Futuristic farmers: Making room for mushroom

In an effort to expose agriculture students to the start-up ecosystem, Tamil Nadu Agricultural University has started ‘Agpreun’, an agricultural entrepreneurship club under the directorate of the university’s agribusiness development.
The club, which was on the anvil for the past three years, was formally inaugurated on March 16. It seeks to make argi students entrepreneurs by focusing on selling ‘minimum viable products’.

Speaking about the students’ start-up projects, P Jayaraman, a TNAU alumnus and an entrepreneur, who is also a member of TNAU agribusiness directorate (ABD) says, “It is something which would try to solve a real-time problem in agriculture. The project would need an investment of Rs 2 lakh to Rs to 3 lakh.”

The projects will focus on organic, affordable and easy gardening in urban spaces. One such start-up idea is vertical gardening and indoor landscaping. The project is the brain child of Surya Kiran Vaddadi, 22, and Veera Babu Pulla-final year B Tech horticulture students in the university.

“We might think there is no pollution indoors. But the wall paints we use emit Sulphur dioxide. Our startup idea’s aim is to purify the air and absorb toxic gases by planting house plants like syngonium,” Surya Kiran explains. He said within two months he would finalise the idea and launch it.

Likewise S Satyashree, 21 and Sowmiya Ravi, 21, final year B Tech horticulture students at TNAU have come up with ready-to-grow organic mushroom kits. They say they would plunge into their entrepreneurial venture as soon as they graduate.

The duo had their Eureka moment when they did an experiential learning course in mushroom farming. “We wanted to be entrepreneurs from the start and that’s why we took horticulture,” Satyashree says. “We chose mushroom cultivation as they are hidden treasures,” she explains.

Sowmiya said that though there are a lot of ready-to-grow mushroom kits available in the market, the duo strategized by making it more efficient. A completely organic mushroom kit that can be easily-grown at homes is their unique selling point. One has to just open a slit on the kit and water the mushroom compost. In 10 days he/she can harvest mushrooms at home, they said. “While other commercial kits yield 400 grams to 500 grams of mushrooms for 1.5kg of paddy straw substrate, ours has been proven to yield almost 1kg mushrooms for the same amount of substrate,” Sowmiya says.

The projects will also have iterative modelling, in which they will be bettered with each phase using manageable budgets. Satyashree and Sowmiya got technical support for their project from mushroom research and training centre at the university. For now, they have collaborated with another firm to market their product online.

“The directorate mainly creates a mindset in students to start own businesses through training programmes,” R Murugesan, director of ABD says. It also tries to build confidence in them to take up own businesses. “We not only help them with ideation, but also guide them in refining their technology wherever necessary,” he concludes.

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