At a panel moderated by CM Patil, CEO, Deshpande Startups, during the Bengaluru Tech Summit 2020, Ajay Maniar, Partner, Aavishkar Funds; Mark Kahn, MD, Omnivore Ventures; and Prashanth Prakash, Partner, Accel Partners, spoke about agritech as the upcoming sector in India, especially in the startup community.
“This is a new decade where we see a digital green revolution,” said Prashanth. According to him, in the first green revolution, farmers were, in some sense, entrepreneurs but were limited to their field, water supply, and irrigation canals, and so on. In this digital green revolution, the entire supply chain is being addressed, and that is what is getting a lot of investors and entrepreneurs excited about being part of this sector.
But, he said the optimism must be tempered with patience, adding that while there’s going to be a transformation, it will take over a decade for execution considering operational hurdles in India.
Mark — who was first introduced to Indian agriculture as an intern in ITC in 2005 and having run Omnivore Ventures for a decade — agreed that there is certainly more excitement in this space now. In the last decade or so, he has seen three waves of entrepreneurs. The first, who he calls lunatics, are those who were crazy enough to start up in 2010, at a time when no one was interested and it was impossible to raise money.
The second wave brought in a lot of individuals who had prior corporate experience. In the last five years, entrepreneurs are younger and have prior startup experience. “We’re seeing more startup veterans who are applying their experience from the startup ecosystem to the agritech sector,” said Mark.
Speaking about the journey of Aavishkar Funds, Ajay said that they started with a desire to take funding to underserved geographies in India. He agreed that there’s a huge shift in the quality of entrepreneurs these days. “In the early 2000s, entrepreneurs wanted to do good and focused on building profits. Today, we see qualified entrepreneurs who are focused on building value by applying their experience to current problems.”
Technology as an enabler
Ajay said that with the digital grain revolution, technology has permeated every section of the society, enabling farmers to digitise their food grains.
“Using capital and talent, we can make a huge difference,” he added.
Observing the drastic shift in Hubli’s infrastructure, CM Patil said that India has done fairly good in infrastructure, thanks to the government and policymakers. But the big question is how can we make the ecosystem more farmer-centric and create value?
Mark points out the ‘fantastic’ 4G rollout, and the drop in the cost of smartphones, and digital hardware being among a few good technological aspects. On the other side, there are challenges that we need to address with regards to getting the average unirrigated farmer online and building of the agristack.
Agristack as a challenge
In Karnataka, where the landholding is less than two-three acres for a majority of farmers who are not tech-savvy, agristack can be a challenge. “While farmers’ collectives have good intentions, they don’t work either because of political influence or because they are first-generation entrepreneurs with no clue about the business,” said Prashant. He added that Farmer Producer Organisations (FPOs) can support what these entrepreneurs have to offer, but it’s a work in progress in the country. The answer lies in building collaboration in this value chain through institutions and R&D organisations and entrepreneurs.
Ajay said that it’s an interesting idea to bring together entrepreneurs who work with data, entrepreneurs who work with FPOs and entrepreneurs wanting to make a difference, to build a technology stack. But the success of this model is doubtful as each one would have their own vision and strategy.
The youth of tomorrow as agripreneurs
On what it takes to convert the youth of India to agripreneurs, CM Patil said they need to be engaged in a meaningful way and we must show them that every problem can be an opportunity.
Prashant added that graduates are not aware of the potential or the power of what is happening in their backyard and how they can participate. “Building awareness to me is to make them understand about entrepreneurship. In addition to what they are studying, show them that the ecosystem around them is transforming and why they should be excited to be a part of it. This should start from the educators.” He added that if we gave agritech jobs the same amount of respect a corporate job gets, it would inspire the youth.
Mark said most students of agricultural universities are failed doctors, and very few went there because it was their first choice. “At every agricultural university, have a course that inculcates entrepreneurship that will help them build India and create positive change,” he said.
Ajay, on the other hand, said that entrepreneurship comes naturally and to expect universities to churn out agripreneurs is an impossible feat.
“Universities can only train, people should decide what they want to do. What can really move a lot of great talent into this space is great success stories. That will inspire the youth and set the wheel in motion.”