Founders: Kaushik Kappagantula ’17 and Partners
Years in Business: 3
Location: Hyderabad, India
Greenhouse Cost: $4,400 ($400 Down + $4,000 Loan)
Kaushik Kappagantula ’17 and his co-founders think their company can ease poverty in rural India, where 100 million small farmers struggle to make a living. Kheyti sells a modular, 5,000-square-foot Greenhouse-in-a-Box, and customers receive advising from Kheyti staff. Kheyti (Sanskrit for “farming”) earned a grant from the Tamer Fund for Social Ventures and a win at the 2017 Columbia Venture Competition. Here, Kappagantula shares Kheyti’s story.
Stopping the Flood
I worked in rural India doing vocational training for students, mostly from farming families, who had dropped out of school. I saw that a main cause of the poverty crisis was the failure of farming. There are 400 million people depending on agriculture, yet 85 percent of India’s small farmers lose money. I felt like I was trying to stop a flood without seeing the source.
Searching for Solutions
Farmers would tell us how they worked hard all year, but almost every year an external factor like rain, excessive heat, or pests would make their work useless. They said the situation was getting worse because of climate change—it’s hotter, there are more pests, and the monsoons are less predictable.
Our greenhouse uses netting to stop pests. We have moveable cloth shading for cooling in the summer, when temperatures can reach 113 degrees. That, along with a drip irrigation system, lets farmers use 90 percent less water and produce seven times more crops compared with open agriculture.
We use partnerships to scale our business. We don’t provide loans to farmers directly; we partner with banks that believe in our mission. We also created a concept called Kheytiwala where we designate farmers in our program as part-time employees to aggregate questions from farmers and communicate them to us and to coordinate logistics.
Building the Business
We have 54 farmers and have signed partnerships with two farmer collectives to add 1,000 farmers over the next year.
In business school, the Top Management Process course drilled into me the concept of values-based leadership. Our processes are structured with the farmer at the center. Having the values defined helps when dealing with the farmers, who are making investments that are life or death for them.