[The Turning Point] A conversation with a world-renowned scientist inspired this entrepreneur to help farmers through precision agriculture

The Turning Point is a series of short articles that focuses on the moment entrepreneurs hit upon their winning idea. This week, we feature Delhi-based plant bioscience startup Absolute, which helps farmers with precision agriculture solutions using phytology, microbiology, and AI technology.
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In May this year, Absolute Foods - a plant bioscience startup, raised $100 million in its first institutional funding round from Sequoia Capital India, Alpha Wave Global, and Tiger Global Management.

Founded in 2015 by Agam Khare, with Prateek Rawat joining as a co-founder later, the Delhi-headquartered company provides precision agriculture solutions using phytology, microbiology and AI technology.

It offers software solutions to control farm hardware systems, and collects data on an regularly basis from IoT devices, sensor suites, hardware systems, and satellite sources. It then feeds it into proprietary machine-learning algorithms to produce actionable insights.

Team at Absolute

“We will use the funds raised to bolster our three core platforms–the bioscience platform, Universal Farm OS, and the global trade platform. This capital will also help us in hiring talent and scaling to newer markets and segments,” said Prateek in mail responses.

In today’s Turning Point, we speak to Agam to understand how he came up with his winning idea.

Words of inspiration

“In 2015, we started as a research initiative to study microscopic details of nature’s molecular building blocks that impact agricultural yield and quality,” says Agam, Founder and CEO.

The idea to build this was inspired by the world-renowned scientist and 11th President of India, Dr APJ Abdul Kalam and his call for the next big revolution in agriculture, says Agam.

He was part of the founding team of Kalam Foundation from 2011 to 2012. Here, he worked closely with Dr Kalam on a range of issues, including agri productivity. He then went on to launch and scale an industrial robotics and factory automation company, Vertex Group of Companies, working across various sectors, including food and beverage, pharma, auto, oil and gas, steel and cement from 2012 to 2016.

“One day in early 2012, at his residence, Dr Kalam presented two simple and profound thoughts,” recalls Agam. How to build a world where all stakeholders win while solving humanity’s grandest and most fundamental challenges-clean air, clear water, and clean food? And, what kind of a world will we leave behind?

This presented an opportunity to solve these grand challenges by radically improving agricultural performance to potentially impact farmer livelihoods, consumer health, and environmental sustainability.

“And, that gave rise to the seed we call Absolute,” shares Agam.

Words to action

The company started by building a fully autonomous indoor vertical farm on the outskirts of Delhi in 2015, and later in Okhla in 2017.

The farm was majorly run on the hydroponic model, where the cultivation of plants happens in nutrient-enriched water, with or without the mechanical support of an inert medium such as sand, gravel, or perlite and aeroponic model – growing plants in an air or moist environment to greenhouse farms.  

The company used these farms as the base of experiments in collecting over 30,000 data points to set conditions suitable for any specific plant to grow.

“We arrived at a robust technology structure, which was by far one of the most cost and tech optimal systems to exist in the world, almost 1/10th of the average global cost,” says Agam. “However, we still could not find a scalable fit for the produce from them in the world, especially in developing economies like India.”

This is when Team Absolute realised that to reap the benefits, one has to democratise the technology for everyone - across all types of farms and across all growing practices, and build a full-stack solution enabled by natural or biological innovations across the agri value chain

“We then deployed our technological capabilities to build a network of open farms and greenhouses where we have been helping farmers dramatically increase yields, improve quality and eliminate persistent issues that exist in the traditional farming system,” adds Prateek.

To the future

Absolute currently has a plant bioscience R&D platform BioX, a farm operating system (FARM OS), and a global trade platform for the produce. Absolute’s Farm OS generates actionable insights based on inputs from the likes of sensors, satellite feeds, and others to the farmers for optimal growing conditions throughout the crop cycle.

“Over the next few years, we aim to build a truly full-stack, proprietary tech platform that originates with the right seeds and concludes at the right market,” shares Prateek.

Absolute has scaled its solution to over 15,000 farmers and has built a team with more than 100 scientists.

(This story has been updated to reflect additional inputs from the company)

Edited by Anju Narayanan

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