About Social Alpha Quest for Agritech Innovations
The Agriculture sector in India employs close to 50% of the country’s workforce, but accounts for only 18% of the Gross Domestic Product. More than 75% of the Indian farmers own less than two hectares of land and are categorised as ‘smallholder’ farmers. Smallholders are under immense financial stress despite farmer incomes sitting at the centre of the Government’s agricultural development strategy. The state of Uttar Pradesh alone accounts for 26% of India’s low-income farmers, magnifying the need for impactful development interventions.
The core objective of the Social Alpha Quest for Agritech Innovations is to curate innovative technologies that positively impact smallholder farmers. Winners of the quest will receive incubation support in their lab to last-mile journey.
The first edition of the Social Alpha Quest for Agritech Innovations is looking for innovators and entrepreneurs with transformative technologies that address a curated set of challenges faced by the smallholder farmers in Uttar Pradesh. Up to 12 innovations will be selected as the first cohort of the India Agritech Incubation Network (IAIN) powered by Social Alpha.
The IAIN is an initiative supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Tata Trusts, in partnership with the Collectives for Integrated Livelihood Initiatives (CInI) and the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur (IIT Kanpur). It envisions to create an enabling ecosystem for innovators and entrepreneurs developing solutions for smallholder farmers in order to help them become more productive, profitable and empowered.
Calling for innovations
Innovative technology solutions, with a strong focus on affordability, accessibility, efficiency and user experience across the agriculture & allied value chain. We invite innovators and entrepreneurs that are focussed on working on any of the following challenges faced by smallholder farmers.
Improving productivity and yield intensification
Proper use of mechanized inputs into agriculture has a direct and significant impact on the productivity, profitability and quality of life of farmers. The land fragmentation, along with labour shortage and young generation moving out of agriculture, needs inspired action and technology support to make agriculture remunerative. The mechanisation technologies need to be highly aspirational for small holders to take up agriculture as a business.
The Quest seeks technological solutions that:
• Systematically assist the process of pre-sowing, sowing, inter-cultivation, harvesting, etc in the agriculture value chain of the smallholder farmers
• User-friendly and service-oriented mechanisation for small land parcels with different crop types
There has been a worrying degradation of soil health across the region of Uttar Pradesh with depleting nitrogen and phosphorous levels due to the common practice of overuse of fertilisers by the farmers. Smart application of inputs based on the soil profile increases productivity where farmers are able to grow more with appropriate inputs, decreasing both the input costs and increasing the chances of soil to recover its natural health.
The Quest seeks solutions for:
• Real time soil testing that is easy-to-use and provides accurate results in the field itself with provision of quality input recommendations based on the results
• Soil moisture management technologies
• Technology innovations expediting the process of bio-composting with limited drudgery towards enhancing the micro nutrients and carbon content in the soil
Access to timely and sufficient irrigation is the most important enabler to enhance the productivity and income of farmers, but it continues to be iniquitous across farm size groups. Despite the use of electric and diesel pumps, which are very expensive and not clean energy options, access to reliable irrigation is the biggest hurdle for the smallholder farmers.
The Quest seeks to find energy efficient technological solutions for irrigation and smart systems:
• User friendly, efficient irrigation management systems and water delivery technologies for better water use
• Water harvesting and management technologies
There has been a sharp decline in winter planting in Uttar Pradesh due to frost both on ground and on the crops. The temperature also restricts the crops access to soil nutrients and affects the germination restricting the sowing activities.
The Quest seeks innovative technologies or bio-chemicals that
• Promote crop cultivation in intense weather conditions
• Prevent crystallization and formation of frosts on the crops
• Protect the land enabling winter cropping and diversifying into other crops to increase farmer revenues.
Approximately 25% of an average Uttar Pradesh-based farmer’s harvest is lost due to attacks by wild animals such as nilgai and wild pigs. Current practices and solutions are ad-hoc and have a short span keeping wild animals at bay, just rendering them ineffective.
The Quest seeks a comprehensive, animal-friendly, efficient and affordable innovation technologies keeping them away from the crops.
Better post-harvest loss management and value-added activities
A significant proportion of post-harvest crop losses are due to decay, physical shocks, pests and diseases. Storage facilities both for perishable and non-perishable crops have prices per quintal higher than the final price realised in the market. Lack of affordable and decentralized storage technologies restricts the farmers from realizing better prices.
The Quest is seeking innovations for better prize realization as well as enhancing the holding capacities of small holders through:
• Decentralized affordable energy efficient storage facilities for perishable commodities
• Technologies with storage facilities for non-perishable commodities
Crop residue burning damages soil nutrients, organic quality of the soil, solubility capacity and micro-organisms in the upper layer and leads to environmental pollution and also adds the layer of impenetrable ash at the field level.
