Food Tech Startups: Guwahati lads launch NE India’s first Food Super App

Food Tech Startups: Guwahati lads launch NE India’s first Food Super App

A few years back, two young lads saw a dream to change the way Guwahatians experienced food. Back in 2016, while the city witnessed a surge in cafeterias and boutique food joints, it was still a task to dodge the humidity and traffic to reach these places for a satisfying gastronomical experience. Rahul Hazarika was especially disgruntled by the scenario after experiencing the tap-and-order ease of getting his favourite food in the comfort of his room while studying in Bangalore. Having witnessed the effortlessness that the food tech startups had permeated in procuring something as essential and satisfying as food, Rahul decided to replicate the experience in his hometown, Guwahati. In 2017, he launched an MVP of North East India’s first cloud kitchen – One Stop Kitchen.

Rahul smartly leveraged the power of social media to start a Page for taking orders. This was a one-off phase of caution and experimentation meant to test the waters. A certified level 1 wine connoisseur, he started rummaging the internet to cull out ideas for culinary fusion experimentation. As interesting as the name sounds, OSK wasn’t going to walk the safe line with Chinese and Indian food. Apart from giving the people of Guwahati a first-hand experience of a cloud kitchen, Rahul also wanted to take the food enthusiasts on a gourmet ride with experimental and fusion food. From combining Chinese dumplings with Italian white sauce to introducing Buffalo wings, OSK was already making happy noises that reinstated that it was, by no means, going to settle for mediocrity. Winning the award for Best Cloud Kitchen in Guwahati in two back-to-back years was a testimony to the fact.

In 2018, when Abhilash Baruah joined OSK as the co-founder, sharing and reassuring Rahul’s dream of seeing OSK right at the peak among the food tech startups, OSK found the fuel to set off for an exhilarating ride from where there was no looking back. The founder duo had nurtured a dream to emerge as a one-stop-solution for everything that hovered around Food! But, to take OSK to the next level required capital and more importantly, a comprehensive business plan. That’s when the duo applied for incubation at Assam Startup – The Nest.

Onboarded in June 2019, the startup was officially registered as OSK Food & Technology Pvt. Ltd. during the period of incubation in October 2019. As incubatees, Rahul and Abhilash’s interaction with the mentors from IIM Calcutta Innovation Park helped them strategize their market positioning, especially with food tech startups like Swiggy and Zomato ruling the roost by then. It was one of those interactions that Abhilash vividly remembers, which had inspired them to stretch a little further to make a killing.

“At the end of making our pitch during an interaction with the investors, I remember one of the IIMCIP mentors had remarked: ‘They are just there.’ A small sentence, but it had left a conspicuous mark on us. We realized we weren’t really far,” recalls Abhilash.

That was the day cut to the present when OSK’s newly launched food super app is trending at fourth position in the Food & Beverage category in India. Rahul and Abhilash launched their dream app, One Stop Kitchen, on 13 November 2020 at Assam Startup – The Nest in the presence of the officials from IIM Calcutta Innovation Park, members from the media fraternity, and the OSK team. The food super app, as they call it, infuses 5 brands, catering to the needs of the diverse categories of customers.

While their flagship brand continues to curate and deliver fusion and comfort meals right at the customer’s doorstep, the House of Biryani promises to deliver a wide range of biryani in kilos to cater to the bulk orders. Treading in similar lines, the Dabba Co. would serve as a respite to meet the food requirements in offices and corporate houses. The OSK Plus could be considered as a disguised perk of the pandemic that understood the need and strives to home deliver every food essential, including exotic items like seafood, with just a tap on the phone screen. However, the most innovative and ambitious brand under the OSK umbrella is, perhaps, the brand that customizes health/diet meals for its customers – Healthy Co. One needs to subscribe to its monthly meal plan after OSK’s team of health experts prescribes him/her a plan as per the given health issues or requirements. Asked about people’s response to this rather unique offering, Rahul informs that 10 people have already subscribed to the plan that promises jaw-dropping body transformations within a few months if followed without fail.

“Given the super-fast lifestyle of people today, preparing and following an austere health diet becomes quite challenging. This is where Healthy Co. can come to the rescue. We do not just deliver you the meals, but also prescribe the diet plan most suitable for your body requirements,” Rahul explains.

Things might look rosy today, but to reach this stage, Rahul and Abhilash had to beat the thorns laid on the way especially during the lockdown. The struggle had reached a point when the founders were tempted to give up. Fortunately for them, the Government of Assam awarded the MASI (My Assam Startup ID) grant of Rs. 15 lakh just at the right time that inspired them to pull up their sagging spirit and keep going. In the meantime, the startup was also able to raise the first round of funding worth Rs. 50 lakh from the North East Venture Fund under NEDFi.

Today, Rahul and Abhilash are rejoicing the success of the launch, but they are not in a mood to get swayed by it. The seed of success that has germinated in the hometown now eyes at winning the heart of food lovers nationwide and making a place among the top food tech startups in India.

Children from Child Friendly Guwahati relishing the meal provided by OSK during an event at Assam Startup – The Nest

One may pat an argument that the founders have just been lucky enough. But looking back in hindsight, one will realize that the right things didn’t just happen to them at the right time, Rather they worked hard, held their nerves against succumbing to the anxious phases of entrepreneurship, and dared to take strides for making things happen. From being dedicated incubatees who made sure not to miss any opportunity for networking and learning from the people best in the business, to taking care of things often ignored like sending notes of gratitude to customers during festivals, the OSK founders have earned their success by dint of dedication, thoughtfulness, and indomitable belief in their dreams against every odd.

