This scientist-turned-entrepreneur sold her apartment to fund her green farming solutions startup
Shahnaz Shaikh, and her husband, Khalil Shaikh, started Microbiz Network India in 2013 to replace hazardous pesticides with a range of 'green' products for effective pest management.Rekha Balakrishnan
Gfoing back to our roots is what most of us dream of. But some like Shahnaz Shaikh actually take the plunge to work from the ground up, literally.
Shahnaz, along with her husband Khalil Shaikh, started Microbiz Network India in 2013 with a vision to replace highly hazardous pesticides with the support of agro-ecology. What it means for the farmer is that he has access to a range of products for effective pest management with the help of “green” solutions.
Sowing an idea
To understand this “down-to-earth” turn in Shahnaz’s life, it’s imperative to go back to how it all began.
She spent her childhood in different towns of the Marathwada region and after completing her MSc in microbiology, started working as a junior scientist in an agriculture microbial fertiliser unit. After she got married in 1998, Shahnaz settled down in Solapur. Meanwhile, Khalil, an electronics and computer engineer, started taking interest in his ancestral farmland.
Shahnaz explains, “During this period, he was facing issues related to pest infestation in crops in the fruit orchards. He used to discuss them with me, and during one of these conversations, we decided to find a green and clean solution for sustainable farming and pest management. That’s how the seed of our startup got sown in 2001.”
However, it took 12 years of research, developing prototypes, and conducting field trials before the product entered the market in 2013.
Shahnaz lists some of the major reasons for developing an electronic pest control trap.
- Damage caused by pesticides to human health, biodiversity, environment and ecology, several governments have imposed a ban on the use of toxic agrochemicals for pest management.
- In the event of such bans, farmers are left with limited options for crop/plant protection.
- The resistance developed by insects against insecticides further increased the cost of insect pest management, and the same would be in the range of Rs 10,000 – Rs 1 lakh per season.
- Farmers, plant protection professionals, and scientists across the world are struggling to find green cleantech solutions to manage the havoc created by pests to minimise the loss of yield.
A trap to the rescue
Shahnaz says that with the invention of the Artificially Intelligent Pest Control Trap, Microbiz Network India has been able to address issues related to insect pest management successfully. This device enables millions of farmers, backyard gardeners and households across the world to eliminate herbivorous and omnivorous insects/pests that are harmful to plants and crops while being safe for beneficial carnivorous insects and bees.
The AIPCT reduces the cost of pest management by 90 percent and increases saleable yield by 97 percent, thereby improving the price value of farm produce by at least 50 percent and positively impacting the health of farmer.
It also helps improve the quality of the food we eat, the air we breathe in, the water we drink, and the soil we use to grow food. Available in four models, the AIPCT costs between Rs 40,000 and Rs 65,000.
In 2004, the couple shifted to Mumbai and are working out of their Mira Road office. Funding a dream is never easy, says Shahnaz.
She recalls, “The toughest moment I have faced is selling my apartment to raise money to start up. I lost a significant sum of this money in creating a network of 600+ sales agents across India for sales and promotion of our technology and product. Our sales strategy failed miserably and we lost a significant portion of the working capital.”
“However, we soon did a course correction and started investing in digital marketing techniques through social media to target the right audience by sharing sufficient information with them to convert them into potential buyers. The move paid off and our sales jumped. Our venture achieved the most significant success when we started receiving purchase orders from African and Gulf countries,” she adds.
As of now, the business is self-funded but Shahnaz says that if it gets funding at the right valuation, they are ready to trade a minor percentage of the shares for equity funding. The startup is also incubated at Atal Innovation Centre, Banasthali Vidyapeeth.
She adds, “Our future plan is to continue research and development work on the next generation of Artificially Intelligent Pest Control Technology.”
The founder says that the beta trials of the company’s AI3GENICS technology-based products will start from the second quarter of the year 2020.
“We are working on building a nationwide distribution network. From the next fiscal, we shall work on registering our presence in the global market with the right kind of partnerships with distributors in various countries worldwide,” adds Shahnaz.
(Edited by Saheli Sen Gupta)