The Quest seeks comprehensive technology solutions for:
• Efficient, low cost mechanisms to clear the crop residue and collect it from the farms, that are remunerative to the smallholder farmers
• Innovative and affordable technologies for best use of crop residues as an income source
• Energy efficient models of using crop residue for enhancing soil health or generating energy for productive use
Enhancing access to market and improving traceability
Lack of access to knowledge on appropriate agriculture practices, infrastructure, forward linkages and marketing channels have proven to be impediments to the growth of smallholder farmers.
The Quest seeks a user friendly and customized navigating end-to-end online/offline service delivery platform providing:
• Farming-as-a-service along the agriculture value chain i.e. land preparation to market linkage
• All required knowledge that has crop & area specific information
Smallholder farmers have very limited knowledge and access to crop insurance facilities along with the crop health at different growth stages
The Quest seeks:
• Accurate and affordable technology interventions that provide details on estimated yield (crop and area specific) for individual farmers.
• Accurate and reliable data on the crop growth at different stages clubbed with weather data for ensuring better insurance products and services on timely manner.
Majority of the FPOs in Uttar Pradesh are in the nascent stage of their operations and FPO members require handholding support for sustaining their business operations.
The Quest seeks:
Technology solutions and tools for assessment of FPOs, optimising operations, capacity building.
Providing support services for FPOs including affordable technology for automated sorting and grading of pulses, vegetables, fruits and spices.
Up to 12 winners to receive
Who should Apply?
We are looking for Individuals, Social Enterprises and Start-ups that have developed or are developing technology based innovations that have the potential to create impact in the lives of the smallholder farmers of Uttar Pradesh and demonstrate business model sustainability.
We are inviting applications in two categories:
Track 1: For early-stage category
(for physical incubation)
This category aims to support innovations which need support in physical prototype development, testing and product validations.
This would target technologies at an early stage of product development where in:
- Theoretical proof of concept has been established and active R&D has been initiated;
- Basic technological components have been integrated to establish that they work together;
- Early prototypes exist;
- Simulations and early testing are underway.
Ideal applications would be in TRL 3 to TRL 6 in terms of technology readiness level and require lab/technical support.
Track 2: For matured category
(for physical or virtual incubation)
This category is looking to provide support in primarily go-to-market strategy, product commercialisation, demonstrations and pilots.
This would target innovations at an advanced stage of product development where in:
- Prototype exists and at least one pilot has been carried out or proof of concept has been physically demonstrated in real world conditions/on the ground/outside the lab with positive results
- Pre-commercial / fully functional lab prototype with some testing and feedback from users exists
- The product is ready and is already in the market and can be scaled or replicated in Uttar Pradesh
Ideal applications would be in TRL 7 to fully commercialised stage; even in-revenue start-ups could apply.
1st July 2019
Launch of Social Alpha Quest for Agritech Innovations
30th September 2019
Deadline for applications
Virtual interviews for top 60 applications
Mid November 2019
Jury round for top 25; Grand finale; Announcement of winners
December 2019 onwards
Orientation launchpad and start of pre-incubation
Post January 2020
Incubation for next 12-24 months; Funding opportunity
Frequently Asked Questions
To know more about the Quest, we request you to go through the FAQs section:
Social Alpha Quest Agritech Innovations is a search for innovators and entrepreneurs with transformative technologies that address a curated set of challenges faced by the smallholder farmers in Uttar Pradesh. Individuals, group of individuals, social enterprises and start-ups registered in India (whether for-profit or not-for-profit) are eligible to apply for the program.
Applicants are requested to select the most appropriate category based on the development stage/technology readiness level of the product. TRL 3 to 6 need to apply to the Early Stage Category and TRL 7 onwards need to apply to the Matured Stage category. Please select the category carefully since the application forms will have some unique questions.
Specific eligibility Early stage category:
• TRL 3 – Proof of Concept stage / Active R&D has been initiated. This includes analytical studies and laboratory studies to physically validate the analytical predictions of separate elements of the technology.
• TRL 4 – Basic technological components have been integrated to establish that they work together.
• TRL 5 – Technology has been put together and can be tested in a simulated environment.
• TRL 6 – Prototype is being tested in simulated operational environment or in a high-fidelity laboratory environment.
Those with solutions which have a technology readiness level of TRL 1 or 2 are not encouraged to apply.
Specific eligibility for Matured stage category:
• TRL 7 – Actual system prototype is near completion or ready and has been demonstrated in an operational environment or is at pilot level.
• TRL 8 – Technology is proven and developed but not yet operational or applied anywhere.
• TRL 9 – Technology has been applied in its final form and is operational.