 

Startup from Assam sets the field for agri-revolution with Smart Farming

Startup from Assam sets the field for agri-revolution with Smart Farming

Smart work and smart technology are the emerging dictums for success in business. Given the agricultural dominion in India, smart farming is the way forward to push the agri sector to the next level. With the fast-evolving startup ecosystem in India, many young innovators are coming forward to address the typical challenges of the farmers and are working on a different tangent to maximize agricultural output and profit. AgSpert, a startup from Assam, is among the pioneers to introduce smart farming services in the state, leveraging IoT, robotics, drones and AI to increase the quantity and quality of agricultural output while minimizing human efforts.

Based out of Jorhat, AgSpert is founded by NIT Silchar alumni, Siddhartha S. Bora and Dhritiman Talukdar, along with the Dibrugarh University alumnus, Kookil P. Goswami, who is working on proposing a range of promising smart farming services to aid crop quality and quantity. They have on offer on-demand UAV and smart robot services for crop spraying, scouting, and planting applications; computer vision-based in-farm phenotyping, early mapping of disease/pest attack patterns, full crop cycle data-set generation and visualization; and machine learning-based yield prediction and real-time plant environment data collection systems with open-source cloud processing, etc. Apart from Siddhartha, Dhritiman, and Kookil, the founding team also includes IIT Guwahati alumni, Akash Sharma, Manik Mittal, and Nitin Chauhan.

Conventional farming is plagued by numerous challenges like labour paucity, labour price fluctuations for in-farm operations, lack of phenotype data for optimizing farm inputs, absence of accurate data for initiating better crop insurance, limitations of continuous human presence for farm surveillance and monitoring, etc. With AgSpert, the users can draw intelligence from things and transmit them over the internet. These IoT devices installed in farms can collect and process data in a repetitive cycle that enables the farmers to react quickly to emerging issues and changes in ambient conditions.

The sensors attached to the drones record observational data from the crops, livestock, soil, and atmosphere. The sensor values are fed to a cloud-hosted IoT platform with predefined rules and models that ascertain the condition of the examined object and identify the deficiencies and needs. Once the issues are revealed, the machine learning-driven components of the IoT platform determine whether location-specific treatment is necessary at all.

AgSpert is the brainchild of Siddhartha Bora, who, after completing his M.Tech from NIT Silchar, saw numerous bottlenecks in the agri-value chain while working in the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) as a Technology Officer.

“I wanted to build a unilateral platform for small farmers who account for more than 70% of our farming population. Impacting small farmers’ lives is the only sustainable way to improve dwindling productivity and plight of farmers,” Siddhartha says.

 

AgSpert gets an edge with its team of professionals pulled in from diverse backgrounds – right from agriculturists to data scientists –  all working towards a common vision of making data-driven agriculture more than just a pipe dream among small farmers of India. While the pandemic compelled many business houses to shut down their operations either temporarily or permanently, the founders were burning the midnight oil to develop an android-based multi-lingual platform (including Assamese) – AgSpeak – for farmers to smartly manage their farms and remotely monitor distress activities.

Driven by hyperlocal crop data obtained through satellite and smart IoT devices, AgSpeak considers up to 20 local crop parameters as key health indicators like temperature, rainfall, sunlight hours, soil health status, etc. to alert farmers about probable crop threats in advance and chart out best practices to tackle the incoming threats. The platform also helps the farmers manage their yield and connect to buyer pools to reinforce food traceability and transparency in the agri-supply chain.

Working dedicatedly on its mission to revolutionize agricultural methodologies through Artificial Intelligence and Big Data, AgSpert has completed its piloting with 500 farmers to date and have received encouraging feedback from the users. They are, arguably, the first to take such an initiative in North East India and are prepping up to officially launch the application by the end of November this year.

Apart from the application, the startup is also working on a smart farming product for large commercial tea plantations to monitor and survey farm health through drone scouting. It’s a one-off platform for plantation farm managers to automate scouting processes and identify areas of distress like disease and pest incidence, water stress, etc. Such a platform would save farm managers lots of time and resources in identifying crop threats and making timely interventions. The product is, currently, in the final leg of R&D and has been tested with renowned institutions like Assam Agricultural University and TOCKLAI Tea Research Institute.

With its precise and resource-efficient approach, smart farming has a real potential to usher in qualitatively better and uniform agricultural production. With startups like AgSpert effectively exploring and leveraging new-age technologies to abate the challenges of agricultural production in the country, smart farming and IoT-driven agriculture are well placed to usher in the Third Green Revolution in the coming years.

 

Read about two lads from Guwahati creating buzzes across the country with their deep-tech innovation.

5 tips to get back to work after Vacation

5 tips to get back to work after Vacation

It’s always a task to frisk back to the groove after a frolicking vacation. Yet, there’s no way but to leave behind the sun-kissed days at the beach and crawl back to the reality of the workplace. I say ‘crawl’ and not ‘jump’ because the harder you try to pull your mind out of the vacation zone, the more tasking it would get. The idea is to take your time, be lenient to yourself, gradually train your mood, allow the work reminders sweetly knock at you until you are reloaded to get back into action. Here are 5 simple, yet effective hacks to find your rhythm back to work after vacation.

 

Do not rush into doing things all at once

Ideally, it’s always a good idea to take a day before going back to work after vacation. Given that time might not be luxuriously available to many, take the day slow, even if you are getting down to business the very next day after the break. Take time to clean and jazz up the desk, order your favourite comfort food, roughly run through the pending plans, and make a few phone calls to reconnect. This way, you will allow the much-needed time for your mind to relax, recuperate, and come to terms with your demanding business schedules.

 

 

Take time to plan out the day

You might be someone who prefers going with the flow than planning the day ahead. But to get yourself back to business post a holiday, charting a to-do-list for the day and the next is a wise bet. This helps you revisit the work that needs to be done and prioritize immediate actions.

Start with the pending tasks rather than jumping straight away to the new projects. This will give you a sense of familiarity that shall help you get back to the groove early. Focus on tasks that come easy to you without taking much time. Small successes help boost confidence before setting off to strike big.

