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Soil-less farming startup wants to solve India’s food crisis

Sriram Gopal was running Synamen Thinklabs, an IT firm, in Chennai when he stumbled upon videos of soil-less farming and rooftop farms on YouTube. The year was 2014, and Sriram’s seven-year-old IT venture, which offered business consulting and go-to-market strategies to tech startups, was enjoying a good run with a turnover of about Rs 2 crore.

Sriram was keen to do more, and to experiment, even as his top team at Synamen Thinklabs was content sticking to their core business. It was then that the Caledonian Business School (UK) alumnus began scouting for newer ideas and opportunities, and discovered hydroponics.

YouTube videos and reading matter on the web led Sriram to develop small DIY hydroponics kits. His father, who was the owner of a printing factory in Chennai, aided him in the activity. They would soon go on to acquire the distributorship of a foreign company that sold hydroponics kits in India.

“We listed on Trade India and other online directories. But sales were low because the kits were expensive,” Sriram recalls.

However, it helped him network with “like-minded people” that included engineers, biotechnologists, agronomists, and some with a simple interest in gardening. About 8-10 of them were willing to join Sriram in his hydroponics “adventure” and they formed a company in late 2014.

Each of them, “core team members” as they are referred to, now own shares in Future Farms, which has grown to be a 70-member startup in four years. It has executed over “32 commercial projects” for companies, including the Adani Group, Parry Agro, Dabur, Kalpataru Group, Aries Agro, and others, essentially pioneering hydroponics in Indian agriculture.

Future Farms now grows 16 crop varieties, classified under English Exotic, Asian Exotic and Indian Exotic, across 15 acres of land spread over 10 states. It recorded a $1 million turnover last year.

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