• Solution is already in market and can be scaled and replicated for Uttar Pradesh.
In case you apply to the wrong category we will shift you to the right category based on the stage of your product’s stage of development. However, you may have missed some questions that had to be answered as a part of the correct category since both the application forms have certain unique questions. So, you are advised to please choose carefully.
Applicants are encouraged to submit applications for technology-based innovations that focus on solving challenges faced by small and marginal farmers of Uttar Pradesh. The Innovation may be a product, platform or service, but must be aligned to the focus areas outlined in the program. There is a preference for technology-based innovations that have a high social impact potential.
Yes, you may apply as long if your technology satisfies the category in Q2. Please note that finalists of the Social Alpha Quest for Agritech Innovations will be required to participate in evaluation sessions where they will have to present to the jury. This may require the physical attendance at the convening location and may interfere with college schedules. Also winners of the Quest will be incubated at our centre in IIT Kanpur. It is recommended that this is taken into consideration at the time of application.
Yes, applicants can submit multiple applications, but each application has to feature a distinct technology/process/innovation. However, in the final decision, only one application (if selected) will be considered per enterprise.
Upto 12 innovative applications satisfying the focus areas of the Quest will be selected as the first cohort of the IAIN. These applications may be across the Early-stage or Matured-stage category.
The first month of the program is cohort-driven. As part of the cohort there will be an orientation launchpad which includes opportunities to attend knowledge sessions and seminars, interact with mentors and experts, and meet potential investors organized by the IAIN ecosystem. Dedicated agri-business experts will map an in-depth incubation plan for the winners. The structure, nature and duration of incubation will vary depending on the winner’s unique needs. Those incubated will be eligible for financial support and/or piloting opportunities subject to successful due diligence.
The program is a typically a 12-24 month long engagement. However, it will vary from case to case based on the needs of the incubatees. Promising Early stage start-ups supported will also have the opportunity to move to the Matured stage, upon successful completion of milestones and may continue to receive incubation support for a longer duration.
Winners will receive an incubation programme covering one or many of the following depending on their needs assessment.
• Sandbox facility to test, validate and pilot innovations/projects on the ground in the state of Uttar Pradesh using Tata Trusts’ extensive network
• Access to Social Alpha’s seed investment and / or grants funding; and facilitated access to a large investor and donor network
• Access to state-of-the-art technology incubation space with high quality labs, equipment for refining and testing at IIT Kanpur’s Incubator facility
• Product development support including assistance with designing, rapid prototyping and design for manufacturing
• Dedicated agri-business experts to assist with business planning, developing go-to-market strategy and overall business advisory
• Mentorship by a set of qualified global and local experts; and curated set of capacity building sessions
• Practical on-the-ground feedback from the farmer community, grassroots non-profits, agriculture experts and corporate and government bodies
• Access to shared office space and amenities at Social Alpha or IIT Kanpur incubation centres and support services such as accounting, compliance, taxation, legal, IP, etc.
As part of the program, there may be a requirement to attend certain sessions in person. The winners will be required attend the orientation launchpad. The incubatees will be required to attend relevant workshops, events and demo days during the incubation period. Unless there is a pre-communicated genuine and unavoidable reason for absence, winners/incubatees missing most of the program will not only lose the actual benefits of their selection, but may also be reconsidered for continuing with the program.
Mentoring, as part of the continuous engagement with the winners of the Social Alpha Quest for Agritech Innovations, will be provided free of charge. Participation in specialized/additional events could be subject to a nominal fee.
There will be regular interface between the winning teams and the IAIN implementation team. Each start-up will be allocated a portfolio manager to help with customized requests who will continually and regularly engage with the start-ups.
Decided on a case to case basis, eligible incubated start-ups will get access to grants for pilot implementation with our partners in Uttar Pradesh. Eligible incubated start-ups of the Social Alpha Quest for Agritech Innovations might be considered for follow-on funding under the IAIN, subject to successful due diligence and investment committee approval.
Yes, the winning start-ups can find other funding partners.
• 1st July 2019: Launch of Social Alpha Quest for Agritech Innovations
• 31st August 2019: Deadline for applications
• September 2019: Initial evaluation
• October 2019: Virtual interviews for top 60 applications
• Mid November 2019: Jury round for top 25; Grand finale; Announcement of winners
• December 2019 onwards: Orientation launchpad and start of pre-incubation
• Post December 2020: Incubation for next 12-24 months; Funding opportunity
No, applications submitted post the stated deadline will not be considered for evaluation.
Terms and Conditions
Please read the following terms and conditions before submitting your entry:
- Any individual, group of individuals or entity, whether incorporated or otherwise, regardless of age, who has an innovative idea that positively impact smallholder farmers in India (though not exclusively), is eligible to participate.
