Startup-O Stars is a series that captures stories of authentic tech entrepreneurs from Asia, to share their insights, learnings, tips & resources with the community. It aims to foster a deeper understanding of these journeys, direct from the trenches.
Can you still be resilient with same passion when you know that things you planned can take a detour? Can the passion still be relevant in another direction if not achieved at the desired or primary field of interest? Here’s an excerpt of the conversation between Amandeep Panwar Founder & CEO at BharatRohan and Startup-O about how he planned to be a space engineer at ISRO by pursuing Aeronautic Engineering degree but, has now devoted his life to the land. Space (pun intended) where he gets to combine his expertise in aeronautical science with spectroscopy to create an affordable and accessible tool for Indian farmers using data analytics.
For starters, BharatRohan is an Indian based startup that collects unique data from agricultural farms and converts them into actionable information and reports to enable industrial producers to reduce crop loses, optimize agri-inputs and maximize yield and profit margin using UAV based hyperspectral imaging.
Amandeep cannot recollect the exact moment when he chose to become an entrepreneur but he vaguely remembers his inclination to have a career in scientific research at ISRO. He even went ahead to pursue his education in the field of aeronautics at Babu Banarasi Das National Institute of Technology and Management, Lucknow, India. During his academic years, he was involved in building and experimenting on drones and UAVs flown in Malihabad fields, a town nearby the city’s vicinity.
On one such experiment day, Amandeep chanced upon a farmer in despair. The farmer was facing a huge loss as his farm yields were low and he was sharing profits with the landowner. The farmer further shared his predicament that this was one of the worst pest attacks and fruit flies infestation in the mango yield he has witnessed. This was the moment where Amandeep got into the thinking process.
Amandeep maintains “When I came across this situation, there were a lot of talks around the scientific experiments, the praises, and accolades surrounding advanced technology and its applications. However, what I was not able to understand was despite such dialogues being shared on the public forums why there were no solutions provided to these farmers? After all, agriculture plays a huge role in the Indian economy.”
It was a moment of a spark on a rough idea that made Amandeep pursue the skills he already had at his disposal to use it on the land. He along with his then classmate and now Co-founder & CTO of BharatRohan- Rishabh Choudhary started researching deeper on this subject. They stumbled on a concept called remote sensing. This was already being used in supply-based merchants; however, the efficiency was not at par, therefore there was no demand for it. Besides, this tool was mostly directed at the banks or government supervisors to have a general overview of the damages to settle claims or crop insurances. “Here at this juncture we thought of using this concept, develop it further, and offer it to the actual beneficiaries i.e. the farmers. With the help of experts who were in the same domain, we further researched deeper and built knowledge pool around remote sensing. We then stumbled upon Hyperspectral Sensors technology, an advanced tech in imaging space which is the best one that the world has currently. With the help of Dr KD Singh, who was then studying Hyperspectral Sensors technology in IIT Bombay, we got the idea incubated in the tech incubator of Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR).” Amandeep continues. Dr Singh currently works at the capacity of a Chief Remote Sensing at BharatRohan.
ICAR was a great impetus in formalizing the business model for BharatRohan and connected the team with the initial stakeholders such as farmers and food companies who could pay or help in piloting the solutions they had. “We also got in touch with Central Institute of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants (CIMAP), a research institute of Council of Scientific and Industrial Research headquartered in Lucknow. They helped us form a pool of farmers who were following the Japanese mint cropping system in Barabanki district in Uttar Pradesh, India. By the end of the pilot, we collected a lot of data related to agriculture, the process and operation related to the occupation. We had a fair idea on the permutation and combination kind of approach on integrating our aeronautical engineering degree, farmers’ expertise and the results of studies at research institutes. This was the juncture where today’s BharatRohan was born.” states a proud Amandeep.
The journey of Amandeep and Rishab in building BharatRohan boldly states that an entrepreneur necessarily need not have to be an IIT graduate and IIM graduate. All they need is an eye of a hawk to know where the problem is and how the solution can be sought.