 

 

Don’t get lost in the mailbox

Expect unread mails piling up in the mailbox while you were vacationing. Do not spend too much time answering the emails you had missed during the break. It will stress you out more and you end up confusing email activities with productive work. Rather use your time strategically and only respond to the emails that are time-sensitive and need your immediate attention for yielding fruitful outcomes.

 

 

Drop a greeting to the stakeholders

Utilise the time to reconnect with your team and stakeholders, letting them know that you are back and ready to talk business. Try to stay more informal in your tone, asking them about their whereabouts, and sharing a few anecdotes from your trip. This helps restrike an immediate connection and plaster the lapse in the communication while you were bonding with your friends or family at a holiday destination.

 

 

Get back to work with a new perspective

Going back to work after a vacation is likely to trigger immediate stress considering the workload that you had left behind for that much-needed break. Yet, know that the vacation was essential for you to clear the mental impasse and come back with a bang. Sometimes, getting away from the business for a short while becomes important to give a kickstart to the work. Be open to the idea of embracing fresh perspectives post a break and you will be surprised with the gush of new ideas flowing to give your business strategies a fresh standpoint.

 

Failures are unpredictable. Being an entrepreneur, you must have especially encountered failures like no one else. From Rovio to Microsoft, there are numerous examples of how the startup founders made failure their stepping stones and rose from the ashes like a Phoenix to achieve success. Here are a few simple hacks to deal with failures.

 

 

Woman entrepreneur from Kaziranga gives plastic recycling a new face on the traditional loom

Woman entrepreneur from Kaziranga gives plastic recycling a new face on the traditional loom

From the lanes of Kaziranga have emerged a resilient voice to protect the environment from the toxic effects of plastic bags through an innovative twist on the traditional loom. One might imagine fierce activists and seasoned leaders behind the voice. However, take a closer view and you will see ordinary-looking women traversing the lanes, rag picking plastic litters, and weaving those into magic on the loom. Meet the woman entrepreneur behind this silently evolving movement – Rupjyoti Saikia Gogoi.

The global popularity of Kaziranga as a tourist hotspot has an untended flipside to it. Crowded footprints to the place have resulted in increased littering, especially plastic wastes. Rupjyoti, who had silently fidgeted about it, decided to embark on a solo journey to find a solution to this. In 2004, after consulting with her mother, she started an initiative for creating awareness among the women of her locality for reducing plastic waste through an affordable, innovative, and aesthetic plastic recycling mechanism by leveraging a traditional skill.

Under her initiative, “Village Weaves,” Rupjyoti encourages the local women to collect littered plastic bags and trains them to use these finely cut plastics in weaving beautifully crafted furnishing items on the throw-shuttle loom – a household possession in the Assamese community. These plastic ribbons are used as traverse weft woven over-and-under the longitudinal cotton warp yarn. The final fabric comprises 50% each of the cotton and plastic threads, resulting in a strong and durable texture. The fabric is then used to handcraft beautiful table mats, doormats, handbags, tote bags, and other furnishing items.

A sales outlet has been set up at Kaziranga called “Kaziranga Haat” that attracts a good number of domestic and international tourists to browse through the finished products and make good purchases. The tourist seasons have especially yielded good income from the outlet. Rupjyoti mentions generating over Rs. 3 lakh in the previous financial year. There’s a tinge of pride in her voice when she says that the women weavers in her network manage to earn Rs.15,000 – Rs. 25,000 monthly (particularly during the tourist season) through sales of the finished products.

Rupjyoti’s “Village Weave” smartly and effectively serves dually to abate the environmental threats from plastic as well as empower the rural women to earn a decent livelihood. To date, she has trained around 2300 women across 35 villages of Assam as well as in Arunachal Pradesh. What more, the entrepreneur has trained international students during workshops held in Mumbai and Dehradun. She carried a portable loom fixed on a table that was designed with help from her husband, who is also an artisan. In course of her endeavour, Rupjyoti has been gradually building a community of woman entrepreneurs,  steadily rising in courage and confidence to own the boss hat towards creating an impact.

Besides creating a steady movement to save the environment from plastics by inculcating a habit for effective plastic reuse and recycling, Rupjyoti’s mission is also inclined to empower rural women with awareness, basic knowledge, and skill to earn livelihoods while indirectly playing their parts to save the environment.

Social entrepreneurs like her reinstate the belief that a genuine intent to make an impact, an ardent zeal to create value, and the courage to take the first step are the core ingredients for entrepreneurship. For the rest of the ingredients, there are business incubators to help with business knowledge, networking, and market access for nascent entrepreneurs to metamorphose into flamboyant ethical leaders.

 

By: Satarupa Mishra
Startup from Assam gives Career Counselling a new edge

Startup from Assam gives Career Counselling a new edge

Career counselling in India is yet to amass the weightage it should ideally command. The industry is short of an estimated 15 lakh career coaches to cater to the 315 million strong student market. The figure projects a stark gap when compared to the 2.6 million student career advisors in the US for its 56 million students. While a number of progressive schools in the country are waking up to the cruciality of career counselling, the larger social milieu still finds itself shackled in the trite belief in choosing from a handful of traditional career options, irrespective of one’s innate knack and aptitude. As career counselling and mentoring in India slowly witnesses a growth against the odds, a startup from Assam – Career Spark – is rising to the occasion, offering experiential career mentoring and guidance towards building a holistic career ecosystem.

An incubatee from the first Cohort at The Nest, the startup has roped in internationally certified career coaches to serve as beacons for school and college students in making aptitude-aligned career choices. While working for his first startup, Edugenie, founder Dinesh Lahoti discerned the need for unbiased career guidance for students to help chart out illustrious careers. 

