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Posted on December 16, 2019 by staff

KisanHub is sustainable start-up behind your roast potatoes

KisanHub is sustainable start-up behind your roast potatoes

Where did your festive potatoes start their journey?
Where did your festive potatoes start their journey?

The next time you raise a glass of beer to your lips, take a second to think about the journey it has taken to get there.

You may be thinking of malting, mashing, fermentation or conditioning. Yet brewers are mapping out the entire process months before the core ingredients such as grain even reach their factories.

“When you eat your roast potatoes at Christmas or drink your beer in a pub in London or New York , some grower somewhere has planted that seed and that’s come through a supply chain to get to your lips,” KisanHub co-founder Giles Barker explains to BusinessCloud.

KisanHub has been chosen as the most innovative technology company in its region after independent judges and our readers voted it into first place in the East of England Tech 50 ranking.

East of England Tech 50 ranking in full

The firm provides its agricultural intelligence software to the likes of local producers Spearhead Potatoes, Bugress Farm Produce and Manor Fresh along with Anheuser-Busch InBev, which counts Fosters and Stella Artois among its brand names.

Kisan

“One of the things all our clients are focused on is how they can grow more sustainable crops,” says Barker (above). “Our platform is being used around the world to promote sustainable growing practices and use of natural resources, be it land or water.

“The KisanHub platform is used to connect directly with those growers, who all have access to the application, to supply information about how to grow that crop more sustainably.

“But throughout the season the growers will also enter data, which will then be fed back to our clients so they can track how that crop is progressing. So they can receive earlier insights about the quality and quantity of the crop, which means they can forward plan.

“They also get information about the sustainability of how that crop has been grown. How much water did it need? How much fertiliser is being used? When was that crop harvested? Where did it come from? When was it delivered to the factory?

“Having all that in one place means you’re able to aggregate that data quickly, create insight for AB InBev as a business and also provide that back to the grower to help them grow a more sustainable, high-quality crop going forward.”

Former COO Barker set up KisanHub with CEO Dr Sachin Shende (below) in 2013 after the pair met at Cambridge Judge Business School. Before his business management studies, Barker used to help out with lambing and fruit-picking on the family farm barely 15 miles from KisanHub’s Cambridge base.

Kisan

Adopting Kisan, the Hindi word for farmer, is a nod to Dr Shende’s nationality. He hails from farming stock in India.

“Sachin worked in the financial industry where fund managers have all the digital and software tools in front of them to take informed decisions using data,” says Barker. “We saw the opportunity for farmers to analyse their data and optimise like other industries have. Optimising can cut costs and increase profit margin, but also grow more produce using less resource, which is vital for the growing population. You can’t measure unless you’re collecting data.

“We were a bit naive about the possibilities in the early stages of the business: we wanted to count every single farmer in the world as a client. Over time, we started focusing on selling our software to the companies the farmers supplied to rather than the farmers themselves.

“That gave us an economy of scale: rather than selling to 1,000 individual farmers, you’re then selling into one big corporate, which makes it easier.”

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Backed with more than £5 million venture capital and angel investment, the enterprise SaaS platform can help farmers to manage crops through pest and disease outbreaks as well as increasingly unpredictable weather events.

“We work a lot of potato producers in the UK and they’ve had it really tough for the last two years: the year before last there was a cold snap and then not a lot of rain; then this year we had a real deluge of rain towards the end of the season,” says Barker. “Parts of Lincolnshire, a real potato-producing area, were underwater.

“The consumer still goes to buy their potatoes like nothing like nothing has changed but the farmers had to go through massive different stresses to make sure that stays there and that the quality is right.

“Sometimes you may get a bit of a dodgy potato, a bit brown or a bit green, but that’s not because the farmer hasn’t tried. One of the things we can do is tell that story to help consumers understand.”

The majority of KisanHub’s business is with fresh produce companies in the UK. However it also has other clients in India as well as South and North America. “In the next 12 months we’ll definitely have a UK focus,” says Barker. “We’ve got some good traction but we need to double down on the UK market because there is a big opportunity there.

“That will then give us the information and confidence we need to be able to enter a new market properly. What’s also quite nice about what we do is there’s quite a bit of network effect: quite a lot of the time UK clients will have a parent company with operations globally.”

East of England Tech 50 ranking in full

Barker is full of praise for the Cambridge deep tech ecosystem, which was heavily represented in our Tech 50 ranking. However it will present a challenge when he is looking to supplement and retain the firm’s 40 staff.

“One of the things we emphasise in the company is that we want people who are technically superior, but we also want a balance of people with an agriculture background to make sure we stay true to our roots,” he says. “We are able to attract and retain some really good talent because we’re quite mission-focused and an exciting opportunity.

“A lot of my friends who were brought up in cities don’t have much of a connection with how their food is produced. I don’t think the consumer wants to be informed about everything, but we can provide the information about where food is produced to people who are interested.

“I think the ability to provide that information – and help develop a more sustainable food supply chain – is important and very impactful.”