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ThinkAg's Incubator-Connect: Hyderabad Roundtable; 24th Aug 2022

ThinkAg hosted an event- Incubator-Connect_Hyderabad Roundtable at AgHub - Agri-Innovation Hub of PJTSAU on 24th August 2022. The event witnessed the participation of 8 leading Ag & Food focused incubators of Hyderabad, 3 startups, & Agri Collaboratory in the Roundtable.

The program started with an enlightening Keynote Address by Dr. Praveen Rao Velchala, Director- AgHub - Agri-Innovation Hub of PJTSAU, followed by a brainstorming and engaging discussion among Saravanan Raj, CEO, MANAGE-CIA, Tamal Chatterjee, Sid's Farm, Dr. M. Muthukumar, PI, ICAR - National Research Centre on Meat, Agri Business Incubator, Kalpana Sastry Regulagedda, MD, AgHub - Agri-Innovation Hub of PJTSAU, Vishal Singhal, Founder & CEO, Temperate Technologies N. Krishna, Program Manager, Nutrihub TBI, Dr. Nalam Rao, CEO, Atal Incubation Centre - CCMB, Viswanadham Duppatla, VP- Biopharma Innovations & Head- Life Sciences Incubation, IKP Knowledge Park, Siddharth, Senior Business Manager, a-IDEA Technology Business Incubator of NAARM, Susanth Masana, Co-Founder, Farm Sathi, Athira M Nair, Manager- Agribusiness, Research and Innovation Circle of Hyderabad, Jonathan Philroy, Nipun Mehrotra, Founder, Agri Collaboratory and Ravishankar A., Agri Collaboratory, co-moderated by Ritu Verma and Raman Ahuja, Co-Founders of ThinkAg.

The context

- Incubators have a major role to play in the start-up ecosystem, more so in the agri-tech and food innovation space, especially in changing the orientation from services to products. 

- There are plenty of gaps in FoodTech, Biotech, Robotics and a lot needs to be done to make the models sustainable. 

- There is a need for a platform to enable incubators to frequently interact with each other. 

- There is need for greater visibility on what incubators across the country are doing and what incubatees are doing.

Key messages

- AgTech start-ups want quick results, which is not possible. Difference in speed is the biggest issue – investors do not understand it, ventures themselves do not understand it, and the acquirers too do not understand it.

- Demonstrating value is a time-consuming process in agriculture.

- The Agri ecosystem is spread far and wide; location is an important issue. There is a need to improve communication among Agri Universities about innovation and Agri-tech development.

- Building trust and deep relationships is the key to success of agri-tech start-ups.

- Funding has to be based on milestones and not on results.

- Agri-tech culture should be taught at the school level.

- There is a need to develop adequate human resources if you want to build agri-tech ecosystem.

- For agri-tech ventures to be successful, there is need to highlight validated success stories that demonstrate impact.

- Agriculture works only on location specific needs, but should be combined with global targets.

- Agriculture is at the crossroads. Farmers are looking for solutions and tools that will deliver results.

- Major changes are happening along the value chain – consumers want transparency in what is being produced, how it is being produced and whether it is healthy. Thanks to technology, a farmer is able to see what happens below the soil.

- Capital is available, the challenge is availability of talent – Agricultural Universities should have fresh elective subject options, as, otherwise employability of Agriculture graduates will be difficult.

- Three types of data in agriculture: generated by scientists in the field – huge voluminous, historical data; general data – secure data, autonomous; and, process managed data – comes from the departments, the quantity of seeds, fertiliser and water required. All three types of data have a lot of significance for agri-tech start-ups – data should be integrated, made secure and shared.

- Agri-tech start-ups should come into Universities and help them in various ways; the next big revolution in Agriculture will come from this. For example, Brazilian and Australian mangoes find their way to Europe. Israeli mangoes also get into European markets. They are doing this by extending the flowering and fruiting period, which is something Indian ventures could look at.

- Innovation must be market-driven. One should look at the problems first and then come up with solutions. It should not be the other way around, where you come up with a solution and then look for a problem fit. Incubators should see what is needed in the market and work accordingly.

Incubators should highlight the approaches that have started to work – need to build an ideas factory.

- The start-ups have different expectations from an incubator than what the market has; while start-ups expect incubators to help them build the company itself, incubators will only bring in R&D and other infrastructure

- There is no regular institutionalised interaction mechanism among incubators. Incubators can help a lot in product-market fit and in product validation.

- Incubators should provide customised mentoring.

- There should be a knowledge management framework among incubators.

- Governance processes within start-ups is a neglected area. Unless governance is good, no investor will put in money, leadership development within a start-up is also important. 80-90 per cent of start-up models can be sustainable, but not scalable.

What is needed?

- Having a collection of problem statements is a powerful attraction for start-ups – pooling of problem statements. Which start-up is working on what product – areas being worked on.

- Number of pilots – what are run, what are finished and what have succeeded / Evidence based validation of results– this can be accessible to Industry

- Need to develop an agri-tech innovation portal. A data base can be created– live data that is open source and secure

- A template of successful engagement by corporates with start-ups and see what has worked can be prepared

- Start-ups should focus on operational efficiency, their idea and show results and not focus on valuation.

- Start-ups need paying customers, which is the ultimate proof that there are willing buyers for your product or service. Razor-sharp focus on getting customers is needed.

- There is a real shortage of qualified people for running incubators – curriculum should include something on developing innovation ecosystem professionals.

- ThinkAg could play a role in enhancing Ag incubators – capacity building at the incubator level.

- Incubators want more interaction with angel investors and angel networks.

- There has to be a session on grants – who offers what and what are the terms and conditions.

- A consolidated data base on mapping mentors.

Action items that emerged from the Roundtable-

1. Facilitated conversations between Angel Investors & Incubators on an ongoing basis

2. Hosting information sharing session/s about all the existing Grants

3. Facilitated corporate-connect events with Incubators to understand the former's expectations from Innovators / innovations

4. Creation of an updated open source database of AgTech startups for usage by different stakeholders

A team comprising of Jon Philroy, Vijay Nadiminti (AgHub) & N Krishna (NutriHub) will volunteer to anchor the above effort along with Team ThinkAg for the Hyderabad-based Ag & Food focused Incubators.

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