI-ICRISAT and NutriHub-Indian Institute of Millet Research for product development. “We have benefitted from the expertise of food technologists and scientists,” says Borgohain, managing partner of Ind Millet. The company, which is boot-strapped so far, has a basket of 13 products such as ragi crispies, bajra cookies and ragi chocoballs that are sold under the brand Rigdam.
ICRISAT helped Naveen Kumar V, too. The suicide by a farmer in his native village of Warangal, Telangana, made the ex-banker launch a mobile app to provide useful information to farmers. “That incident touched me deeply and I felt that getting the right information to farmers at the right time was crucial to help them take right decisions.” Today his agri-analytics app, Napanta, has been downloaded 100,000 times by farmers in Andhra and Telangana. It gives a farmer real-time information on crop management, pest control, equipment rental, weather forecast, insurance and cold storage, among others. “I’m looking to raise funds to reach farmers in Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu,” he adds.
Better access to investment and mentorship can help startups in agriculture and allied fields thrive, says Singh of Delmos. “Incubators and accelerators should have more funds at their disposal. More universities and research institutes should come forward to support startups like ours.” This will help India become Silicon Valley of agri startups, he adds.
BHARATROHAN AIRBORNE INNOVATIONS
FOUNDED BY: Amandeep Panwar & Rishabh Choudhary, both aeronautical engineers, in 2015
AIM: Use drone-based hyperspectral remote sensing, machine learning & AI technologies to collect and analyse farm data; agronomists look at data and their advisories are implemented through a network of farmer executives
SUPPORT: Incubator by ICARNAARM helped it with B2B client link-ups, access to field trials, connects with mentors and advisors and seed funding
STATUS: Working with farmers, food processing companies, seed firms, R&D institutions and state governments
FOUNDED BY: Naveen Kumar V, formerly a banker, in 2017
AIM: To provide app-based free information on agriculture, weather, market conditions, crops, etc to farmers in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh
SUPPORT: Supported by International Crops Research Institute for Semi-Arid Tropics, which has access to a large farmer network & senior scientists
STATUS: Serves a network of 30,000 farmers; will expand to other states over next few months