“The biggest pain point we are trying to solve is to enlighten people about different career options and pave the path for a happy and meaningful career. Lack of knowledge about various career options has haunted people and has driven them to choose the wrong careers,” the founder says.

While career counselling in India is chiefly based on psychometric tests, Career Spark goes two steps further to offer practical career experience through internships, regular mentor interactions, structured challenges, and hands-on projects. Furthermore, they help the students incorporate the right mindset to crack the entrance exams through dedicated mentoring and an innovative “How to Learn” module.

Rather than following a tried and tested method, Career Spark’s comprehensive approach benefits from Dinesh’s elaborate experience of networking with successful people from various fields to develop a 3E-stage philosophy: Explore, Experience, and Excel.

“People usually focus on the prospects and possibilities of a good career. But along with a good career, Career Spark also talks about what a wrong career can lead to. It is simply a life full of “Un”!- Unhappy, Unproductive, and Unemployed. In the dynamic environment of the 21st century, a wrong career choice can break you. We are approaching counselling as a way of thinking so that students can think about a career in a more structured way which will ultimately lead to better decision making,” Dinesh elucidates.

To date, the startup has onboarded more than 75 coaches and mentors and has mentored over 1000+ students. One of their students, Pratik Hazarika, successfully made it into the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, with an annual scholarship of $12,000 for pursuing his dream career in Computer Science. Another student, Dayamay Paul, who was initially preparing for engineering, found his true calling in Design after getting in touch with Career Spark. He went on to crack the UCEED entrance with AIR 80 and has found a seat at IDC School of Design, IIT Bombay. These success stories of students speak aloud about the efficacy of the counselling model designed by Lahoti and his team.

An alumnus of IIT Guwahati, Lahoti always reared a yearning to ‘do something innovative in education.’ His love for Mathematics inspired him to thaw the mathematics phobia commonly bothering the students. Subsequently, he founded his first startup – Edugenie – to help students chase the phobia through fun and ingenious method of teaching Mathematics. It was during his tryst with the students that Lahoti came face-to-face with the need to provide unbiased guidance to the students in making informed and aptitude-based career choices.

The founder reveals that filtering correct information from an ocean of misrepresented and biased viewpoints on career options has been the biggest challenge for the startup. The research on viable career options consumes major time and is most crucial to ensuring fructifying guidance to students. Besides, Lahoti also points out the difficulty in ‘defining and executing the mentoring process’, taking into account the specific needs and challenges of the Indian students.

“Most of the existing mentoring and counselling models are largely replicas of the versions designed for the Western countries. Our team has been working to design a mentoring model specific to the Indian context,” the founder explains.

The most noteworthy factor while talking about the Indian context is the involvement and expectations of the parents. Either trying to fulfill their unfulfilled aspirations through their children or imposing their limited knowledge on them, the participation of the Indian parents in deciding the students’ career goes without telling. Taking a deep understanding of the context, Career Spark will soon be launching a program, “Parent as Coaches” to empower parents in helping their children in their academics and career. Dinesh is hopeful about thawing rigidity among parents about the myriad new-age career choices. Nevertheless, it’s a long way to go for creating mass awareness and acceptance of the dynamic nature of work and workplace, taking into account the pros and cons of various fields. This way, the parents won’t only grow more informed, but will also be able to guide their children in making informed career choices.

While the startup has been making steady progress over the last year and a half, the pandemic has proved to be a blessing in disguise that has spurred decent traction. COVID-19 compelled them to pivot the business model and go predominantly digital. This has enabled them to reach parents and students beyond the region through career counselling and mentoring webinars.

Interestingly, the experience has also triggered new learning for Dinesh. “Conducting these online sessions made me realize that most students know what to study, but they don’t know how to study. We sensed the need for making them independent learners or Atmanirbhar students.” Taking a cue from this, the Career Spark proactively got down to developing a new module – Atmanirbhar Student module – based on learnings from Neuroscience and Psychology. Currently, they are piloting the module with a group of high school students and their parents and are aiming to launch the program by November this year.

Recently, the startup has bagged Rs. 5 Lakh grant at the NERES 1.0 Summit organized by IIE, FINER, and supported by the North Eastern Council (NEC). Besides, they are in touch with a couple of angel investors who have expressed interest in their model.

Career Spark is all set to dazzle internationally as the founder gets certified as a Career Services Provider by NCDA Credentialing Commission, making him one of the few Indians with this prestigious certification. The certification enables him to offer career counselling services to overseas students, especially from the US.

As a professional who has been actively involved in the education sector, Dinesh has a message for the aspiring Edu-preneurs: “Education startups are intensely impact-driven and want to bring a change. But, getting swayed by emotions does not help. Stay focussed on the problem you want to solve. Do not get distracted. It takes a lot of time to build trust and credibility among all the stakeholders in the education sector. Be patient and persevere before you go big.”

 

Here’s a story of two sibling entrepreneurs who have created a platform that benefits the users and the hyperlocal service providers in Guwahati alike.

 

By: Satarupa Mishra

 

Embracing Failure: Hacks to Rise from the Ashes

Embracing Failure: Hacks to Rise from the Ashes

Failures are unpredictable. Being an entrepreneur, you must have especially encountered failures like no one else. From Rovio to Microsoft, there are numerous examples of how the startup founders made failure their stepping stones and rose from the ashes like a Phoenix to achieve success. Failures are hard to avoid, but you can definitely minimize your losses from them. Here are a few simple hacks to deal with failures.

Take a step back, relax, and find out what went wrong. Remember, this phase carries the force to break you and make you take whimsical decisions that you might regret later in life. Do not lose your calm and proceed with patience.

Failures can wreak havoc if not tended to at the right time. So, stop looking from the surface and get into the root cause of the problem before it turns into a disaster. Look back at the entire series of incidents and find out the root cause of the failure.

