Your Details

Your job title:

Cofounder & CEO

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Your organization name:

Kheyti

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http://www.kheyti.com

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When was your organization founded?

2015

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In what city, town, or region are you located?

Hyderabad, Telangana, India
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In what city, town, or region is your organization headquartered?

Hyderabad, Telangana, India
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In which countries does your organization currently operate?

  • India
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About You

Why are you applying for The Elevate Prize?

ast year, we made a breakthrough in our work. In 2019, we proved that small greenhouses can deliver a deep impact to smallholder farmers (they can triple their farm incomes!). Last year, we brought down the cost of our product by 90% when compared to market - making it extremely affordable and increasing our scalability 100 fold. Over the next 5 years, we want to grow 100x and scale this impact to 50,000 farmers. The MIT Elevate 

Funding for Greenhouse Lite: We need $1M total to get our new product  to first level scale (5,000) farmers over the next 18 months. We’ve already raised ~$500K from our donors. This prize can get us close to the last mile.

Increased brand: The MIT Elevate prize can help us increase our brand recognition and help us in amplifying our work. This would have not only general benefits of attracting talent and funding to our cause but also help in specific challenges we have in scaling our model.

Mentorship: As we look at scaling 100x over the next 5 years, we could really use the mentorship from the prize’s network on go to market strategy, technology strategy and growth strategy.

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Tell us about YOU:

I went to college with a 10 year plan -  a consulting job, an MBA and a corporate career. I did think the poverty around me was my business.

In senior year, I had an experience that shattered my world view. Forced by my father, I volunteered at a school for orphans. The 3 months I spent teaching computer skills changed my life. Those kids absorbed my lessons like sponges. Soon, I had to study everyday to be ready for them.

I have had that same experience 1000s of times over 12 years. First as the founding team of a skill development startup for rural youth that I helped scale to 500 employees training 50,000 youth every year. Second at Kheyti which was started to move from solving the symptom (youth unemployment) to the root cause (agriculture failure).

I’ve worked in 100s of villages. Every time my work has created opportunity - a training program, a job offer, a new technology - I have seen that opportunity multiplied manifold.  I exist for that experience. I want to experience it at least a million times in my life. Creating those opportunities at scale is my passion, my business and my purpose.

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Video Introduction

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Pitch your organization.

80M small farmers in India LOSE money on average from agriculture. A large reason for this is climate risk, made worse by climate change. Farmers lose $7B yearly from pest attacks. Yields have dropped as much as 10% annually due to increasing heat. In 2015, 8M farmers lost incomes due to one unseasonal rain. 75% of farmers want to quit farming because of this variability. 

Learning from conversations with 1000s of small farmers, we created the Greenhouse-in-a-Box, a low-cost, modular greenhouse bundled with services. Our core product is a greenhouse designed to be modular 1/10th acre and built at 10% cost of traditional greenhouses. It is covered with insect netting to cut pest attacks 90%. It uses shading cloth to reduce temperature 5oC and drip irrigation to reduce water usage 90%. It helps farmers grow 7x food at 1/50th the water.

Technology isn’t enough because smallholders face risks at every step. This is why we work with partners to offer farmers financing, input linkages, training, extension and market linkages. Our farmers use our end to end solution to earn steady additional incomes of upto $1,200/year, a 200% increase in farm incomes.

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Describe what makes your work innovative.

Farmer centric design is our DNA. Conventional greenhouses are expensive and available only on a minimum size of an acre, making them inaccessible to small farmers. Our DNA helped us design a modular greenhouse at 1/10th an acre and bring down the cost of our greenhouse over six iterations to 90% compared to market, making them affordable and accessible to small farmers. 

Farmer centricity also made us system integrators. Technology alone is not enough for small farmers because they face risks at every step. This is why we work with partners to offer farmers end-to-end services. We work with banks to offer farmers low-cost loans. We work with input and market companies to provide farmers linkages to markets. We provide training and advisory to farmers over the phone and WhatsApp. 

We are the only ones contextualising greenhouses, a technology used by large farmers for centuries, to small farmers. We are the only ones providing a “one-stop-shop” solution to ensure farmer adoption and success.

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How and why is your organization having an impact on humanity?

Smallholder farming is extremely vulnerable. The unpredictable climate is making it less profitable every year. On top of that, smallholders are affected by a whole host of business risks. The pandemic proved that over the past year.

 

Many interventions have been developed to alleviate smallholder poverty, but most offer only incremental income increases. We believe that this is not going to be enough, considering the rate of deterioration of farmers’ livelihoods today. Broadly, our Theory of Change is simple - advanced farming techniques, taken for granted in developed countries, are proven to make farming profitable and resilient. We just need to make them accessible to small farmers by bringing affordability and end to end services. 

