Agri startup Krishi Star has received funding from Artha Venture Challenge and Upaya Social Ventures along with two other investors. Menterra is providing the company strategic support and guidance to scale and grow. Here, founder Bryan Lee talks about the startup, their plans and more
What does your company do?
Krishi Star is dedicated to improving livelihoods for small farmers in India by building a food brand that sells products produced through a farmer-owned supply chain. Currently, we are working with farmer-owned food processing units and have developed a product portfolio including tomato puree, whole-peeled tomatoes, and sun-dried tomatoes. We are currently selling our products in Mumbai and Pune to hotels, restaurants, and catering groups.
How did it come about?
At Krishi Star’s earliest roots, when I was doing my MBA studies, I had the fortune of being part of a fellowship program that placed students with social enterprises in India. I was working on a project related to microfinance in rural communities and travelled across India interacting with small farmers to understand their challenges learn how business interventions could be made to improve their lives.
During this experience and subsequent ones across other countries such as Ecuador, I saw a common pattern of the need to address rural poverty as a key to social development because of its large scale and scope and its impact on other development areas. Though I saw many great interventions at the farmer level, I came to believe that the problem with farming in the long-run was actually a problem in the very nature of the economics of farming, a problem which could best be solved by transforming rural economies.
With this broad aspiration in mind, following my graduation from MBA, I moved to India in 2012 to start what is now Krishi Star.
Why are you excited about this space?
Food processing is a high potential industry, growing at over 20% per year, yet farmers do not consistently enter into it because of lack of market access and understanding of quality requirements. On the market side, buyers of fresh and processed foods often cannot source consistent quality due to insufficient infrastructure and a fragmented supply chain with inconsistent inputs. By leveraging and aggregating existing farmer assets and providing a brand that ensures quality and consistency to end customers, we can greatly increase the efficiency and quality of India’s food supply chain and bring a large portion of this created value to farmers.
What is innovative about your service?
Our model differs from many others because it approaches improvement of farmer livelihoods from a demand-pull perspective and therefore is commercially viable with potential for scalability. It acts as a platform matching farmer-owned capacity and market-demand. New products are created through direct input/co-creation with our end users (chefs) to fit the capabilities of the farmer-owned manufacturing units.
For example, our initial products were ideated in collaboration with chefs at high-end Italian restaurants in Mumbai to match with the tomato farmers with whom we were working who had factories in Maharashtra and Gujarat. Our focus on market linkages has made us a natural match for other organizations that work with farmers to build their capacities but struggle to find market demand for the farmers’ output. In fact, many of our initial NGO and farmer-group partnerships have developed because of this.
What is the impact you want to have?
Our vision is a scaled solution through which to improve livelihoods for the nearly 200 million people in India living in rural poverty. Our current strategy is for farmers to benefit in two main ways. First, the small farmers, as the owners of processing factories, would receive a higher stable form of income independent of the success of their individual harvests. Second, the factories procure from the farmers and create additional stable demand for the farmers' crops.
What successes and challenges have you seen till now and what is next?
* Network of marketing/sales relationships
* Rural linkage relationships
* Established product line with growing revenue
* Unit economics sensitivity to fluctuating crop prices
* Seasonality of inputs
* Access to working capital
What keeps you motivated?
Our vision for impact and building a great team. Each person in Krishi Star is working there because he or she believes in using business as a means to achieve social impact. Beyond the impact, we are very passionate about building a team with a strong culture based around our values of fun, continuous learning, courageous integrity, and integrity. As a startup going to scale, we in many ways see each other as family and want to build a company that is not only positively impactful to the world but that also reflects a work environment that helps each of us grow personally and professionally.
How will Menterra and Artha Venture Challenge will help?
* Network with rural impact organizations will be useful for when we scale to other geographies and are outreaching for new partner organizations
* Advisory in going to scale and raising our next round of funding
* Access to network of advisors across industries and geographies