This solar dryer helps farmers increase the shelf life of their produce by 50 weeks
Updated: Jun 14, 2021
Pramod Bhurji is the founder and CEO of Fudokame, a biomass dryer company. Manush Labs was the first accelerator that Bhurji was a part of. Through this story, we have tried to understand his journey, his approach towards his work, and his goals.
Bhurji spent the first two years of his career as a software engineer with Capgemini, but quickly realized he wanted to pursue something more entrepreneurial. He left to pursue his MBA at the Tata Institute, where through a course on entrepreneurship he started his first venture. The project was called “Wealth out of Waste” and focused on helping cities recycle municipal waste. While Bhurji eventually shut down that venture, he was soon selected for the Social Innovation Immersion Program run by the government of India, where he had the opportunity to explore various problems in the waste sector.
Through this program, Bhurji discovered that 40% of fruits and vegetables are wasted in India every year – creating an enormous business opportunity in the sector. He evaluated existing solutions, including cold storage and dryers for farmers to dehydrate the produce they harvested, but found that they weren’t viable for smallholder farmers at the farm level. With the help of a professor from Bombay, Bhurji spent months building a solar dryer that allows farmers to increase the shelf life of their produce from 1-2 weeks to 11-12 months. Fudokame has already submitted patent applications for its dryer, which includes software to operate sensors located inside the dryer.
It was a long process, requiring months of painstaking research to understand the various drying times and settings for different fruits and vegetables with varying water content, but the main challenge for Fudokame now is the business side of the operations. With the cost still high for farmers, the company is exploring various business models ranging from selling directly to farmers to installing 15-20 dryers in “hot spots” in India, with a subscription model for farmers to use the dryer. Farmers can expect to earn 40-50% more on their produce with dried fruits and vegetables as compared to fresh produce. Bhurji suggests that entrepreneurs need two key attributes to pursue an entrepreneurial career path. The first is general business acumen, and the second is a willingness to take risks.
“I was at a comfortable job,” Bhurji acknowledges, “and took the initiative to leave this job and start something.”
Growing up, he had seen his father who was involved in multiple businesses, which helped provide the foundation for understanding the various aspects of what it takes to run a business – since as an entrepreneur, there is no one to decide for you the type of work needed to be completed each day. Manush Labs was the first accelerator that Bhurji was a part of, and he especially appreciates the mentoring support that the organization provided.
“Our mentors helped us think about Fudokame’s business model from new angles, and provided insight into how to build this.”
Manush Labs also helped connect Fudokame to investors. The company is currently targeting raising funds to help them install additional dryers, and focusing on scaling their model. They plan to install 20 dryers next year in other states of India and to increase production capacity to 10 tonnes/day. “We have already helped many farmers,” Bhurji says, and is looking forward to increasing their impact as the company grows. Story by: Erika Elizabeth Desmond, Manush Labs