Why AgTech is the Evergreen Flavor for Early-Stage Fund Ankur Capital

Answers its Co-founder and Managing Partner Ritu Verma

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Former Unilever and Philips executive Verma launched the seed-stage fund in 2011. It has 12 companies in its portfolio, largely from the agriculture sector apart from food, healthcare, and education. “We largely focus on agriculture which is out of the media radar, unlike e-commerce. However, there are different sub-sectors within the agri value chain and it is a huge industry. It is an interesting time for agriculture that is growing immensely,” says Verma.

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She prefers entrepreneurs with some experience in the field they want to launch their start-ups in. The first few meetings with entrepreneurs, she says, are less about the entrepreneur and more about the idea. Verma highlights three of her portfolio companies and reasons why she backed them.

BigHaat - Agri-commerce platform

The inefficiency in the agri distribution space led Bengaluru-based BigHaat to connect the farmers with the agri product suppliers directly. The start-up sells seeds, products (for plant protection and nutrition), machinery etc., to the farmer, to significantly cut down on the travel time required for the procurement of goods. “On one side they are just intermediating within the system but alongside, similar to ecommerce companies that mine consumer behavior data, BigHaat is mining data such as where the seeds get sowed and sold and which variety brings value to buyers including manufacturers,” says Verma. At scale, the size of the industry is huge. There is a data and information layer on the system that led Verma to take notice of the start-up. It raised funding in December 2016 from Ankur Capital.

Cropin - Farm management solutions

Bengaluru-based Cropin tracks the life-cycle of a crop, from seed to harvest, and turns it digital via the cloud to trace and predict its growth. The start-up uses its low-cost and pay-as-you-go service to gather and structure agri data that earlier remained between farmers and supply chain aggregators. It has so far digitized more than 1 lac farms. “It is interesting to see how it measures the crop after it is sowed. The company has scaled to 3.5 million acres where it tells you what was grown earlier, soil quality, what input went into it since there are years of prediction that is happening,” says Verma. The start-up also uses satellite data and imagery. “This is of great value to the ecosystem including lenders, insurers, buyers etc., globally.” The start-up last year raised funding from Singapore-based early stage fund Beenext. Ankur Capital is among the existing investors.

Agricx - Digital food grading

Lack of food grading is among the key reasons for price and quality disparity that has been in existence in agriculture. This is because high costs, the absence of right technology and awareness to an extent lead to manual grading process which is not always accurate. Agricx’s proprietary technology allows grading of produce using image recognition via smartphone camera. This cuts down the cost and time involved in physical grading. “Agricx focuses on what happens after you grow the crop. The fact that it gives you the detail about the product is what I call digitization of the grading process,” says Verma. The start-up works with cold storage companies and raised $500k from Ankur Capital in February this year. Currently, it offers Software-as-a-Service for certification and grading of potatoes. “It helps in disrupting the supply chain process through the quality assessment process,” she adds.

(This article was first published in the August 2018 issue of Entrepreneur magazine. To subscribe, click here)