These women entrepreneurs aim to transform the fresh food supply chain in India and tap into a market worth $2B
India is the second-largest producer of fruits (81.285 million tonnes) and vegetables (162.19 million tonnes) in the world, and the third-largest fresh retail market with over $500 billion in sales. On the other hand, 40 percent of the food produced in India is either lost or wasted. In 2019, India lost $14 billion in post-harvest food loss.
An evolving technology, by QZense founders Rubal Chib and Dr Srishti Batra, aims to minimise and hopefully, eliminate this loss with its IoT solution that quickly and accurately grades fresh food.
Towards quality produce
The technology employs a unique combination of near-infrared spectral sensors and olfactory sensors for analysis of internal spoilage, ripeness, sweetness, and shelf life.
“The plan is to deploy the technology to the entire supply. However, currently, our immediate target is Indian fresh retailers. This includes the retail chains, e-retailers, and e-tailers since it is convenient and very optimal for them to deploy this technology. We are deploying our technology to the retailer’s warehouses, collection houses, and stores. Our solution will help the retailers and aggregators minimise inventory losses, and capture optimal margins by delivering the finest quality produce to the consumers,” Rubal tells HerStory.
Rubal is an electronics engineer with over eight years of work experience in building IoT products. She has worked with multiple companies like Havells as a senior engineer and also as a core developer in building IOTA, India’s first smart bulb.
Dr Srishti Batra has a PhD in computational biology and chemical ecology from TIFR-NCBS, specialising in biosensors and olfaction, and has research experience of more than 11 years. She has worked extensively in the field of agriculture research and biotechnology, in addition to her research experience in biology+analytics across top universities like Max Planck Institute, University of Minnesota, Lund University, and IISER, Mohali.
One of the biggest challenges for Rubal was to find a co-founder for QZense.
“In fact, I always wanted to start my own venture, but could not find a co-founder with complementary skill sets. Entrepreneur First introduced us to a pool of talented and diverse individuals in our cohort from which I could identify and partner with a like-minded co-founder,” she says.
Piloting the product
QZense has filed its first patent and is beginning a pilot with Waycool for apples. Having shown the features of spoilage and Brix (sweetness), it also wants to deploy the device at the vendor end. Additionally, it is in conversation with Zomato Hyperpure and Mahindra Agri. It has received an investment from HAX, in addition to Entrepreneur First.
In its pilot phase, QZense will start with facilities in Bengaluru and deploy two devices each, at every facility.
“It will be used for procurement and inward quality checks. Our solution will help them grade the commodities based on spoilage and sweetness levels. Also, it will help in delivering high-quality produce to their customers,” Rubal adds.
The biggest challenge for the startup, according to Rubal, was to shortlist the commodities for the initial release, as each commodity requires a huge dataset to be built. To overcome this challenge, the founders constantly worked with some of the leading retailers at the startup’s facilities, to shortlist the high-value, high-volume commodities, and make the solution user-friendly and easy to deploy at the facilities.
“For example, we were under a lot of pressure when our customers started propelling us for multiple and varied commodities, ranging from meat, dairy, to fruits and vegetables. We took a strategic approach by stepping back to understand the situation. We analysed the market economics and needs – in terms of value, volume, and easy deployment of our solution. Thus, while deciding on fruits, we narrowed it down to apples,” Rubal says.
During the one-year startup journey, the founders launched their product, filed one patent, and have been backed by startup accelerator JioGenNext. The proverbial icing on the cake, Rubal says, was being recognised and awarded by Ravi Shankar Prasad, Union Minister for Law and Justice, Electronics and IT portfolios.
QZense has also partnered with the Indian School of Business to do a pilot with the Government of Punjab. The startup is also in the process of raising a seed fund round to scale up its R&D and sales team, and to build and deploy 5,000+ devices.
Further, it plans to capture the major fresh retail stores and warehouses in the four metros — Bengaluru, Mumbai, Chennai, and Delhi. To accomplish this, it is planning to partner with one big retail chain with 5,00+ stores, have a distribution channel, and double the number of employees from the current five to 10 by end of the year.
“There is no reason why women can’t be successful entrepreneurs in India. EF has funded several companies with women founders, and is also headed by a woman Esha Tiwary. In fact, we are an all-women team, and usually at the top of the leaderboard on most occasions,” Rubal says.
Edited by Suman Singh