Specifically, a simple version of our Theory of Change looks like this:

Activity: 

1. Design affordable greenhouses

2. Deliver tech backed training and advisory

3. Orchestrate linkages to markets (loans, inputs, markets)

Output

1. Increased yield

2. Increased sustainability (fewer chemicals used, less water used)

3. Improved market access

Outcome

1. Increased agricultural income (upto 2x increase)

2. Sustainable production of food (7x yields, 1/50th the water, much lesser pesticide and fertilizer usage)

Impact

1. Improved social outcomes

2. Improved farming environment (air, water, soil)

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Select the key characteristics of the community your organization is impacting.

  • Women & Girls
  • Rural
  • Poor
  • Low-Income
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Which of the UN Sustainable Development Goals does your organization address?

  • 1. No Poverty
  • 2. Zero Hunger
  • 5. Gender Equality
  • 8. Decent Work and Economic Growth
  • 10. Reduced Inequality
  • 12. Responsible Consumption and Production
  • 13. Climate Action
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Which of the following categories best describes your work?

Food & Agriculture

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Impact

How many people does your organization directly serve at present? How many do you anticipate serving in one year?

We are currently serving 2500 people in 500 farmer families. In one year, we will scale our reach and impact to 16,500 people in 3,300 farmer families with our direct interventions. In four years, we will reach and impact 202,500 people in 40,500 farmer families.

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Describe your impact goals and how you plan to achieve them.

100 million smallholder farmers in India lose money from agriculture predominantly due to climate risks and climate change. Kheyti’s theory-of-change is that by providing low-cost greenhouses and essential services, farmers will be able to fight climate risks, increase yields and earn climate resilient incomes.

The impact we create directly are poverty alleviation, climate action and food security directly, as well as quality of work and reduced inequalities indirectly. We measure impact through the below indicators:

  1. Number of farmers reached (breadth)

  2. Increase in additional income, and water savings generated (depth)

To achieve these impact goals, we have built the Greenhouse-in-a-Box, a low-cost greenhouse that costs 90% less than market, protects crops from environmental risks and grows 7x food with 50x water efficiency. Additionally, we offer farmers financing, inputs, advisory and market linkage services. This integrated solution delivers upto $1,200 additional climate-resilient incomes/year/farmer, and 2.5M litres of water savings/farmer.

Kheyti aims to reach 3,300 farmers in 1 year, 9,900 farmers in 2 years and 40,500 farmers in 4 years, creating a 2x increase in farm incomes for 202,500 people giving them a way out of poverty, and save 77,250M litres of water.

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What barriers currently exist for you to accomplish your goals in the next year and how do you plan to overcome them? How would winning the Elevate Prize help you to overcome these barriers?

Currently, we face three key challenges to scale:

  1. Greenhouse financing - while our greenhouse costs 90% lower than market, smallholders still need financing support. However, banks hesitate lending to farmers and COVID-19 has exacerbated this. 

We have designed a strategy with our financing partner, where it channels loans to farmers via farmer collectives. 46 loans have already been released so far and we have been introduced to 30+ collectives with 20000+ farmers. 

  1. Advisory - Advisory support is critical for farmers’ success and our current advisory model needs to be transformed to serve farmers at scale efficiently and economically. We are leveraging technology and strengthening people & processes to this end.

  2. Building team 10x - Our rural and social impact context makes sourcing and retaining talent challenging. A 500-member team is needed to serve farmers in 4 years, and we are working on talent density through organization building measures (culture, feedback systems, L&D), talent branding (social media, email campaigns). 

Funding from the Elevate prize will help us invest in technology for a scalable advisory model. We will also be able to draw on the technology expertise at MIT. Lastly, recognition from Elevate prize will boost our brand, attracting talent essential for the organization’s scale.

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How would you leverage the larger platform, audience, and brand recognition as an Elevate Prize winner to further advance your impact?

Increased brand: Amplifying our work would be essential for multiple reasons.

  1. Collaborative action: Many parts of our model and our barriers on farmer financing, depend on our ability to bring together large institutions. This will be immensely easier with a stronger brand.

  2. Scaling through indirect channels: In order to attract farmer collectives and similar organization across India, we need to be able to tell the stories of our farmer’s successes. The prize’s work will help us do that better.

  3. General benefit: The increased brand will help us overcome barriers of talent and also attract additional funding, essential items for our growth.

Mentorship:

  1. Technology strategy: For us to really support farmers at scale and deliver high quality services, we need to invest in technology. There is no other place better than the MIT network to get this expertise from.

  2. New product strategy: In order to make our product even more accessible, we actively invest in strategies that can improve our greenhouses and reduce cost. Design expertise from the MIT network can greatly accelerate this.

Funding for technology: We require funding to build on V1 of our technology systems, which can truly drive scale, service delivery, and large scale impact.

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Leadership

What is your approach to building a diverse, equitable, and inclusive leadership team?

Kheyti’s leadership team consists of people from diverse educational, professional and social backgrounds. The founding team has 4 members, with backgrounds in engineering, finance, accounting and physics, all bound by a shared passion and working experience in agriculture and rural livelihoods. 1 of the 4 co-founders is female. 