Dare to accept your failures and their consequences. Failures are as normal as any other thing that we go through in our everyday life. So, have the guts to accept your failure and do not try to portray your failure in false limelight.

Conduct Frequent SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) Analysis of your business. A SWOT analysis will help you identify areas that are working and those that are not. Use the results of your SWOT analysis to re-design your business plan according to the demands of the situation.

Take advice from a mentor. Running a business alone is a tough job. The ups and downs of the entrepreneurial journey may break you, at times. Encouragement, guidance, and reassurance from a mentor will help you stand strong in these tough situations. Mentors have been in similar situations in the past and they know the right ways to deal with these situations.

Rethink your vision and adjust your strategies accordingly. The service offering, the target audience, and the methods employed for reaching the audience – you may need to rethink your entire mission and vision and adjust your plans accordingly for moving forward.

 

No one starts a business expecting a failure. But failures are an inevitable part of the journey to success. Remember, straight roads don’t make skillful drivers. So, learn to embrace the failures on your way to success and utilize them to build even better products and services.

Read here about the crucial takeaways from some famous startup failures.

 

 

By: Geetima Das
Assam aquaculture startups: Casting the net right

Assam aquaculture startups: Casting the net right

Assam stands among the highest fish consuming states in the country. The Assamese people’s love for fish is very much evident from its regional cuisines like Maasor Tenga, Patot Dia Xaru Maas etc. Naturally, fish farming poses a huge livelihood-supporting scope in the State. The fact that Assam is blessed with a subtropical climate, vast aquatic resources and rich piscine biodiversity makes it a suitable hub for aquaculture. However, despite the boons, there is a huge gap between the demand for quality fish and the production/distribution of the same. Primitive farming methods and disrupted supply chain are the major reasons for this.

In India, the fishery sector provides livelihoods to an estimated 10 million people. In Assam, the sector contributes over 2% to the Gross State Domestic Product (GSDP) and plays a crucial part in providing livelihood to a significant population of the state. The state is abundant in freshwater bodies, conducive for fish farming. The two major river systems – Brahmaputra and Barak, several beels, lakes, tanks/ ponds, and swamps are endowed with valuable fishery resources.

There has been a spike in fish farming in recent years. However, it hasn’t been enough to meet the demands, 3.36 lakh tonnes a year. To meet the gap, the state depends on the leading fish producing states like Andhra Pradesh. But this doesn’t compensate the demands for local fish varieties either.

Looking at the huge scope of aquaculture in Assam, scientific fish cultivation is conspicuously encouraged and propagated by the State. This has particularly opened avenues for new generation entrepreneurs and startups to innovate lucrative business models around aquaculture while leveraging new-age technologies.

Biofloc is an emerging technology enabling greater aquatic production in a smaller area and involving minimum cost. A number of small entrepreneurs and startups are joining the party to leverage the technology for greater production, both in terms of number and variety.

Fish-A-Live, an Assam Startup incubatee, is producing local fish varieties like magoor, singi, kawoi, sitol, borali, prawn, etc. using the biofloc technology. The startup is also developing a unique portable aerated box that retains the freshness of the fish while retailing them out. The box can monitor dissolved oxygen level and is equipped with a solar-powered LED and the air pump that keeps alive the fish for longer hours. Founded by Debajit Mahanta and Abdul Sajad, the startup is currently operating at Tezpur in Assam with 4 biofloc tanks and will be expanding to other towns soon.

Considering the fact that biofloc culture is relatively new in the state, there’s a conspicuous need for awareness, promotion, and dissemination of knowledge about the technology. It has tremendous potential to create livelihood opportunities for people, especially in rural areas. Understanding this need and the potential, another Assam Startup incubatee, Jolkuwori, is imparting free biofloc training to the native unemployed/people from the low-income category towards enabling them for self-employment and a steady source of livelihood. Founders, Dipankar Kashyap and Partha Protim Goswami aren’t only creating awareness among the common people, but also helping them set up biofloc tanks at a minimal cost. Jolkuwori’s engagement involves right from the training to setting up biofloc tanks to maintenance. Besides, the startup runs an independent fishery employing biofloc technology to breed a gamut of local fish varieties. To date, Jolkuwori has trained over 500 people and has facilitated the setting up of 15 biofloc tanks. They earned over Rs. 83,000 from setup and services in August and sourced a revenue of Rs. 63,000 from fish harvesting in the same month. The startup has designed a viable roadmap, with 20 more biofloc installations in the pipeline and projected revenue of Rs. 4 lakhs for October.

Jovial Barman, an engineer by qualification, identified the unorganized nature of the fishery sector in Assam. He noticed how the supply chain was disrupted due to motley factors like long transportation hours, fluctuating prices, and the perishable nature of fish, etc. COVID-19 and the perennial days of lockdown have disrupted the chain further. The situation drove Jovial and his three peers from Nalbari to work out a solution to the issue. They have founded a startup, Kolong, to meet the ever-rising demands for fish through a centralized fish market run in both online and offline modes, with a conscious effort to enforce price uniformity.  While the customers will be able to place their orders on their website www.kolong.in (to be launched shortly) for doorstep delivery, they are also building one-stop physical stores with all facilities to retain the freshness of the fish so that the customers can make live picks without compromising on the quality. Starting their operations since August this year, the startup is currently operational at Nalbari with plans for expansion in the months ahead.

These are just a handful of instances from the lot. A good number of youths from the state are coming forward to finding remedies to push fish production, smoothening the supply chains, and spreading awareness about emerging fish farming technologies for empowering local populations with self-employment ideas and skills. Proper utilization of the vast aquatic resources and innovative solutions for mending the erratic supply chain can pave the way for the growth of the fishing industry that will not just meet the local demands, but also export the surplus to the neighboring states and even to the South East Asian markets. And the emerging startups and entrepreneurs must play a crucial role in unleashing that potential.

