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[Startup Bharat] How Chandigarh-based AgNext impacts the food trade with IoT and agri analytics

Sohini Mitter ( )
·7-min read

Taranjeet Singh Bhamra has been “passionate” about agriculture since childhood. The interest translated into an agricultural and food engineering degree from IIT-Kharagpur, where he went on to write a dissertation on ‘Crop Nutrient Modeling’. 


He tells YourStory, “At IIT-KGP, I had exposure to numerous cases where data-driven technologies like crop simulation were used in agriculture. I was convinced that data-ingested technologies would emerge as the game-changer for agriculture. This [idea] that morphed into AgNext many years later.”


AgNext founder

Taranjeet Singh Bhamra, Co-founder and CEO, AgNext

AgNext, incubated at IIT-KGP’s Science and Technology Entrepreneurs Park, is a precision agriculture platform that solves issues in food quality, food safety, food traceability, with AI-led devices and agri analytics


Before entrepreneurship, however, Taranjeet earned an MBA degree from IIM-Calcutta, and worked with consulting companies across India, Middle East, and Africa, before returning to the country in 2015.  


He started AgNext in 2016 with his IIM-C batchmates (and co-founders) Mrigank Sharad and Deepak Jaiswal out of Chandigarh, a city soaked in a culture of innovation and research, and fast emerging as a startup hub. 


The co-founder and CEO shares,


“We looked to focus on the quality of processes associated with food procurement, and drive cost optimisations using data analytics at the intersection of agri buying and selling. The IIT-KGP incubation centre also gave us access to a large talent base in the field of computer vision and molecular analysis. We could harness new-age devices and AI-based methodologies to process agri data.”


Soon after its inception, AgNext received about $90,000 in grants from the Karnataka Startup Cell to begin its operations. 


Team AgNext

AgNext has a 70-member team.

What the IoT-led platform solves

AgNext has built a proprietary food monitoring platform known as ‘Qualix’ that uses advanced technologies like computer vision, spectroscopy, and IoT-based sensing devices to capture crop and molecular food data, and then combine it with AI-led data sciences to arrive at insights and analysis. 


The startup deploys portable, on-field devices in farms, which are connected remotely to its Qualix platform for instant molecular analysis of fresh produce, detection of contamination, and tracking of farmer-wise procurement.


Taranjeet explains,


“Across India, most crops are assessed manually, leaving room for multiple inconsistencies and manipulations that often lead to losses across the agricultural value chain. We built a solution that extracts instant data streams and removes subjectivity, digitises transactions, and brings about traceability. Qualix can help agribusinesses leapfrog their procurement process and produce food of the highest quality.” 


AgNext
AgNext

AgNext’s agri analytics-as-a-service targets B2B clients like plantation companies, food processors, procurement agencies, and agribusinesses. 


The co-founder explains, “Agribusinesses need technologies for instant and on-spot detection in order to ensure quality of trade, warehousing, and processing. The entire supply chain thrives on the quality of produce, and that is where we want to make a difference with data.”


In addition to providing data to agribusinesses and food companies, AgNext also serves farmers by informing them of crop practices, commodity quality management, and other agri news and updates — all supplied through an app. 


The startup believes that a “transparent system” brings about fair pricing for farmers, and the crop quality reports offered by its tech platform allow them to improve farm output and manage inventory better. 


AgNext
AgNext

Business model and growth plans

In three years, AgNext has impacted over two lakh farmers in India. 


It presently focuses on verticals like beverages (tea, milk, coffee, cocoa), grains (rice, wheat, maize, barley), oilseeds (soyabean, mustard), spices (turmeric, chilli, pepper, ginger, menthol), and animal feed (where it determines metrics like moisture, protein, fat, starch, fibre and ash content). 


The startup operates on a SaaS-based revenue model that combines both hardware and analytics in a single annual or monthly subscription. 


Without divulging revenues or growth rates, the founder shares, “Our mission is that five percent of the global food has to move through our platform in the next five years to ensure food safety, sustainability, and traceability.”


Tea farmers _Unilever

Photo Credit: Unilever

One of AgNext’s biggest successes has come in the tea industry. 


India is one of the largest tea-producing countries in the world. Of late, however, tea exports have suffered a setback, while the demand for tea is surging in countries like Kenya and Sri Lanka.


Tea prices have also seen a steady decline, and tea plantation owners are unable to oversee high production costs, thereby leading to huge losses for tea farmers. 


AgNext deployed its Qualix platform in determining Fine Leaf Count (FLC), which is critical to the tea industry. The tech was able to identify leaves from various classes coming from garden harvest, and create sets of multiple leaf and bud configurations for more objective sampling and faster procurement. 


AgNext_tea

One of AgNext’s biggest successes has come in the tea industry.

Not only tea, but “major milk, grains, spices, and feed businesses are our clients in India”, Taranjeet says, adding, “We have also built strong relationships with the Tea Research Association [in Assam] and other nodal agencies in each vertical to expand our network and solutions.”


AgNext is also making “early inroads” in Africa and Asia, and plans to open two international offices by next year. In India, it looks to double its 70-member team and expand operations across regions.


Taranjeet says, “In future, we would be building a team on quality-based trade, where all these services would be coupled under a single solution to ensure fair trade and direct farm-to-consumer opportunity.”


Funding and industry landscape 

AgNext raised seed funding from a-IDEA National Academy of Agricultural Research Management, a Hyderabad-based food and agribusiness accelerator, in 2017.  In 2018, it raised funds from agritech-focused VC Omnivore for scaling its R&D operations. 


In 2019, it went on to raise a pre-Series A round from Kalaari Capital to expand its product portfolio. Overall, AgNext has raised about $4.3 million, according to Tracxn.


At the time of funding, Vani Kola, MD of Kalaari Capital, said,


“AgNext is a great example of India-first innovation in precision agriculture that can scale globally. Its cost-effective and unique technology can offer tremendous savings to agribusinesses and affiliated growers both at pre-and-post-harvest stages by improving quality and traceability across the agri value chain.”


AgNext milk



AgNext’s competitors include the likes of Gramophone, Plantix, Aigroedge, Fasal, FarmERP, CropIn, and others in an increasingly competitive precision agriculture market poised to reach $11.3 billion by 2024.


Overall, the global food safety testing market is estimated to be worth over $24 billion by 2025, according to Global Market Insights.


The agritech sector is also reaping the benefits of the government’s push through an array of startup-friendly initiatives such as Agri-Udaan, Atal Innovation Mission, Make in India, Startup India, and the recently amended Essential Commodities Act. 


Taranjeet sums up by saying, “Billions of dollars’ worth of food moves across the commodity value chains from production and storage to trade, processing, and consumption. It is only with the use of innovative tech that we can address growing food safety concerns.”



(Edited by Teja Lele Desai)

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