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Q & A with Saumya (KSM '17)

Monika Wnuk | May 7, 2016
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Saumya (KSM '17)
Saumya (KSM '17)

Q & A with Saumya, co-founder of Kheyti

Saumya is the inaugural award recipient of the Resnick Family Social Impact Program. She is the co-founder of Kheyti, a social enterprise that delivers a low-cost, modular, and technologically-equipped greenhouse to smallholder farmers.

1. What is your Northwestern affiliation?

I’m in my first of the two-year Kellogg MBA program, where I’m focusing on courses in Operations and Entrepreneurship.

2. Tell us about the idea you proposed to the Resnick Family Social Impact Program

Farmers all over the world are experiencing the effects of climate change, such as unpredictable spells of drought, rain, wind or new species of insects that diminish their yields every season. Given the escalating food crises across the world, this is not a farmer’s problem alone. This problem equally affects all of us and is an issue we should be doing something about. The basic idea is to integrate and deliver low-cost technologies for farmers who are experiencing losses. Our solution to this problem was to create what we call a Greenhouse in a Box— a low cost, modular, and technologically-equipped greenhouse. Our company, Kheyti, would roll the greenhouse out with a bundle of installation and training services, delivering a product that would decrease the unpredictability of farming and increase a farmer’s earning potential.

3. How did the idea and team behind Kheyti first form?

Our team is made up of four members with a combined 22 years of experience in social enterprise — in particular, the sectors of vocational training and community farming. Before Kheyti, another member, Kaushik K, and I both worked in vocational training in India, helping workers build skills and find steady employment. Two other members on the team, Sathya Mokkapati and Ayush Sharma, are the founders of Cosmos Green, a company that has disseminated production practices to a network of 8,000 Indian farmers. Their involvement was critical to implementing and testing Kheyti’s Greenhouse in a Box.

4. How are you blending technology and agricultural tradition with your Greenhouse in a Box? Why is that important?

For our team, rolling out this idea in India was practical. We’re all from the region and we’ve all dedicated years to make lives better there. Plus, we have access to large a network of small farmers through Cosmos Green. The ingredients for building proof of concept is already there. In terms of technology, we’re looking to iterate on off-the-shelf technologies that will help reduce the cost of the greenhouse. In our application to the Resnick Family Social Impact Program, we stipulated three things:

  • to be connected to universities and partners that have developed new materials with lower costs structures;
  • to find and modify sensors that will allow farmers to collect data on conditions and efficiency in the greenhouse, as well as aid with automation;
  • and to implement a hydroponics system into the greenhouse that would make a one-size-fits-all solution and allow farmers to grow food regardless of soil type or condition.

The integration of these services is key to increasing efficiency and yields for our farmers, and our team will act as an integrator to put these pieces together.

5. What will the $25,000 you received as a Resnick Social Impact Fund Fellow help you achieve?

Our milestones largely depend on the types of technologies we are able to identify and integrate. We’re looking for off-the-shelf products that with a little bit of iteration will help us make the Greenhouse-in-a-Box affordable and viable for farmers. Right now our primary focus is on building those partnerships, and that’s where ISEN comes in. ISEN is well connected with different schools at Northwestern, universities across the world and external partners through their Executive Council who can help us grow. As our small company works to build credibility, building the right network of partners will be crucial to launching and scaling Kheyti.

6. What advice may you have to students who are considering Resnick Family Social Impact Program funding or other funding to build their social enterprise?

I would tell students who are considering the Resnick Family Social Impact Fund not to grapple with questions about the eligibility criteria. The dealmaker for us was meeting the ISEN team and realizing how aligned our goals are with the goals of the Fund. The opportunity provides a substantial amount of money for any company in the pilot-testing phase, but that isn’t the only advantage of applying. I would strongly encourage teams to look beyond the money to the resources ISEN has to offer — connections to key stakeholders in the country and abroad.