Published: 12th June 2018
This start-up from UP makes an all-natural sugar substitute with no calories
Swati Pandey won the Cartier Women's Initiative Awards 2018 and we catch up with her to find out about her journey
Every day we read and hear about the ill effects of sugar, but who out there is giving us a healthier alternative? Well, Swati Pandey and her start-up Arboreal AgroInnovations are, with Stevia, a sugar substitute that is extracted from the leaves of Stevia rebaudiana, has no calories (gasp!) and is 200 times sweeter than sugar. Though there have been other companies that have tapped into this all-natural sugar substitute, only a few have been as successful as Pandey's. It comes as no surprise to us that this 29-year-old entrepreneur is one of the laureates of the Cartier Women's Initiative Awards 2018 — adjudged by the French luxury brand Cartier, the American consulting firm McKinsey and Company, and one of the world's leading business schools, INSEAD.
Pandey was a Climate-KIC nominee at the European Union's EIT Change Award 2013 and a Commonwealth fellow
Resplendent in a red one-shoulder gown, Pandey received the award in Singapore on April 26 and also walked away with $100,000. The award came at the right time says Pandey, as, "an external, third-party validation is always encouraging." A scholar from Imperial College, London, Pandey went on to work as a consultant in the clean technology practice of DNV GL, Singapore, while setting up and managing things back in India for Arboreal simultaneously. But when she realised the company's full scope, she decided to dedicate herself to it completely, along with CFO Manish Chauhan. "Though conceived as a social business initiative at first, I soon realised that it could be a commercially-viable and self-sustainable business too," she says, adding passionately that, "we were always driven by the need to do something for our country; to initiate a world-class start-up right here more than anything else."
In their hands: Farmers working on Stevia
Arboreal sources Stevia, commonly known as Meethi Tusli, from farmers in four districts of Uttar Pradesh. But one of the most challenging parts for Pandey was to first convince farmers to grow the plant as they had been conned several times before and were now wary of such projects. But Escrow accounts and lots of interaction helped convince the farmers, who are now their steady suppliers.
As the world is shifting from sugar and is looking for alternatives, Arboreal comes in at the right time
Swati Pandey, founder, Arboreal AgroInnovations
Despite solving what seemed to be their biggest problem, the future is not free of roadblocks, especially for an Agritech start-up. "Variables like climate are not in our hands and are a bigger issue," explains Pandey. But Arboreal is taking measures to minimise these risks by diversifying to other geographies and trying different variants. Pandey remains confident that whatever roadblock comes their way in the future, they will do their best to mitigate it.