Planning to be Hempreneur? Here is What You Need to Know About the Trillion Dollar Industry
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A quick Google search about hemp will leave you with two thoughts – one, hemp is a cash-rich crop and second, guilt for not making most of it.
Slowly and steadily, native entrepreneurs have started to realize the potential of the hemp, which is poised to be known as a trillion dollar cash crop. For instance, did you know one can produce roughly about 33,000 products from a hemp plant? These products can range across the sector from pharmaceutical to renewables to constructions and textile.
But more importantly, hemp advocates sustainability – the hot topic of the decade and coming ones.
Having said that, starting a hemp startup in a country like India is not cake walk as the plant is still misunderstood as marijuana, even though its lower THC levels makes it safe for industrial use.
So if you are planning to enter the hemp industry, here are a few points you need to keep in mind.
Hemp is state government subject in India. And as of now, only the State Government of Uttarakhand has legalized the production of industrial hemp.
For the cultivation of the industrial hemp, you need to write to the District Magistrate of the proposed production region. Additionally, the license holder can only use certified seeds with less than 0.3 per cent THC levels and the permission to import the seeds can be obtained from the respective district collector’s office.
Coming to the products, Rohit Sharma, Founder, and President, IIHA says one cannot source leaves and flowers while fibre can be sourced directly from local entrepreneurs or the association. Also, when it comes to the products, there are multiple nodal agencies involved depending on what are you planning to manufacture.
“For the ayurvedic products, you need permission from the Aayush department. While on the other side, as of now, one also cannot produce food items as the FSSAI is still working out on the hemp framework and the case is more or less the same with pharmaceutical products as the rules of the sector with regards to plant is quite vague,” he shared.
If you are wondering, why the other state governments have not followed the Uttarakhand route – then well you can happily blame our politicians for this.
According to Sharma, every time the association speaks to the state government about the legalization and immense potential of the hemp, the state governments first sound excited about it and then, drop the idea citing it as a potential issue that could be flagged by opposition parties.
“This is a vicious circle. Even when the opposition comes to power, they have similar concerns and this goes on and on. It is high time that political parties keep their vested interest aside, look at the bigger picture to unlock the opportunities and support local farmers along with domestic entrepreneurs,” he pointed out.
Additionally, if you are looking to build a venture in this space, remember the industry is at a very nascent stage. Hence, Tarun Jami, Founder & Managing Partner - GreenJams Infrastructures believes that it is important for hempreneurs to be thoroughly educated about the plant and also have the ability to educate the masses.
“It also becomes paramount to educate businesses about the plant and its products so that they can be directly involved in the eco-system. Therefore, a hemp startup must be strong with its business communications and have robust strategies to effectuate the same,” he added.
In the last few years, both globally and locally, there's a lot of euphoria surrounding hemp and its products. Considering the fact, lobby groups around the world are touting thousands of uses of the plant, it's easy for the average person to get excited.
“One must understand the plant for what it is - just another commodity that deserves its due respect and efforts. The required work must be put in to make it a successful product on the market. The startup must also focus on specific products it wants to make with the plant and not succumb to the do-it-all delusions,” Jami explained.
While on the other side, Shreyans Kokra from Fibre Labs says the internet speaks of a lot of optimistic potentials, however, it is very important to assess the present situation realistically.
“How many hemp products are changing hands at good scale as of today? Not many. In such a case, Hempreneurs really need to understand if they have a viable product and scales can be brought to it, without losing self in the stories of mere potential,” Kokra said.
Building the Market
More or less, hemp products rarely have a qualitative edge over other competitive products, but the plant still demands to be marketed right and well in order to replace the products customers are habituated with.
For acceptability, Shikha Shah, Founder, Fibre Labs says, “People aren't aware and won't easily accept the problems that are caused by the textiles or cement industries. There needs to be a push to create demand and hemp should be presented as a solution to these problems.”
Considering the excitement around the plant, it is only a matter of time that the market would get crowded. So, how do you stand out in the crowded market?
Innovation – is the word you are looking for.
Jami says startups must have a clear vision of their USP and be able to carve a niche in the market that only they can fulfil, which will be possible only with innovation. Another important reason why innovation becomes important is that hemp products need to be able to stand up to the existing competition.
“Since hemp is a natural material that was long discontinued and forgotten, it must play catch-up with its synthetic counterparts that have seen tremendous technological advancement. Hemp startups should be able to deliver results that trump the existing competition,” he noted.