Ratan Tata-backed BOHECO is undertaking cannabis research for medical and industrial use
YourStory caught up with Chirag Tekchandaney, Co-founder and Director, Marketing and People at BOHECO to learn more about the startup’s research plans.
Mumbai-based medical research and hemp textile startup BOHECO wants to create an ecosystem in India for the cannabis industry. Starting with hemp fibre, BOHECO has partnered with Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) for medical research on cannabis in India.
In December 2017, it raised a seed round of Rs 6.25 crore from a group of investors including Ratan Tata and Google’s India MD Rajan Anandan. BOHECO has since ventured into R&D efforts involving seed breeding, nanotechnology, materials science, health & nutrition, textiles, post-harvest techniques, and hemp-based sustainable building material. Chirag Tekchandaney, Co-founder and Director, Marketing and People at Boheco answers a few questions about the startup.
YourStory: What made you look into cannabis research, as you initially started with hemp fibre alone?
Chirag Tekchandaney: When we began research on hemp’s history, we realised that in various geographies all over the world and throughout history, the crop was used for its fibre. The impressive tensile strength of hemp fibre along with the low maintenance needed in hemp’s cultivation made it a no-brainer, we had to start with the fibre. The fact that India is a textile nation especially compelled us to focus our efforts to enable the percolation of hemp fibre in both large-scale and cottage industries.
Since the inception of BOHECO, however, our aim was to bring to India a crop that could solve multiple problems. Cannabis in its entirety is such a crop, useful for applications in textiles, construction, energy, medicine and food. Given the impression of cannabis in India as a narcotic, we felt that the most important step for us would be to research cannabis thoroughly before introducing it into our ecosystem.
We wish to dispel the image of cannabis as a drug, and through science prove that it is so much more. Therefore, we continually seek both traditional knowledge as well as refer to scientific studies of cannabis to bring this vision to fruition.
YS: Which are the various products you are exploring and the regulatory framework for them?
CT: At the moment, we work very closely with hemp textiles. We occupy a unique space in the hemp textiles industry in India, having a wide range of hemp and hemp-blended powerloom fabrics curated from the world, as well as domestic handloom varieties made from hemp, Himalayan nettle and cotton. We have two in-house brands, B Label and B Label Handlooms. B Label’s Sativa 188 Series encompasses a range of day and evening wear for men and women made from organically grown and naturally dyed hemp fabric. The styles span from formal to informal and classic to contemporary.
B Label Handlooms is our collection of hemp handloom stoles, which we create in partnership with women weavers of Uttarakhand, who blend hemp yarn with lamb’s wool, organic cotton and oak silk to create stoles.
Moreover, we also have natural cold-pressed hemp seed oil for hair and skin applications.
As for the regulatory framework that allows us to do so, Section 22 of the national policy on National Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act for industrial cannabis states: “CULTIVATION OF CANNABIS FOR HORTICULTURAL AND INDUSTRIAL PURPOSES —Cannabis plant can be a source of biomass and fibre for industrial purposes. Cannabis seeds can be used to produce cannabis seed oil—a high-value oil. Some countries license cultivation of cannabis varieties, which have very low content of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the active ingredient which has the intoxicating effect. These varieties of cannabis are used to produce fibres which are, in turn, used in the production of fabrics and for the production of biomass.”
YS: What has been your growth so far?
CT: We have a revenue of Rs 1 crore, around 5,060 unique clients and 17 full-time employees.
YS: How do you plan to use the funding you have raised?
CT: In the entire financing round, we raised a total sum of Rs 6.25 crore from various investors including Mr Tata. The plan is to use the money for growth of our consumer-facing garment and accessory line B Label to increase distribution channels. We also aim to add more firepower to our research projects and are in process of tying up with B2B industry partners to develop value-added products for the Indian and global markets.
YS: What are your future plans?
CT: Our plan is to undertake as many projects as we can to ensure that our mission to educate the Indian masses about the safe and legal uses of hemp is realised. Textile collaborations with big and small designers are under way, exploring the use of hemp in interior upholstery, bags, accessories and clothing. We want to also assert India’s place in the international hemp industry – be it textiles, food or medicine. To this effect, we are seeking partnerships through which we can be present at international trade fairs.
More importantly, we are working simultaneously to develop technology in India that can help process domestic hemp fibre for industrial uses. We have tied up with various government and academic institutions, like IIT for hemp fibre processing. In the medicine arena, our efforts recently bore fruit in the form of an official licence to our partner, the CSIR Institute, to research cannabis for medicine. For food, we are working with the FSSAI to obtain the clearance to sell hemp-based food products for consumption.