Diversity, equity and inclusivity are not only codified in our organizational policies, but we are also going to great lengths to visibly ingrain these values in our team. We have engaged Value4Women, an advisory firm helping organizations advance gender inclusion, to help us build greater gender diversity. A few strategies we are considering implementing in this regard are: 

1. Gender intentionality and strategy through gender inclusion related KPIs/ metrics.

2. Promoting gender diversity through sex-disaggregated data collection & analysis in recruitments, review of performance management processes

3. Gender specific customer service needs through market research and addressal of women’s needs in customer education, care and after sales support.

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How are you and your team well-positioned to address the problem you are solving?

Kheyti’s founding team has 40 years of experience in rural India. 

  • Kaushik, CEO had 6 years of leadership experience before Kheyti, where he grew a rural livelihoods organization from scratch to 500 staff. 

  • Sathya, President, is a farmer expert. He previously built a startup serving 8,000 farmers, chaired farmer collectives, and recognised by Acumen, Mulago, and TED fellowships.

  • Saumya, Chief Program Officer, is a customer experience guru. A Kellogg MBA and a Forbes-30-under-30 Social Entrepreneur, she brings 4 years experience leading programs.

  • Ayush, Head R&D, is a crop expert. After 5 years in financial services, he was a farmer for 5 years managing 100 hectares. 

This team has already proven traction - additional income of $75/month (144% increase) with 300 families, design of world’s cheapest greenhouse (90% <market), partnerships with leading organizations for product design and manufacturing (Stanford, Northwestern, Dalberg, MahindraTop), financing (India’s 3rd largest bank, 5+ financing orgs), and 30+ organisations for inputs and market linkages. Nearly 20 global donors support us every year.

 

This has been possible because of our farmer centric DNA. Kheyti was formed after conversing with 1,000+ smallholder farmers, and even today, all our products and services are informed by farmers’ inputs.

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Describe a past experience that demonstrates your leadership ability.

Leadership is hard. I’ve found that the only way to stay consistent is to be values driven. 

The Covid-19 lockdown and the impending economic downturn tested our leadership. We started the year with goals to grow 5x and had to throw this growth plan out. Uncertainty in revenues that we would not be able to survive the year with business as usual. We had to make decisions.

Kheyti’s first value is farmer centricity. First, I redirected our team to work with authorities and farmers to ensure farmer continuity. Second, I set aside a major part of our cash for farmer contingencies. Third, I launched a short term response to support other farmers.

We had to cut costs. Focusing on our value of caring, I and other leadership took 40% paycuts first. This helped us ensure no paycuts for staff in low income groups (50% of our staff). We had no layoffs - we put 5 people on furlough and ensured benefits.

This paid off. Our team stepped up. Donors and partners were inspired - we raised more funds and got better terms from partners. We survived the storm, reversed some of the decisions and are on our path to thrive again.

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Have you been featured in any documentaries, television shows, or live speaking engagements? If so, please share links to any available content.

(acumen one great idea)

(acumen GIB)

(young turks)

(CNBC Tv 18)

(Berkeley Haas GSVC)

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Financials & Partnership

If selected as an Elevate Prize winner, how will the funding help you achieve your goals?

If selected as an Elevate Prize winner, the funding will help us drive scale by strengthening our advisory model with tech enablement. This requires a budget of $0.24M in the next 12 months, and we will utilize the prize money towards funding this. We will also invest in growing our team and build talent density critical for scale.

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What organizations do you currently partner with, if any? How are you working with them?

A key value of Kheyti is collaboration. By building reliable production capacities in smallholders and by aligning incentives, Kheyti has inspired 100+ organizations across the value chain to work inclusively with smallholders. 

  • We have worked with Stanford’s Extreme, Northwestern’s design school, Dalberg Design, Israeli and Indian companies to design our greenhouse products. 

  • We have collaborated with 20+ NGOs and collectives who have more than 1 million farmers to spread awareness.

  • We work with Mahindra (largest Indian agricultural conglomerate) and Top Greenhouses (leading greenhouse manufacturer in Israel) to fabricate and install greenhouses

  • Samunnati, a dedicated agri financing company has committed $1.5M in loans themselves and committed to launch a fund to raise $150M for giving 100K loans in the next 5 years. Bank of Baroda (India’s 3rd largest bank) and APGVB (a rural bank with 1m+ customers) and 5 other non-bank financiers also provide financing; 

  • We work with behaviour change experts (Appleseed Impact) and 20+ crop experts to provide effective crop advisory 

  • Rijk Zwaan (Netherlands), Syngenta. Fortis AGro etc for supply of quality farm inputs and Big Basket (India’s largest e-commerce grocer), Metro, Ninjacart and 25 others (with 500 supermarket outlets) for procurement of our farmers’ produce at fair prices.

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In which of the following areas do you and your organization most need support?

  • Human Capital (e.g. sourcing talent, board development, etc.)
  • Business model (e.g. product-market fit, strategy & development)
  • Financial (e.g. improving accounting practices, accessing funding)
  • Monitoring & Evaluation (e.g. collecting/using data, measuring impact)
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Solution Team

 
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