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Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Tata Trust To Incubate 60K Agritech Startups In 5 Years

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Tata Trust To Incubate 60K Agritech Startups In 5 Years

They are also launching ‘Social Alpha Quest for Agritech Innovations’

Over the next five years, the plan is to support 60 enterprises

12 innovations will be selected to be a part of the first cohort of IAIN

India has over 200 agritech startups and a number of agritech startups have mushroomed in the last few years, but the growth of the sector has been quite slow due to lack of government support, policy lag and lack of data — or accurate data — and poor infrastructure. Also, the sector has been lacking the application of next-gen technologies.

To address the gaps in the technology-end of the agriculture sector, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Tata Trust have collaborated to set up the India Agritech Incubation Network (IAIN). With this, they are also launching ‘Social Alpha Quest for Agritech Innovations’ contest. It will empower small and marginal farmers towards increasing productivity and profitability.

To be first set up at IIT Kanpur’s Innovation and Incubation centre, IAIN is envisioned as a network of incubators across the country to promote innovations for smallholder farmers. It will be in collaboration with Social Alpha, Collectives for Integrated Livelihood Initiatives (CInI) and the Government of Uttar Pradesh.

Manoj Kumar, head of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Tata Trusts and CEO, Social Alpha Quest, said, “Deep science and technology innovations in agriculture and livestock are yet to receive similar incubation and investment support, which is necessary to improve productivity, efficiency and profitability of our farmers. The organisation aims to support, mentor and engage mission driven entrepreneurs to develop solutions that will positively improve the livelihoods outcomes of small and marginal farmers.”

As part of IAIN, a physical incubator will be set up at IIT-Kanpur to provide incubation services including specialised laboratory infrastructure, venture-building resources, financial support and farmer community access to help catalyze the lab to last-mile journey.

Over the next five years, the plan is to support 60 enterprises with technology and business incubation that will impact 50K farmers.

The Roadmap For Incubation

The organisation is looking for innovators and entrepreneurs with transformative technologies that address a curated set of challenges faced by smallholder farmers. As part of the Quest, nearly 12 innovations will be selected to be a part of the first cohort of IAIN and will receive incubation support for the next 12-24 months.

Social Alpha Quest is calling for innovative technology solutions, with a strong focus on affordability, accessibility, efficiency and user experience across the agriculture and allied value chain. These would include focus on enhancing yield and productivity, better post-harvest loss management and value addition, improving market linkages and traceability, among others.

The benefits for startups include:

  • Sandbox facility to test, validate and pilot innovations/projects on the ground in the state of Uttar Pradesh, using Tata Trusts’ extensive network
  • Access to Social Alpha’s seed investment and/or grants funding; and facilitated access to a large investor and donor network
  • Access to state-of-the-art technology incubation space with high quality labs, equipment for refining and testing at IIT Kanpur’s Incubator facility
  • Product development support including assistance with designing, rapid prototyping and design for manufacturing
  • Dedicated agri-business experts to assist with business planning, developing go-to-market strategy and overall business advisory
  • Mentorship by a set of qualified global and local experts; and curated set of capacity building sessions
  • Practical on-the-ground feedback from the farmer community, grassroots non-profits, agriculture experts and corporate and government bodies
  • Access to shared office space and amenities at Social Alpha or IIT Kanpur incubation centres and support services such as accounting, compliance, taxation, legal, IP, etc.

“We have focused on infusion of technology-led innovations in the rural areas as a key step towards achieving sustainability and irreversibility under our Mission programme for smallholder farmers,” said Ganesh Neelam, zonal manager, Tata Trusts and executive director, CInI.

Agritech: Startups, Investors And Incubators

In India, farming is touted to be a $400 Bn industry and is big enough for startups in both the organised and unorganised segments to sustain and build scalable models. However, a 2018 report from Datalabs by Inc42 showed that the total funding in agritech startups in India has grown from $46.1 Mn (INR 320 Cr) 2017 to $66.6 Mn (INR 463 Cr) in 2018, which is indicative of the growing investor interest in this sector.

In agritech, we have investors like Omnivore, Future Venture Capital Company Ltd. (FVCCL), IDG Venture, Accel Partners, Aspada Investments, IvyCap Ventures, Unitus Seed Fund, Rabo Equity Advisors, SAIF Partners, Villgro Innovations Foundation, Qualcomm Ventures and IDFC, among others.

The income of the farmers in India is a key focus area for the government and the Union Budget 2019 further reiterated the same. The current government has an ambitious aim, that of doubling the average income of farmers by 2022.

Both the central and state governments are proactively pursuing policies to improve the lives of farmers in the country. Some of the incubators already operational include Gastrotope, Pioneering Ventures etc.