The struggle to sustain the needs of the current population of 7.8 billion is putting undue strain on the planet’s limited resources. Experts say the current production and consumption patterns are not sustainable. And, given that the global population is set to reach 10 billion by 2050, the next few decades to come will be decisive for the people and the planet. This calls for an urgent need for a paradigm shift in our food, materials and animal testing systems, away from resource-intensive, inhumane animal dependent practices, towards sustainable, new-age alternatives. India, with its myriad of environment and food-related challenges stands to particularly benefit from sustainable and effective alternatives.
While efforts are underway in this direction, there is a need to scale up. Currently, the space is largely driven by young entrepreneurial ventures and the scale, most often, is limited to a small section of the market. To address this gap, the Humane Society International/ India (HSI/India) launched the Humane Entrepreneurship program for businesses that are developing safe products to create a sustainable and humane impact on the planet.
And, through the program HSI/India aims to empower eligible entrepreneurs to move their products from prototype to scaled-up models by providing an ecosystem of capacity builders, investors, domain experts and public institutions to aid in transforming businesses. HSI/India has now selected five startups for its inaugural cohort.
Here are the five entrepreneurs and their efforts in the creation of viable alternatives.
Kushal Aradhya R, Naka Foods
Kushal Aradhya’s love for cooking led him to take the entrepreneurial plunge soon after completing his engineering. He started Naka Foods in 2016 in Mysore and its first product was an almond-based beverage mix. The next couple of years saw him travelling, where he got introduced to the potential and impact of Spirulina-based food. He pivoted the business to develop the Spirulina nutrition bar. Today, Naka Foods is focused on developing alternative foods like microalgae-based and plant-based products. After the market launch of the Spirulina nutrition bar, the startup is now developing its second product — plant-based chicken.
“We are working towards replacing traditionally used food products with alternative foods that are naturally sustainable, use minimal resources and bring less suffering to animals. In addition, we use whole foods which are processed minimally and that’s why our products are high on nutrition,” Kushal says.
He is motivated by the possibility of developing animal-free products using plants. “This will have a positive impact on food production, making it more sustainable and healthy.”
Animesh Gupta and Pramit Gupta, Oats’Up
Realising “the horrors of the dairy industry,” Animesh Gupta turned vegan a year ago. As an engineering student, he found it challenging to find dairy alternatives at cafes and restaurants. Turning vegan also made him conscious about what he was consuming.
“I began reading the product labels carefully. And, that’s when I realised, either most of the products have a form of dairy product or another, or were loaded with sugar and chemicals.”
At the same time, he realised how consumers were turning a blind eye to the quality of dairy products. “Time and again, media has pointed how the milk is adulterated with chemicals like urea, detergents, caustic soda, just to thicken or whiten the milk.” But the tipping point for Animesh was that 68 percent of the world’s population is lactose-intolerant. Not wanting to take the conventional route of opting for a corporate job after engineering, Animesh saw this as an opportunity to start a purpose-driven venture. He teamed up with Pramit Gupta to start Oats’Up earlier this year, which makes Oats-milk based beverages.
Ravali Amba, Brew51
A biomedical engineer from IIT Madras, Ravali spent four years at a biomedical
wearables startup, where she led the research, product development and launch of the product in India, US & UK. This gave her the confidence to plunge into entrepreneurship and started Brew51 this year. The startup is joining efforts to create a kinder, healthier and more sustainable world by replacing animals in foods using plants and precision fermentation. “We are starting that effort by creating a fish alternative.” Ravali further explained, “Each year, more than two trillion sentient fishes asphyxiate for hours before they die. Fishes also consume microplastics which are now collecting in the bodies of humans who eat them, leading to human health issues. And finally, the growing demand for fish is leading to habitat damage, eutrophication and destruction of food chains. Alternatives to overcome these challenges are clearly needed.”
Unlike other meats, plant-based seafood is a wide-open market and Brew51 plans to be an early entrant and leverage it.
“There are many approaches to creating alternative seafood: plant-based, fermentation-based and cell-based. In addition, there are many texturisation technologies that can create the flakiness of fish. We are leveraging the best of these technologies and inventing a few in the process to create a product that very closely mimics seafood and delivers on taste, texture, aroma and nutrition.”
Jasmine Bharucha, Katharos Foods
As a health-conscious individual, Jasmine Bharucha moved to whole plant-based foods. But she missed one ingredient in her salads – feta cheese. The absence of a vegan-friendly and healthy feta cheese led her to experiment in her kitchen. And, when she perfected her recipe and got a thumbs up from fellow vegans, she launched the product commercially. Today, Katharos Foods offers two vegan cheese products – Herbed Feta and Gooey Pizza.
“Our products are all-natural, free of preservatives, chemicals and emulsifiers. We pride ourselves on transparency. if you can’t pronounce it, you won’t find it in our ingredients.”
Jasmine explains that cheese is often the last to be given up by most transitioning vegans which is hardly surprising given dairy cheese is a processed food with high concentration of casein. “Casein is a milk protein which produces casomorphins that are opioids which are addictive, just like opium and morphine.”
Manish Pareek and Mayank Jain, Vegshoes and NoHide
Founded in 2016 by Manish Pareek and Mayank Jain, VegShoes.in offers high-quality vegan shoes and accessories. It is an online marketplace that sells vegan footwear and accessories. In addition, the startup also has an R&D division that is working on creating better vegan leather that outperforms and outlasts the properties of real leather.
“By using biomimicry, we replicate the cell-like structure found in animal leather to create vegan leather. We do this using bio-based ingredients that are sustainable and are available in abundance,” explained Manish.
The resultant material does not only look like leather but will be nearly three times stronger than real leather with properties like breathability, resistant to wear. “The superior quality of our footwear is comparable to quality leather footwear and ensures comfort and fit.”
The startup believes it encourages consumers to take a step towards eliminating one of the most polluting processes of leather tanning while also saving countless animals that are butchered to fulfil the need for food or clothing.
A new start to scale
To help scale these humane businesses in the Indian startup ecosystem and aid in the creation of viable market alternatives for animal-based products, the Humane Entrepreneurship program provides a one stop platform to address common obstacles through a collective, streamlined effort.The programme will provide entrepreneurship training (covering essential technical skills), personal development and networking – through mentorship from subject matter experts and experienced business leaders.
This prospect is already brewing excitement for the entrepreneurs.
“With its ecosystem of mentors, advisors, experts and investors from across the world, it is a rare opportunity to leverage this incredible ecosystem to level-up my startup,” shares Ravali.
Animesh points out that while there are a lot of mentors for tech startups and businesses, it’s hard to come by mentors who can help deep-dive and address challenges for plant-based startups as it is an emerging category. And, that’s where a programme like Humane Entrepreneurship becomes all the more relevant for them by providing an ingress to challenges and opportunities in developing sustainable alternatives to animal products. For Jasmine, the program presents an opportunity to expand her network in the Humane business ecosystem.
HSI/India is an affiliate of the Humane Society International (HSI), which, along with the Humane Society of the United States, forms the world’s largest animal protection organisation with a presence in more than 50 countries. To further HSI’s larger goal to reduce the consumption of animal-based products through the creation of viable alternatives, HSI/India has been working closely with the startup ecosystem. It engages with the startup community through various initiatives like strategic grants, funding and engagements. And, the Humane Entrepreneurship Program has been yet another step in the direction.
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