 

Failures show the way to success. Read about the 5 take-home stories of startup failure here.

Things to consider before opting for partnership registration

Things to consider before opting for partnership registration

Managing a partnership firm isn’t a cake walk. Many factors must be considered before signing the final partnership agreement. Though business partnerships may have its own perks in terms of monetary and intellectual matters, it also has its own share of disadvantages, like possible disagreements, monetary adjustments, or ego clashes, leading to a fallout. As such, it is important to have an unambiguous partnership agreement with clear and comprehensive clauses. We have culled out some important aspects one must consider before sealing a partnership agreement to avoid disputes and impasse in the future.

 

  1. Be wise while choosing your partner/partners: The success of every partnership firm depends on the partners working towards a common goal. Disagreement between the partners may lead the firm to downfall. Hence, it is important to have a partner/partners who has a similar thought process as yours and looks at things with an aim to achieve the common goal. Networking is a great way to help you understand the other person’s work methods and values in this regard.

 

  1. Create a balanced Partnership Agreement: A well-drafted partnership agreement is a must for a partnership firm to work seamlessly. Here are a few key points to a balanced partnership agreement.
  • Name of the partnership firm: Choose a unique and original name for your partnership firm. The name should not have resemblance to any existing business. There is also restriction on use of words like “empire”, “emperor” or “crown”. Use of such words in a business name requires prior government approval.
  • Partners’ contribution and ownership: The partners’ contribution may be in different forms such as cash, assets, or services and based on that their subsequent valuation of percentage in ownership should be determined.
  • Allocation of profit and loss: Details on how the allocation of profit and loss will take place should be clearly mentioned in the partnership deed.
  • Partners’ authority in decision making: The role of the partners having the authority to take part in the decision making process should be clearly defined. This clause should specify who should have a final say in the decision making process or if any decision requires a majority vote or a unanimous consent.
  • Allocation of management responsibilities: Splitting up of duties among the members along with individual responsibilities is the key to an ideal partnership deed.
  • Admission of a new partner: The process of onboarding new partners should be properly documented.
  • Exit of a partner: The withdrawal process of a partner should be clearly documented in the agreement. There may be withdrawal of a partner either by death or by choice.
  • Dispute resolution methods: The deed should contain specifics about dispute resolution methods to be opted for possible difference of opinions that may arise in the future. The dispute resolution methods should necessarily contain Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) or court-order to handle disputes.

 

  1. Preference of LLP over general partnership: Before deciding on a registered partnership, you may want to go through the benefits of a Limited Liability Partnership (LLP). An LLP comes with many advantages as compared to that of a regular partnership firm. These benefits include-
  • Limited liability of the partners
  • Separate legal entity of firm from its partners
  • The firms capacity to own assets in its own name
  • Flexibility
  • Perpetual existence which is not affected by the death or exit of the partners
  • Tax advantages
  • Easy fund raising capacity, etc.

 

  1. Capital distribution Clause: The capital distribution clause in the partnership deed should include varied ways of capital distribution among the partners in the form of cash, tangible assets such as land, premises, machinery or inventory, and intangible assets such as personal network of contacts and goodwill etc. The clause should also specify the partners’ initial contribution to the firm and any changes that were made in the capital amount during the continuance of the firm (in the form of cash, tangible or intangible assets etc.).

 

  1. Plan a systematic exit strategy: The partnership agreement should specify a systematic exit plan for all the possible dissolution scenarios, which should include-
  • Partnership dissolution procedure
  • Every nook and corner of the distribution of profits, assets, and capital
  • Strategy for dissolution of the firm

A good exit strategy will help you avoid chaos and deadlocks in the decision making process of the firm. One of the most viable strategies in this regard is taking a third party on board (specially in case of a 50/50 partnership) who will act like a tiebreaker in case of voting polls among the partners to avoid deadlocks.

 

A partnership registration is a great way to start with for any new organization. But, with the passage of time, and depending on the expansion of the business, one can always opt for conversion to other business structures such as LLP, Pvt. Ltd. Company, or a Public Ltd. Company, as per the size and requirement of the business.

 

 

Geetima Das
Agri-Fintech Startup from Assam creates a platform to accelerate financial inclusion of the Indian farmers

Agri-Fintech Startup from Assam creates a platform to accelerate financial inclusion of the Indian farmers

For a predominantly agrarian economy like ours, farmers are the backbone of our economic constitution. About 70% of the country’s population is engaged in agricultural activities, with 120 crore population principally depending on it for survival. Unfortunately enough, our food growers aren’t the ones getting the kind of focus they deserve. About 12.5 crore small and marginal Indian farmers have little or no access to financial products. Most farmers are unaware of benefits like crop loans, livestock loans, and insurance. To keep the farming business going, they end up taking loans from local money lenders at exorbitant rates of interest, resulting in debt traps and the consequent loss of land and property. Banks are risk-averse to lending to the farmers due to the shooting NPAs (Non-Performing Asset) in the segment. The agriculture credit market in India stands at USD 200 Bn and despite it being a priority sector, the GNPA (Gross Non-Performing Asset) from the agriculture sector and allied activities in Public Sector Banks stood at Rs 1.04 lakh crore at the end of July 2019 as against a total credit of Rs 9.42 lakh crore. Hence, the proportion of GNPA to total credit is around 11 percent. This has forced banks/insurance companies to rethink their business model and reduce their overall credit facilitation to agriculture and allied sectors, preventing the financial growth of small and marginal farmers. The Assam-based startup, Farmeasy Technologies Pvt. Ltd may come as a ray of hope for the Indian farmers with its digital platform that creates and records the creditworthiness of the farmers and allots scorecards against them for easy reference for the financial institutions. 