The journey of an entrepreneur is tedious. There may be several ideas popping at every second but it takes a lot of brainstorming on which direction the idea can be sowed and work towards it to enjoy a profitable yield. Amandeep, while carving the journey of BharatRohan, understood a key aspect which he wants and firmly believes every aspiring entrepreneur to follow or attempt at least. “There is a need to focus on empathy when it comes to customers relations. Currently, empathy is missing. Trust is the foundation that makes any product or offering much better. The sooner the entrepreneur understands it, the better it will be. BharatRohan has now forged a personal and emotional connect with the farmers. An emotional bond prevails with the farmer community and us”
Recalling one of such instances, Amandeep reminisces a time when the farmers offered to give their produce on credit. To achieve this trust, BharatRohan team had to work hard. The initial phase was making farmers understand the value proposition they wanted to offer. While some farmers were ready to give a chance, other conventional farmers opted to take 50:50 route wherein half of their plot was experimented with the advisory provided by BharatRohan and the rest of the plot was tilled using their conventional method and practices passed on by previous generations. When asked about how the team achieved the basic technology literacy among the farmers, Amandeep responds that the farmers are not worried about the technology, they are rather eager to know how much yields will the solutions provided by them would increase. “This is where we were upfront with them and communicated our narrative that our main objective is to reduce their agricultural input by providing them with comprehensive solutions in a language they understand and connect with. We further demonstrate various solutions locally on how these solutions address the challenges impacting the health of their yields,” states Amandeep.
BharatRohan on its journey to help farmers around the year right from the stage of sowing to post-harvest has forged a beautiful relationship with the farmers. “Farming occupation is driven on hope and this is why one needs to be modest with farmers if you intend to be an entrepreneur in AgriTech business” Amandeep shares. “There has been a massive surge in the Indian agri-startups since 2014. Also, industry reports recorded an approximate growth of nearly 100% in agriculture and allied activities in 2014-2015. Additionally, in 2015-2016, the agri-exports saw a jump of CAGR 6.75% to $32.08 billion proving that AgriTech companies have been instrumental surging growth in this sector.” he further states.
He further shares an interesting insight on another key aspect an aspiring entrepreneur should have. He says that instead of aggressively burning cash in building comprehensive or new products, one should take a back seat and try and understand how within the limits of fewer resources a task can be completed. He believes there is a need to be modest while addressing the problems with a solution. “Climate change is a bigger challenge for us now. The recent heavy rainfall has delayed the sowing process for potato crops by 15-20 days. Because it is delayed, there are chances that the virus will be affecting the crops and the sugar level in the potato will be impacted increasingly. So, we as the service providers will dedicate our time in issuing precise SOS advisories and next steps on reducing the agricultural input. While the efforts are on in researching how to tackle this situation, we are not going to waste time where the performance will be affecting our value proposition.”
He states “ He is on a mission to bolster Indian agriculture by empowering Indian farmers with the tool to identify the problems and challenges and, once they are empowered with these challenges, only then they can take actions against them and nourish the hunger of India which is home to a quarter of world’s hungry.” Alongside, he states that he is aware of the impact that climate change can have on the farmers. BharatRohan is already working towards strengthening its offerings in tandem with agriculture research institutes ongoing developments and experiments. Both the entities are on its course to share the right solutions, which can be banked upon.
On the personal front, Amandeep recalls being known as a shy person. He knew communicating will be key skills he will have to hone. Whilst understanding the nuances of farming from the farmers, he learnt the art of talking in a social set up. That was how he let go off a comfort zone.
The next pitstop for BharatRohan is adding up 10,000 acres of land to the existing 5000 acres. BharatRohan is in a domain that requires transformation which is majorly running on conventional methods rather than the scientific method. Hence, for the next two years, the AgriTech startup will be working towards Japanese Mint Cropping System in Barabanki and enter other markets in Uttar Pradesh providing services with similar cropping systems. They are also working with ITC with chilly crop in Warangal which the team believes it to be a great location in terms of geo expansion. Amandeep also stated that he is also looking for bigger grants so that he will be able to get a senior economist on board and invest funds on the research.
BharatRohan’s main aim is to have every farmer empowered with the tools and solutions where they can enjoy the highest reaps of their hard work because farming definitely is a profession of hope, but it is also a profession of sweat and toil.
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