Startup incubated at IIT-M develops low-cost bio-fertilisers to boost organic farming

25th Apr 2018
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FIB-SOL Life Technologies’ nanofibre applications can improve crop yield and soil fertility. Use of their ultra-lightweight membranes and gel can help fertilise large areas of farmland.  

At a glance

Startup: FIB-SOL Life Technologies

Founder: Anant Raheja, Kavitha Sairam

Year it was founded: 2013

Where it is based: Chennai

The problem it solves: Develops low-cost bio-fertilisers to improve crop yield and soil quality

Sector: Agriculture

Funding raised: Seed funding of Rs 10 lakh from IIT-M Alumni Association

Agriculture is one of the most important sectors in India’s economy. Over 58 percent of rural households depend on agriculture as their principal means of livelihood. However, in the last decade despite technology disrupting most sectors, this industry is yet to see a massive transformation.

But, there has been a spike in interest from the startup community as far as the agritech sector goes. In 2017, agritech startups raised $53 million in 17 deals. This year, too, the sector saw a few startups like Agricx Lab, Agrostar, Agrowave, Agrowood, and others raise funds.

Anant Raheja, Co-founder of FIB-SOL Life Technologies, says: “In the agriculture sector, there is a huge diversity in terms of farming practices, crop types, weather conditions, and - most importantly - the unsaid policies of the region. A lot of business growth depends on the distribution channels and market fluctuations, which can seem completely out of anyone’s control.”

To address this issue and ensure value creation for the entire supply chain in agriculture, FIB-SOL has developed nanofibre technologies to lower costs, improve crop yield, and enhance soil quality. With low-weight biodegradable and low-cost biofertiliser, the platform aims to impact the entire value chain by improving product shelf life for manufacturers, help suppliers stock their inventory in an efficient manner, and boost farmers’ income.

One of their first offerings is an ultra-lightweight membrane to embed agri-inputs, such as fertilisers, pesticides and biostimulants. It is a 5g tissue embedded with bio-actives that can be dissolved in water and used for fertilising an acre of farmland. The second product is a liquid gel (N-SOL SP) available as a 25 ml bottle in the market.
N-FIB 20 is a tissue paper like fertilizer carrying membrane

Both products are said to contain microbes that provide adequate nutrients and make the farmland more fertile. The biodegradable products also claim to leave no harmful residue in the soil.

“We have also seen products being applied during transplantation and seed coating during sowing of crops. We recommend our products for crops like wheat, rice, bajra, soya, ground nut, and many more. With reasonable weather, an application of our products can result in improvement of crop health and increase farm yield up to 20 percent,” Anant claims.

FIB-SOL's wheat farm trial in UP. The left three strands are grown with FIB-SOL formulation and right two are through conventional fertilizer formulation.

FIB-SOL is also working with corporate plantations of tea, coffee, rubber, and others to improve the quality and yield of their produce.

The idea behind FIB-SOL

“I was studying synthesis and properties of polymeric nanofibres for my doctoral thesis. I finally completed this in 2016. I understood that the unique properties of these fibres have huge commercial value. I was keen to create unique nanofibre structure, wherein even at the miniscule dimension of 100 nm, we could have core-shell morphology like we have in coaxial cables used in telecommunications,” Anant says.

This idea struck him while pursuing his doctoral degree in 2012. During this time, the IIT-M alumni affairs office launched an interesting programme to boost entrepreneurship in the biotechnology space. Under the scheme, the alumni affairs office would provide a sum of Rs 10 lakh to biotech.

This seemed a great opportunity for Anant to give wings to his business idea. However, he did have the daunting task of completing his doctoral studies, which he sidelined for some time. Instead, he chose to forward the entrepreneurship programme notification to his research group. This caught the attention of his senior at IIT-M, Kavitha Sairam, who was also subsequently discussing her interest to start up something on biofertilisers at that time. The duo’s alignment of synergies to develop commercial applications of nanofibres led to the birth of FIB-SOL.

Anant, 30, completed his doctoral degree from IIT-Madras in 2016 and his areas of expertise include polymer nanofibres and micro-encapsulation. As the Co-founder of FIB-SOL, he is involved in technology development and liasioning with clients. FIB-SOL’s other Co-founder, Kavitha, 40, also completed her doctorate from IIT Madras and holds expertise in molecular stress signalling pathways. She is involved in company administration and business operations at FIB-SOL. Recently, Kavitha was also among the 25 women stars selected by Forbes India as 'W-Power Trailblazers', honouring women entrepreneurs and female role models in the professional world.

Kavitha Sairam and Anant Raheja

Apart from the co-founders, the core team comprises Gokul NK (22), Gowtham Selvaraj (25), Pramal Biswa (34) (a microbiologist), and Rajashekhar Bijja (33) (a polymer chemist).

Gokul holds a diploma in electrical and electronics engineering along with one year of industrial experience working on power systems. Besides working with FIB-SOL, Gokul is also pursuing his BE degree by attending college on weekends. At FIB-SOL, he is involved in designing and developing instrumentation systems. Gowtham holds an M Tech degree in biotechnology from IIT-Guwahati and is involved in managing production operation and delivery systems at FIB-SOL.

Pramal Biswa and Rajashekhar Bijja completed their doctoral degrees from the IIT-Madras and are involved in R&D.

The platform also has two mentors – Professor TS Chandra from IIT Madras, and Professor TS Natarajan from IIT Tirupathi - to advise the team on technology.

Plans for the future

FIB-SOL claims to be constantly innovating and building use cases for as many crops as possible to help other agri-formulators leveraging FIB-SOL technology for delivery of their farm input formulations. It is looking to develop a B2C sales network for select crops to provide enough data to the platform for further R&D of products.

Moving forward, the startup also plans to develop new business models in the areas of agro-formulations, nanomaterial synthesis and advanced materials. Backed by a six-member team, including the co-founders, FIB-SOL intends to expand the team size and raise funds soon.

The startup, which started selling its products in the market last year, is generating revenue through direct sales of generic products embedded in fibre matrices, and through developing these fibre formulations for other market players.

FIB-SOL’s revenues of around Rs 30,000-40,000 in the first three years came from providing testing services.

Anant highlights that the platform generated income by developing technologies for a few clients as part of their contract research services.

He adds: “Our revenue increased to a few lakh rupees in the fourth year due to the platform’s involvement in nanofibre formulation research for other industries and startups. Since then, our growth trajectory has seen an upside trend with an increase of incoming industrial projects and sales of our FCM and Gel products.”

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