[Round One Winner: 1/8] Vijay Bhaskhar – Kisan Raja – Smart Irrigation Automation Solutions.
Posted By: Rise Team|Dated: December 23, 2011
Vijay Bhaskar developed a product that improves the lives of farmers–providing them safety, and saving them time, money, and labor—by allowing them to water their fields remotely via their cell phones.
As you read this, notice a few things:
Here is a smart guy who had a secure, high-paying job at a top company. Yet instead of staying at his job, he has taken the risk of starting his own company to give back to his community.
When deciding what field to get into, he drew from his personal experiences. Often when we want to “make a difference,” the possibilities seem endless. Perhaps narrowing it down to our own experiences is a good first step.
We love his ideas on innovation. Basically, don’t say “let me innovate.” Instead, choose an area and start problem-solving—voila! You’re already innovating.Also, notice that once he got started, he didn’t have to reinvent the wheel about what his new products should be. Rather, FARMERS approached him with new requests/ideas. (Nobody can understand their needs better than them).
What is Kisan Raja?
Kisan Raja is a device that changes the way farmers irrigate farmlands today: it gives access to farmers to remotely operate their motor water pumps from wherever using their mobile phones and landlines.
Why is this important?
This is important because most of the farmers have to travel long distances and face a lot of problems irrigating their lands: the farmland is very far from their place, and they face risks like electric hazards, snake bites in the middle of the night, and difficult weather. Farmers face a lot of inconvenience having to water the crops. This device provides convenience and personal safety because the farmer can operate it from home. Also, if he has multiple motors today, he has to use labor to operate this, with this product he can work at home, and labor is a big cost advantage. Also water-saving and energy-saving because you only irrigate when it is not raining, and when there is enough power for the device to work.
But I did not just get emotional and wanting to help my family, I did a market survey and saw that this isn’t a need that affects my family alone but it can help the major community.
What motivated you to get into agriculture?
My family does a lot of agriculture, and I was involved in these operations since childhood. My family suffered a lot when operating the irrigation in the middle of the night, especially my older brother who has to travel to remote places in the middle of the night. I took that as a starting point, so I started building the device. I also always wanted to do something for rural India, and was ambitious about doing something in agriculture.
How did you think of starting this venture?
When I saw my family suffering, I thought of getting a solution for them which is available in the market, but when I really looked I saw that there is no proper solution which addresses this problem. But I did not just get emotional and wanting to help my family, I did a market survey and saw that this isn’t a need that affects my family alone but it can help the major community. That’s how I thought of starting this venture.
What was one of the biggest challenges you faced?
Leaving a high-paying job, and having a family that is dependent on me and having two kids, which are going to school. I also had to convince my family that I was going to do a bigger thing and that it made a lot of sense for me to do it.
How did you get started?
We started building the prototype with the help of a friend’s company. When we installed the product in multiple places, and saw the kind of response and value that the farmers have seen, they were pretty happy about it and asked us to make more products that help farmers. So I consolidated my financials for the next 2 years.
How did you fund your venture?
Being from a middle-class Indian family, we had a savings mindset. So I had savings to pursue my dreams rather than going for a luxurious car or a luxurious apartment. So that way I convinced my family that we can survive for 5 years or so, and within these 5 years I am sure that I’ll make it a success.
How has Spark the Rise helped your project?
Today the product is being known. We have received mails from people who want to volunteer: offer our product in other languages, provide tech support. Also mails from people who want to gift their families this technology. And from entrepreneurs who are passionate like me, such as people from rural BPOs who can offer tech support.
When I see farmers running a successful business, when I am part of it…when I see smiles in millions of farmers’ faces, that’s when I see that, you know, I am successful.
How did you promote your project to get votes?
I worked in the industry in the past, so I had a lot of colleagues, so I asked them to spread the word among their friends. It was a viral thing. I went to my alumni, I graduated from IIT, and I reached out to all my friends. Apart from that, I have a team who reached out to their alumni, their colleagues, and their family. We also had some interns, and they spread the word in their communities. So we didn’t know where the votes were coming from, so when we saw the number it was pretty satisfying for us. Facebook also helped a lot—it’s easier to reach to your old friends and supporters.
How do you personally measure the success of your venture?
India depends mainly on agriculture, and yet farmers get no power. So when I see technology being helpful to farmers, when I see farmers running a successful business, when I am part of it, when I impact a dot in that whole big picture, when I see smiles in millions of farmers’ faces, that’s when I see that, you know, I am successful. Everything else is a by-product of it.
Who inspired you to start this venture?
Two people. One is my mother saying that being from the rural village, she used to paint me a picture of how it would be if you didn’t’ get educated and if you don’t really aim for big, how will you end up in life. She has shown me real life examples and made me not to be like that in early stage of life, and that made me go to IIT, wok in the best of MMCs in the world. And then there is another uncle who always used to inspire me by saying that you can make a good life out of your education and salary or you can give life to people and impact the country which has done so much for you.
We can’t depend on the government policies, and keep cribbing about government didn’t do this, or didn’t do that. Enterprising is the mantra that’s happening now.
What do you think of entrepreneurship in India?
Enterprising is the way. We can’t depend on the government policies, and keep cribbing about government didn’t do this, or did not do that. Enterprising is the mantra that’s happening now. I took 12 years to come out of my job, whereas the current generation is looking at starting immediately or after 2 or 3 years of work. I think this is going to change Indian future, and enterprising is the way to live in India now.
What advice would you offer people who want to be innovators?
When you pick a problem area, innovation comes as a habit. When we started this venture, looking at our first-hand experience with farmers, we built a big product. Innovation is, for example, looking at a very simple battery which can do the job for you. So automatically you start thinking various options. When we started selling this product, the farmers came back asking “can we control multiple motors from the same device?” The innovation will be driven automatically when you take a big problem area. Today we are controlling motors, tomorrow we will control the flow of water, we will forecast rain. We have 10-15 products in the pipeline. So in my opinion, you shouldn’t go behind innovation, “I want to innovate something.” Rather, pick a field, where there are enough problems. If you pick India, I mean India is a good platform. Pick a domain, and start solving problems, and innovation automatically becomes part of your solution.
What advice would you offer other project champions who have entered Spark the Rise?
Use Spark the Rise as an opportunity to educate others about your project. Don’t just get votes for votes. If you go to an agricultural university and want to give a demo, at the end you can ask them if they want to vote. If you go to them and just ask for votes, they won’t vote. If they really like it, they will vote for it. That’s much better. Don’t go behind the votes, rather use this as a platform to educate other people. They in turn get excited, and vote, and it works wonders for you. Sometimes winning is not everything, so in this part of educating people you might get collaborators, volunteers, funds. So go about it as education rather than a campaign for votes.
Too often farmers suffer greatly from unsuccessful crop yields, bad monsoons, and destructive pests. While Farms n Farmers cannot control the weather, they are helping farmers to increase their earning potential.
People around the world are living Rise every day - accepting no limits, thinking alternatively, and driving positive change. Do you know someone whose story should be shared, or an organization whose work should be recognized?