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This startup used the human immune system as inspiration for an agricultural product line

Updated: Jul 19, 2021

St. Jude's manufactures herbal plant immune stimulators that can help prevent crop damage from pests and diseases. The company was honored as the most promising agri-startup from Kerala by NABARD, is a finalist in the National Startup Awards 2021, and has been incubated under Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana (National Agriculture Development Programme) at Punjab Agricultural University and at the Kerala Startup Mission. Learn more about their journey here.

Dr. Rajesh honored at NABARD State Credit Seminar 2020 as most promising agri-startup

St. Jude’s is very much a family business. Manoj Raj, who leads Marketing and Analytics for the business and recently finished exams for the second year of his MBA program, remembers clearly the moment when the family decided to enter the agriculture sector. His parents had recently purchased some land in Karnataka, and soon after moving there a neighbor asked if Dr. Rajesh, Manoj’s father, could see their child, who had a severe case of bone deformity and intellectual disability. “It's Endosulfan, sir,” the child's mother explained, dejected.

Rajesh soon learned more about the history of the village. Government-owned property nearby had been sprayed with pesticides via helicopter for several years. The chemicals sprayed ended up infiltrating local water sources, causing major medical issues for many of the children born at that time in the region. Although there was nothing that could be done for his neighbor’s child, being a doctor, Jose thought, Even if we can’t treat those affected, can we stop this from happening again? He began to wonder, If we can treat humans with medicine for diseases, would it be possible to cure plant diseases using a similar method?

Rajesh spent two years developing a solution for the plants, to help farmers who were forced to make an impossible choice between their health and their livelihoods. Eventually, he had a product that activated the plants’ internal defense mechanism to fight against disease on its own. It was made using phytopharmaceuticals extracted from herbs and was toxicologically proven to be safe. It would cost up to 50% less than current alternatives, while increasing yields by up to 30%. But when the product was ready to start selling, they were told that it could be a multi-year process to receive the licenses they need. “All these processes – every single step was very confusing. We had already spent a lot of money on research.”

St. Jude's product lines

Eventually, they learned that since the product they had developed physiologically influenced the plant and contained none of the regulated pesticide substances, it was not technically a pesticide. Therefore, they could bypass the licensing process and begin selling directly to farmers. "This market is now regulated with the introduction of bio-stimulants into fertilizer control order,” adds Manoj. As the company's focus shifted from product development to commercialization, St. Jude’s was accepted into the Manush Labs accelerator, which proved to be invaluable.

“We were able to learn so much about the market,” Manoj Raj says. “The mentors gave us a sufficient amount of knowledge and experience in that market. For that, I cannot thank Manush Labs enough.”

Manoj Raj decided to pursue his MBA in order to gain some of the business experience that he knew would help him help grow the family business. However, he also learned that some business lessons could not be taught in the classroom. “For entrepreneurs, it is not about the skill sets. It is about the mindset. Persistence. About being OK taking on and facing challenges.” The company has big plans for growth, and is focused on raising funds to help them grow sales and improve logistics as they continue to expand to new rural areas. The experience with Manush Labs has helped St. Jude’s focus on the customer experience. “We want to understand, what do the farmers actually need? We may have many products, but want to get the farmer's perspective.” In addition, St. Jude’s plans on predicting the plant diseases; which are likely to spread, and which crops are most at risk. It has a strong vision of what the company’s mission should be and hopes to be able to change lives so that farmers are no longer forced to choose between their livelihoods and their health.

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