Farmeasy Technologies Pvt. Ltd provides a digital creditworthiness scorecard under its brand name Farm Infinity (farm∞) to each farmer registered on its platform, based on its proprietary algorithm that considers over 80+ individual parameters like basic KYC, total cultivable farmland, GPS coordinates of the farmland, soil health data, livestock, crop cultivated, availability of irrigation facilities, farm equipment, years of experience, number of household members for each farmer, etc., and considers over 600 data-sets and 10 Mn data from Government database. The financial institutions can use these scorecards to keep a check on the live profiles of the farmers, along with tracking the various parameters for better decision-making in terms of awarding loans and providing insurance products. Banks, MFIs (Micro Finance Institutions), NBFCs (Non-Banking Financial Corporation), and Insurance companies can use these scorecards to determine the creditworthiness of farmers and sanction them various financial insurance products/services, like crop and livestock insurance, farm loans, KCCs (Kisan Credit Card), etc. Apart from steam-rolling hassles for the Indian farmers in obtaining loans, Farm Infinity’s proprietary algorithm based creditworthiness and risk assessment scorecard will also help reduce the NPAs of the financial institutions. It is similar to that of CIBIL (Credit Information Bureau (India) Limited) scorecard, used for determining the creditworthiness of employed and self-employed individuals. The startup focuses on digitizing and automating the loan cycle and insurance workflows of the Financial Institutions.

Farmeasy Technologies founder, Gunajit Brahma

In 2012, Gunajit Brahma and a group of IIM Indore alumni started a venture by the name Jeev Anksh Eco-Products Pvt. Ltd. Jeev Anksh is a social venture dealing with providing market linkages, contract farming with buyback assurance to small and marginal organic farmers and their farm produce. It was while working for the venture that they got familiarized with motley farmers and the variegated problems plaguing the Indian agricultural sector. They noticed how the farmers had to struggle in securing monetary aid from the financial institutions. A further probe brought them to terms with the financial institutions declining granting loans due to inadequate documents for verification and the farmers’ rather questionable capacity to pay back the loan amount. That was the trigger point for Gunajit Brahma and his IIM Indore batchmate, Alok Kumar Ekka, to start Farmeasy Technologies. Gunajit’s experience of working in the agricultural sector and Alok’s tryst with the banking sector proved to be an ideal combination for a fintech startup addressing the agricultural sector. Apart from the founders, the company is lent the essential experience and technical knowhow with founding members like Kaustav Gayon – IIT Kharagpur alumnus, and Ram Munda – NIT Durgapur alumnus. Besides, a retired banker at the Indian Overseas Bank, Samir Baruah, has joined the team as an Advisor. The company is also in discussion to pull a retired IAS officer into the Advisory Board.

Farm Infinity, with its user-friendly mobile platform, enables farmers from even the remotest areas to register themselves just with a finger tap, dismantling physical restrictions and commuting challenges. Asked about the efficacy of the platform in a country where a good number of farmers are illiterate and digitally constrained, Gunajit informs about introducing a speech recognition feature to abate the problem in the future.

“Since the majority of the Indian farmers do not have any know-how of running a mobile application in the English language we are also working on introducing a voice-driven form or speech-to-text feature to our application so that illiteracy can no longer be a barrier for them,” says Gunajit Brahma. Interestingly, the idea for integrating a speech-to-text feature was suggested by the officials from Microsoft who had visited The Nest earlier this year.

The startup is also planning to develop a vernacular version of the application. It will be available in all 18 recognized Indian languages, easily accessible to the farmers of different states. Besides, the company will tie up with Farmer Producer Organisations (FPO) that will play a substantial role in terms of encouraging the farmers to get onboard on the platform. Initially, the mobile application will be rolled out for the FPOs/FPCs and agribusinesses alone and will be let open for individual farmers subsequently.

The startup would charge a subscription fee from the financial institutions for assigning and maintaining exclusive web-based dashboards on the platform with updated information and farmer scorecards. Conversely, it plans to pay a finder’s fee to the FPOs and FPCs for every farmer onboarded from their networks.

While the Android application will be officially launched and made available on Google’s Play Store soon, the basic website is live now.

As the government-initiated programs like BIRAC-Sparsh try to attract agri-tech startups to introduce new-age innovations in agriculture and aid the Indian farmers to do away with the primitive method of weather and soil dependent cultivation, Farmeasy Technologies holds the potential to offer a sound solution to the financial assistance deprivation faced by farmers that have frequently ensued in heart-wrenching cases of suicides in the farmer community. And now that Covid-19 has pushed digitization from being an add-on to a need, ventures like this are going to grab the interest of the agricultural stakeholders and the investors, alike.

 

A startup from Assam is trying to uplift the conditions of the farmers in North East India by offering them a price 1.2 times more than the market for the produce. Read to know more.

Startup rising in Assam, it’s Challenges, and the role of Assam Startup

Startup rising in Assam, it’s Challenges, and the role of Assam Startup

In 2017, when the Department of Industries and Commerce, Government of Assam, picked up the baton to formulate the Assam Startup Policy, its topmost priority was to find a strong and long-term solution to a critical problem of the state – Unemployment. The Assam Startup initiative is the result of imperative brainstorming to develop a model for self-sustenance wherein the youths are empowered to write their own destiny rather than depending on the corporates or even the government to determine their career graph. Imagine if we have a thousand number of youths turning into successful entrepreneurs over a span of 5 years, how many job avenues will they be able to create for a thousand others! But this cannot happen in a single day, a month, or, for that matter, even a year. It’s crucial to overcome some deep-rooted challenges if the dream of an entrepreneurial revolution in Assam has to be realized.

