Everything about entrepreneurship, the good, bad and the ugly of it, fascinates me. I take a keen interest on startups and venture capital firms and have written extensively on fundraises, M&As and business strategies. I can safely say changing tracks from engineering to journalism has been one of my best decisions. When not working, I indulge in almost every Indian's poison, cricket, playing or watching. I am a foodie and video game buff.
Two of Triton Foodworks’ five co-founders quit after a brush with Delhi’s municipal authorities, but Deepak Kukreja (sitting), Ullas Samrat (left) and Dhruv Khanna (right) decided to stay put
Image: Madhu Kapparath
When Ullas Samrat and Dhruv Khanna spoke after a long hiatus in the summer of 2014, they had a lot to share. The childhood friends had drifted apart when Khanna relocated to Singapore for a master’s degree in 2013, while Samrat stayed back in Delhi to work in his family’s lighting business.
On that call, they mostly spoke about where their lives were headed. Samrat was figuring out a way to keep his mother, who suffered from a lung disorder, away from Delhi’s air pollution. His plan to shift his mother to a farmhouse on the outskirts was struck down by doctors—pesticides, soil and dust at the farms would do her no good. This got him thinking about farming without soil. Khanna, stationed in Singapore, was building his own startup, one that aspired to make TVs smart.
A few minutes into the conversation, both figured they wanted to do something more “meaningful and impactful in life”. Working on a sustainable farming module could be a good starting point, the friends agreed.
“When I told Dhruv about soilless farming, he called me back in three days and said there are a few startups in Singapore [like Comcrop] doing the same. Dhruv said he would be visiting India in a couple of months and if we could figure out a pilot by then, he could work on his startup from Delhi and relocate,” says Samrat, 28, in a phone interview.
Khanna, also 28, did return in September. By then, the duo had sold their dream to three others—Devanshu Shivnani, Deepak Kukreja and Vaibhav Batra. In October they set up Triton Foodworks and started out by growing strawberries hydroponically—without the use of soil, in a nutrient-rich medium using water as solvent—on a plot in Delhi’s Sainik Farms, where Samrat’s family owned some land. The yield was heartening—eight tonnes, which fetched them a profit of about ₹3.5 lakh.
The five founders, all in their twenties, were elated as the dream to create something impactful had started to take wing. Hydroponics was the way forward for sustainable agriculture, they concluded. First, hydroponics requires 60-80 percent less water than conventional farming. Second, one can practise high-density cultivation with hydroponics. Third, since there is no soil involved, there is no scope of lacerating the soil with pesticides and other chemicals.
Explains Kukreja, 39, “In soil cultivation, plant spacing has to be maintained because the plants compete for minerals, but here, since we feed the plants with precision, it gives us the scope to increase plant density. We can also grow vertically for small and compact plants like strawberries, lettuces and herbs.”
He adds, “In conventional farming we have to do crop rotation to avoid soil erosion and avoid problems like nematodes and pests, but hydroponics gives us the advantage to cultivate a certain crop throughout the year.”
In hydroponics, since there is no soil involved, the farmer is free to cultivate the same crop repeatedly