Offering Green Solutions as Balm for Bruised Earth

Thiruvananthapuram: Aeka Biochemicals Pvt. Ltd. (www.aekabiochem.com) is the first fully women-owned biotech and biochemical startup in Kerala. Conceived as a vague dream during their college days, and solidified into reality in June, 2014, the company was founded by Aardra Chandra Mouli and Gayathri Thankachi both natives of Thiruvananthapuram. Currently, Aeka’s activities include manufacture of biotechnological, biochemical and enzymatic products, and extracts of biological origin, providing environmental (green) solutions, extraction of biochemicals from natural sources and research for development of products with applications in environmental remediation.

Though launched as a boot-strapped venture, Aeka became eligible for soft loan provided under Kerala State Entrepreneur Development Mission (KSEDM) scheme launched by the State Government in association with Kerala Financial Corporation (KFC) in November 2014. The company has its laboratory and small-scale production unit at Vazhuthacaud which runs primarily on solar power.

Both Aardra and Gayathri were classmates during BTech in Biotechnology and Biochemical Engineering course at Sree Chitra Thirunal College of Engineering. As Aardra puts it candidly, the decision to set up the company was a spontaneous one. “I always wanted to start something of my own. After finishing BTech, I did MBA from Warwick University. Meanwhile, Gayathri was working here. One day in early 2014, during a routine get-together of friends, I told her that I am going to start a company based on Biotechnology. Are you with me? Her reaction was like, Ok, fine. That was the beginning,” says Aardra, in an exclusive chat with Destination Kerala.

Excerpts from the interview

What is special about Aeka’s products?

Launched in October 2015, the ‘Sasya’ range of microbial plant growth promoters is a series of microbial consortia of select species of naturally occurring soil microorganisms developed and tailored to serve the needs of different scales and types of farming.

The range consists of the following products: Sasya Sutra – for nursery and garden use, via seed and root treatment; Sasya Mitra – for kitchen, home or terrace gardens, and small farms, via foliar application; Sasya Raksha – for gardens, and farms, via foliar application; Sasya Poshak – for large farms, via seed, root and foliar application and Sasya Poshak+ – for plantations, via seed, root and foliar application.

We are working in association with individuals and collectives for the demonstration and application of our products in their gardens, farms and plantations. We are currently supplying our products to clients across Kerala, as well as farmers and planters in Karnataka, Telangana and Tamil Nadu directly and through distributors and retailers. The response from the small as well as the large-scale customers has been very encouraging, with them providing very positive feedback about results and efficacy of the products and services and their level of satisfaction.

What is the total investment in the project so far? What are your plans to scale up the business?

Our total investment till date comes to Rs. 37 lakh and the total turnover from all activities for 2015-16 is Rs. 17 lakh. The goal is to cross Rs. 50 lakh in 2020, and have a pan-India presence by 2025. We are now in the process of widening the Sasya range of products, which will be launched tentatively in October this year. We are also in the initial stages of design and development of new ‘green solutions’.

The core commitment of Aeka is to focus on the environment. Our goal is to maximise output using optimal amount of input – be it time, effort or capital, while consciously reducing and helping to reduce the effect left behind by the ‘human footprint’ on the Earth. We are always on the lookout for people from all spheres, including science, technology and business, who share the same kind of vision and values so that we may forge strong and meaningful alliances that are based on these core principles.

Being a women-owned biotech company in Kerala, what were the challenges that you had to face? 

It has to be said that we are asked this question in one form or the other so often! The challenges that the team at Aeka faced in the past two years had very little to do with our gender, and very much to do with the general hiccups that all startups and professionals face during their growth phase.

How do you plan to promote women entrepreneurship in Kerala?

We can offer mentoring and practical advice to budding young entrepreneurs and help them become part of the network of women leaders in our State. However, we still are not a very startup-friendly state, though both government mechanisms and private bodies are stepping up efforts to ease the process of setting up new enterprises.

Looking back, how do you feel?

It is a bit early for us to comment on this. We are focused on being contributors to the cause of undoing the very serious damage that we as a species have inflicted upon Earth. It is very heartening to see how quickly we in Kerala have understood the need and importance of shifting to and following organic and sustainable agricultural practices. We have a long way to go, and need to actively work towards catching up!

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