The first and most crucial challenge is Mindset. Ask about one’s notion of an ideal career and most of them will say, ‘I want a job that assures security and a decent salary.’ Entrepreneurship, on the other hand, is about a die-hard passion to take risks in order to achieve impossible milestones. On the contrary, we are mostly averse to taking risks. In fact, risk-taking is often considered a wild vice. But let’s not blame anyone for this. It’s a mindset intrinsic to our upbringing. Most of us have grown up believing in ‘getting settled’ with a decent job for survival. Why take risks and walk extra miles when life could be easy and stakes secured by bagging a decent job? In order to convince ourselves that we are far more capable than being mere survivors is something that would take time, awareness drives, and a few success stories from the local ecosystem.

Talking about success stories, these stories must, very importantly, reflect the kind of impact that they are making in society. Profit-making is just one part of it. For instance, the story of a common man with a degree from India’s top management institute, dismissing offers of executive-level jobs to make homecoming and hit the fields of rural Assam to start a community farming project. Immediately the focus diverts from the amount of money and comfort he missed from a possible high profile corporate job to the amount of good he has done to the community of farmers of his home state. Imagine the magnitude of respect he commands through his efforts and the impact that he creates. Let’s also understand here that apart from security, another very important element attached to a job or career in this part of the world is Respect. Most of us want our children to grow up to be doctors, engineers, professors, or maybe someone holding a coveted position in the administration. This desire does not just emerge from the income considerations, but equally from the kind of respect that these professions command. As such, it becomes important to convey to the people that entrepreneurs do not only make profits but also command an immense amount of respect because of the positive changes that they bring in society and to the economy as bold and ethical leaders. When we talk about changing mindsets, change must be brought, both, in the youths to try and tread the path of entrepreneurship, as well as in their parents to support the decision to take up entrepreneurship. And this can come through extensive awareness campaigns across the length and breadth of the state.

However, even if one has finally realized the amount of money and respect that entrepreneurship can bring, he/she might still pat an argument: “Business isn’t in our blood.” It’s very common among us to say that business comes naturally to someone in Gujarat or Rajasthan, but not to us, with a few exceptions. Perhaps, what they see as a genetic construction is, in reality, a lack of exposure. This brings us to the second challenge: Exposure. One will remain unsure and scared about a thing as long as he isn’t exposed to it.

Talking about the importance of innovative thinking and problem-solving skills for successful entrepreneurship is easy. But the question is how to imbibe the skills when one isn’t exposed to these? In order to stop playing safe and start taking risks without fear of failure, the need is to get exposed to a challenging environment where brilliant risk-takers are playing smart gambles to successfully resolve problems through innovative thinking.

In this part of the world, even if someone thinks of a startup idea, he would, most possibly, bury it within himself without realizing the possibilities of building his idea into a profitable, scalable, and sustainable business venture. Cut to a city like Bangalore, Mumbai, or Delhi, a youth deciphers the commercial viability of an idea as soon as it hits him. He isn’t scared to shape his idea into a business because he is completely familiar with startups and entrepreneurship. He has seen people discussing startups and businesses at the coffee table. He is in sync with the entrepreneurial environment. It is this kind of exposure and familiarity to entrepreneurship that we are wanting in.

Need has been felt for creating a buzzword among the people of Assam about startup and entrepreneurship. The way North East India feels at home with music and guitar, a startup trend needs to be created with a supportive ecosystem so that the youth feels at home with startup and entrepreneurship as well.

However, even if one has the required mindset, it all comes down to being null without the knowledge of doing business. Lack of Business Knowledge is the third challenge typically faced in Assam. As mentioned earlier, being more of a job-oriented community, our interests as well as the academic curriculum are focused more on job-based subjects than on entrepreneurship courses. We must understand that while passion and risk-taking are entrepreneurial virtues, it will end up like a mighty bedlam without strong and levelheaded knowledge of the business. That’s one of the fundamental reasons why a lot of brilliant ideas die down in Assam without making any noise.

It was this understanding that propelled the launch of Assam’s first state-owned incubation centre, The Nest, wherein brilliant ideas are given suitable directions for their best possible execution. Fledgling startups are made aware of the best practices and thoroughly mentored about what to do with an idea and how to develop it into a suitable business model. The IIM Calcutta Innovation Park, having years of experience in building startup ecosystems, especially in the East and North-East India, has been entrusted with the responsibility of implementing the initiative by the Government of Assam. India’s premium institution is vested to impart the much-needed business knowledge, provide intensive mentoring and handholding to the startups so that they end up with the required knowledge and confidence to fly high after graduating from the incubation centre.

With over 5000 young innovators and fledgling entrepreneurs currently toiling in the state to realize their entrepreneurial dreams, the seeds have surely been sown for raising a fertile entrepreneurial landscape in Assam. It’s now up to the ecosystem developers to nurture these young entrepreneurs, support them with adequate resources and infrastructure, and fortify them with sound business know-how and confidence to create local heroes out of them. The good news is that the process has already begun. A unified community of passionate people is emerging gradually that sees entrepreneurship as the common answer to the variegated problems in the state and shares the common goal of seeing Assam emerge as one of the top ecosystems in the country. 

While Assam Startup has been conspicuous by its leadership role in creating a startup movement in Assam, perhaps, the emerging startup rising in Assam would fall short of the desired outcome without full-fledged participation from the stakeholders and expert contributions from other key industries, especially the ones working with startups, entrepreneurs, and MSMEs. Activation of EDCs incubation centres in various academic institutions in the state project an encouraging trend in this regard. Premium institutions like the Indian Institute of Entrepreneurship (IIE), STPI, Guwahati Biotechnology Park, and Technology Incubation Centre (IIT Guwahati) are sharing the baton along with Assam Startup in encouraging entrepreneurship, scouting for promising startups and innovators, and helping them with resource and research infrastructure for product development and reaching entrepreneurial goals.

 

 

By Satarupa Mishra