Q&A with founding entrepreneur of GloTech Organics, Augustine Rajendran.
Key words: sustainability, chemical fertilisers, organic farming, cotton farmers, entrepreneurial challenges, toughest decisions
There are over 365 million micro and small enterprises (MSMEs) in the developing world and approximately 30 million in India. 70% of MSMEs do not have to access to finance and business building support to grow. Here lies the big problem. If there is no growth, there are no jobs. And if there are no jobs, how can families, communities, even countries lift themselves out of poverty?
Chilasa has recently invested in GloTech Organics based in the provincial city of Tiruchirappalli in central Tamil Nadu. GloTech employs 9 people and has helped over 15,000 farmers make the transition to sustainable agriculture through their organic fertiliser products. With our financial, marketing, and capacity building support, Augustine has the capabilities to scale his business, multiply his impact, and deliver a return on investment in the years ahead.
Augustine is one in thirty million entrepreneurs that require support. Growing enterprises like GloTech are critical to moving families, communities, and nations out of poverty.
Enjoy meeting Augustine! (He is standing second from the left in the photo below)
CHILASA: Before we talk about GloTech and get your thoughts about sustainable agriculture and organic farming, tell us a little about where you grew up and your education.
AR: I grew up in a small model township in the State of Tamil Nadu built by the Neyveli Lignite Corporation (NLC), where my father worked as an engineer. Lignite is a type of fossil fuel similar to coal and mostly used for power generation. NLC is a government enterprise operating large open cast lignite mines and thermal power plants. The township provided quality schools, gardens in every home and plenty of sporting activities on the campus for the workforce and their families. I played football, volleyball and table tennis and had some great coaches.
I studied agri science and agriculture at the Allahabad Agricultural Institute and received an M.Sc in agronomy from Tamilnadu Agriculture University in Coimbatore. After this, I worked at a fertilizer plant in Research and Development (R&D), and then moved into marketing. It was a frustrating time as the company began to focus less and less on R&D. After 10 years of experience, I decided to start my own research led enterprise and develop products that help farmers reduce their dependency on chemical fertilisers, and transfer to sustainable methods of agriculture.
CHILASA: What did your family feel about you starting GloTech? Were they supportive?
AR: I wouldn’t say they entirely understood why I took the risk of starting my own business, but they are happy that GloTech is doing well. My wife has been understanding and supportive of my venture, which I am grateful for!
CHILASA: You started Glotech in 2007. What has been the biggest challenge you have faced being an entrepreneur, and also the biggest reward?
AR: It is always exciting to spend time researching your product, and thinking of all the benefits it is going to bring to farmers lives and the environment. However, one thing that can easily be forgotten is: Marketing and Sales. In the beginning, I thought it would be easy to find markets for my product, but it was far tougher than I imagined. This is an area I had to work hard at.
Today, it is rewarding to meet new farmers and distributors. I strongly believe that an entrepreneur must be passionate about his products and talk to as many people as possible about them. People will then listen, see value and take interest. It was a very rewarding feeling when I reached a good distributor to take my products to the farmers. Now, with the investment from Chilasa, we will strengthen GloTech’s R&D capacity to add new products and improve our marketing capabilities.
CHILASA: What is a key feature you look for in a person when you are hiring?
AR: When I hire someone, I am not as interested in their intellect, as I am in their ability to think creatively to overcome barriers to progress. When a person is confronted with problems and goes about finding a solution or rectifying it, I am happy to have such a person on board.
CHILASA: What are your thoughts about the organic fertiliser industry in India?
AR: Right now, I think this market is saturated with low quality products. Sadly, not all of these are certified or completely organic. There is little enforcement to maintain standards in this industry. I would like to see more standards for these products so that quality is maintained and farmers can be sure that what they are buying works.
GloTech products have been developed through a rigorous process of research and development and have gone through several iterations to improve quality and efficacy. Initially, I spent over a year on R&D using different methodologies and raw materials (including lignite, ironically!) I was seeing great results in terms of soil pH levels, but realised I hadn’t accounted for the shelf life of the product and processing efforts. I then started all over again, using different raw materials along with my neem base and eventually got more promising results with a good shelf life, standard, and a product that was eligible for organic certification! That got me excited.
CHILASA: So then, what makes Glo Tech’s products stand out?
AR: Our products are certified as 100% organic, and can be used as fertilisers, pesticides and to improve plant growth. This multi-usability factor helps farmers by improving profitability and boosting soil health.
CHILASA: Why do you think “sustainable agriculture” and “organic farming” are important?
AR: The world today is facing a number of health, environmental, and food security crises that can in many ways be attributed to recent changes in agricultural methods. ‘Sustainable’ is used as a buzz word and people often forget that sustainability is a big mechanism that ties us all together, where results take time and effort to show. There are no quick fixes. This is why I encourage farmers not to take drastic steps. My advice is to switch over to organic farming gradually, by reducing dependency on chemical fertilisers. This needs to be a planned and well managed transition. GloTech products help with this process.
CHILASA: Can you give us an example?
AR: One example is our product Nemate Gro, which was used by cotton farmers in Trichy. They have found that by using Nemate Gro to control against aphids and boll worms they have reduced the need for chemical fertilisers. Cotton farmers in India, have been suffering with failed crops, poor soil conditions, and indebtedness for decades. Helping them turn their situation around by using GloTech products is what gives us great satisfaction.
CHILASA: What is the toughest decision you have had to make as an entrepreneur, and what has been the impact of that decision?
AR: After one year as an entrepreneur, I had to decide how I would keep the company going as finances were difficult. I was faced with a tough decision between staying true to the quality of my product and using resources for R&D, or taking the easier road and lowering the quality while promising a great deal to my customers. I decided then never to compromise on the quality. Although it was the reason I struggled a lot over the next few years, I feel that it is paying off now, as my products are getting better recognition in the market.