PUNE Ecozen Solutions, an agro-tech start-up based in Pune and founded by three graduates of IIT Kharagpur, develops a favorable market for perishables, empowering farmers through solar energy, cold storage facilities accessible and affordable and pump-motor controllers for irrigation. Thanks to clean and innovative technology, this company also reduces the carbon footprint and waste of agricultural products.
The story dates back to 2006, explains Devendra Gupta, co-founder and CEO of Ecozen Solutions. âWhen I joined IIT Kharagpur, my teammate Prateek Singhal was not known to me, nor was Vivek Pandey. We met Vivek through a friend of ours. He was a year younger and graduated in 2012. Our journey and friendship really started when we “sorted” out together at the Hall of Residences on campus. For a year, we were part of different projects and sports teams and that is how the bond really started, âhe recalls.
Says Gupta: âWe built a power harvesting device together. We have also completed various internships at IISc Bengaluru, Siemens and Burj Khalifa. We felt that everything we did in the project and the internships was interesting. It made us think about what we would like to do after our studies. So during the college itself, in 2009, we started to work together. The emphasis was more on energy when we started. We wanted to create affordable, accessible and efficient energy recovery solutions.
âThe institute also asked us to do a similar training. So while they were in college, Ecozen was like an initiative that helped students gain real experience, apply engineering, and create value using that. Every weekend we went to Calcutta to work in a foundry. The cost was covered by the foundry. The students would contribute during the day and go to party in Kolkata at night, âhe said.
The first challenges
Sharing his experiences in the early days, Gupta said, âThe institution has given us recognition. After graduating, we got good offers from reputable foreign institutes to further our studies, as well as job offers from big Indian and multinational companies. During this period, we also met a group of farmers facing various challenges. They had resources like water and fertile land, but the challenge was agriculture dependent on rain-fed irrigation. They weren’t able to harvest as many crops as they could, if they had access to better irrigation. It got us thinking and we thought about building a solar pump controller for irrigation.
âIt was a very difficult time for us. We had many job offers on one side as we all faced personal and health issues. We all come from middle class family backgrounds. It was a very stressful time when health was not good, medical expenses were increasing, and there were job offers that were lucrative that we could eventually take on. We discussed it and said that if we don’t give a chance now, it is less likely that we will have the courage to come back. So, we all independently decided to try it out. We wrote to everyone who offered us a job, thanked them and told them about our decision to walk the path of entrepreneurship.
Working in the agricultural sector is not easy. Gupta says, âWhen we launched our pump controller product, we increased our production, but farmers’ incomes did not increase proportionately. It got us thinking again and we started working on the supply chain side. Then we built the Ecofrost product which allows the farmer to store his products and also to determine where to sell.
Ecotron is a set of intelligent solar powered pump motor controllers with built-in troubleshooting and service detection capabilities. This is a device that can operate in remote areas without the availability of mains power and has remote on / off operation.
Ecofrost is a solar-powered portable cold room based on thermal energy storage, which can maintain low temperatures without any backup power. Both products are strongly integrated with the Internet and provide data on their usage and performance. Ecofrost can be deployed on farms, wholesale markets or packaging plants
Using this data, Ecozen builds a market and algorithms tailored to perishables to improve performance, serviceability and reliability.
âWe believe that technology by itself does not create value. We have seen real life problems be solved and thus create value. It was very satisfying for us and we thought it could turn into something big. Today we have 50,000 customers with a good national market share, âsays Gupta.
Ecozen has also developed a mobile and web-based Eco-Connect platform that facilitates product transaction, allowing farmers to connect with buyers and resellers organized to sell products. This platform served the interests of buyers and farmers equally. âEspecially during the time of the Covid-19 pandemic, we saw that farmers were struggling to push their produce, as markets were open or closed intermittently. With Eco-connect, we have helped farmers bring their products to large organized retailers, and in turn to buyers. We helped them reach the markets. We have been able to add significant value to the supply chain, âexplains Gupta.
What the farmers say
âBy using Ecozen’s cold room, we have been able to maintain the freshness of our flowers, greatly helping our supply chain and our transits. Our customers have come back with positive feedback. The solar powered unit saves on electricity costs and the service provided by the company is valuable, âsays N Yogesh, Red Blossoms, Chikkaballapur, Karnataka.
âThe Ecofrost cold storage facility has benefited our FPO revenue enormously. We pre-cool vegetables, fruits and flowers in a cold store, which helps us remove heat from the field of farm produce. This increases the shelf life of the product up to 1.5 times and 30% more profit, âexplains Manish More, Shatayushi FPO, Pune, Maharashtra.