Published: 18th May 2018
The future is here and it is green, thanks to hydroponic farming
Sriram Gopal was already heading a successful start-up before he stumbled upon the hydroponics. His interest in environmental conservation was initiated by a project his company was working on
Today, the buzz word is "environment", we might have governments toppling over, scams running into billions, personal data getting leaked to the world but all this means nothing if we don't have an earth to hold it all together - good or bad. Yet, there are only a handful of people who are getting down to actually doing something about it. Which is what makes the start-up Future Farms feel like a breath of fresh air, quite literally.
Set up by 35-year-old Sriram Gopal, an MBA graduate from the University of Glasgow, Future Farms is one of the first if not the only initiatives that have adopted the concept of hydroponics to grow what they call "trustworthy" food. For those who don't know what hydroponics is, here's a little explainer - It is the method of growing plants without soil, using minerals in a water solvent. The vertical gardens that are increasingly adorning public walls are an example of how hydroponics works
Going Green: Sriram in one of his farms in the city
But how did it all start? Sriram Gopal was already heading a successful start-up before he stumbled upon the hydroponics. His interest in environmental conservation was initiated by a project his company was working on - a product called 'meterdesk'. It was a platform energy audit tool that analysed the energy consumption in a building.
"While working on energy optimization, sustainability of the building and so on, the rooftop became a topic of interest to me. I found out that just by putting a green shelter or canopy on the roof, the cooling efficiency can increase by 20 percent. Much of the heat of a building radiates through the roof, so I was exploring ways in which we can create a sort of bio-fence. That's when I found out about hydroponics," Sriram said.
Traditional farming is not an option for a terrace because it is cumbersome, labour intensive and consumes a lot of water," So we needed a smarter way and hydroponics seemed viable because it saves 90 percent water, sustainable and not labour intensive. It is more engineering than farming," he added. In his research, Sriram found that hydroponics did not really have a scene in India mainly because it was expensive,"But the pros definitely outweighed the cons, so I decided to explore it."
Sriram and his father then started to work on hydroponics at a rundown factory during weekends and discovered that most of the components needed for hydroponics weren't available in India. "When I tried to buy it from outside the country I was told that there was a minimum order quantity in order to transport it. They didn't have India even in their five-year plan, so I decided to become a local distributor myself," he said.
To help you have absolute control over what you are growing and how it is being grown -
Future Farms designs systems that fulfill specific requirements.
Combining these with a range of instruments, nutrients, media and accessories, we deploy commercially viable large-scale Hydroponic farms
We also creating clean food production opportunities in homes and office
So after a lot of travel and learning, Sriram decided to set up Future Farms, "We started as a trading company and then I realised that there a lot of others who are interested. So I decided that instead of looking for MBA graduates I would just look for people who are genuinely interested in the idea. Within two years, we had 13 young employees from varied backgrounds, Amazon, motorsport engineer, electrical engineer, biotechnology, design, marketing and others. But what was great about them was there wasn't pay involved and they didn't ask for one."
What particularly stands-out about this company is that they made it a rule not to have a plan B. "We decided that we wouldn't choose to go into organic farming if hydroponics fails or have any other sort of back-up plan because it would be a distraction. We knew we might fail, but we wanted to fail in grand style. We made no promises there were no great expectations, we wanted to enjoy the journey more than the destination. We either make it or we fail, no other option," Sriram said.
Green Nerds: Sriram Gopal with his team
Many academics and officials from prestigious institutions told us our idea was not being viable. ideas are always brushed off saying they are not viable - you can only make something work by working on it. Today, 2000 farmers are quitting on a daily basis and the population is not decreasing, food is substandard. So this is the right solution at the right time for India.
- Sriram Gopal
And things seemed to have worked out pretty great because four years later, the company is making 300 percent year on profit,"We have managed to develop a standardised rooftop design concept after a lot of hard work. It is very safe and efficient, The cost of technology was high but we managed to drop costs by 30-40 percent and managed to create 100 percent indigenous platforms for hydroponics in India," he added.
For Sriram, the toughest part about running a startup is getting bullied by bigger companies that are waiting to exploit smaller ones, "We decided early on that we deserve to get paid for our services. I remember this one time, a big conglomerate was fussing about giving us 30 lacs for a project. Finally, after a lot of meetings, they told us we should consider the project an opportunity, I disagreed and said we would need the money upfront. He then asked me to take a loan and I said no bank would be willing to give a loan to a small company. So he mocked me saying, why should my company even exist if we can't even get a small loan. Initially, I was taken aback but then I told him why a company like his with a turnover of 5000 crores be in business when they cry over giving such a small sum of money to a small company."
Every day has been a struggle for this start-up but they are taking all the risks and are breaking barriers. They have no choice but to succeed, after all, they have no plan B.