- Participating or proposed ventures should be independent entities, meaning that they should not be a subsidiary of an existing corporation or have legal ties to a government body.
- If an individual or group of individuals is/are selected, he/she/they must register the entity within six months either as a “for profit” (private limited company) or “not for profit” (Section 8 Company, Trust or Society).
- The company should be registered in India with at least 51% shareholding by Indian promoters in the company.
- Existing non-profits can participate; however, they should propose a venturing idea or a plan to transform their existing solutions into a more sustainable solution.
- As the Quest is looking for start-ups or proposed start-ups to work on product development and / or establishing marketing channels for existing products, and not research, only those with developed ideas and/or prototypes should apply.
- Specific eligibility for Track 1: Early stage category: Any individual or group of individuals, whether incorporated or otherwise, with solutions that have a technology readiness level of TRL 3 to TRL 6. This would translate into:
- TRL 3 – Proof of Concept stage / Active R&D has been initiated. This includes analytical studies and laboratory studies to physically validate the analytical predictions of separate elements of the technology.
- TRL 4 – Basic technological components have been integrated to establish that they work together.
- TRL 5 – Technology has been put together and can be tested in a simulated environment.
- TRL 6 – Prototype is being tested in simulated operational environment or in a high-fidelity laboratory environment.
- Those with solutions which have a technology readiness level of TRL 1 or 2 are not encouraged to apply.
- Specific eligibility for Track 2: Matured stage category: Any individual or group of individuals, whether incorporated or otherwise, with solutions that have a technology readiness level of TRL 7 to TRL 9. This would translate into:
- TRL 7 – Actual system prototype is near completion or ready and has been demonstrated in an operational environment or is at pilot level.
- TRL 8 – Technology is proven and developed but not yet operational or applied anywhere.
- TRL 9 – Technology has been applied in its final form and is operational.
- Solution is already in market and can be scaled and replicated for Uttar Pradesh.
Submissions and Participation
- Submissions which are incomplete will be deemed void and disqualified from the Quest evaluations.
- Submissions should be the original work of the participant, and should demonstrate positive, sustainable and scalable social impact in India (though not exclusively in the region).
- Participants who are determined to be ‘Finalists’, i.e. those ranked in the top 25, are invited for the final evaluation round. They are required to send at least one core member for the final round of evaluations to be held in Kanpur.
- Finalists agree to the use of their names, photographs, disclosure of their country of residence, and co-operate with any other reasonable requests by the organiser relating to any competition publicity.
- Finalists agree to the use of their names, photographs, disclosure of their country of residence; and are required to cooperate with any other reasonable requests by the organiser relating to any publicity-related activities.
- Finalists are required to submit a declaration of good standing and solvency at the final round of evaluations. If there is any change in circumstance that invalidates their good standing and solvency, the team is to immediately inform the organisers.
- All participants own the rights to their ideas. Participants must properly acknowledge any trademarks, patented or copyrighted materials of others that are incorporated into the submission materials. Participants are responsible for obtaining any necessary permission before utilizing such materials into their submissions.
- Submitted ideas are protected in the spirit of non-disclosure, and all submitted materials will be treated as company confidential. The only people with access to the entry materials will be evaluators/judges, partners and select members of the organising committee. Materials will not be distributed to any other party unless requested by a participant. No other provisions are made to protect intellectual property.
- Participants are advised not to disclose critical information which would affect a successful filing of patent(s). All presentations are open to the general public, and some presentations may be videotaped. Attendance by media personnel is expected in the final round(s). Any data or information discussed or divulged in public sessions by participants should be considered information that will likely enter the public realm, and entrants should not assume any right of confidentiality in any data or information discussed, divulged or presented in these sessions.
Decisions regarding the winners
- The selection of the ‘Winners’ is at the sole discretion of the judges and the organisers from Social Alpha and partnering organisations. Best efforts will be made to make decisions in accordance with this document.
- Throughout any and all phases of the Quest, all decisions of the judges are final.
Disqualification and Organiser’s Right to Amend Competition Rules
- The organisers of the Quest reserve the right to disqualify any participant who is found to have violated the spirit of the Quest’s guidelines and terms and conditions stated herein. Disqualified participants shall forfeit any and all prizes awarded to them.
- The organisers reserve the right to amend these rules at any point before the Closing Date of the Quest in line with the overall goal of the Quest.
- The indicated dates for the Quest may be revised at any point of time by the organisers. Any change in schedule will be suitably intimated on the Quest webpage and on other relevant platforms.
- The winners will receive incubation support under the India Agritech Incubation Network (IAIN) which would include business incubation by Social Alpha and technology incubation at the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur’s facilities in Kanpur and Noida. No cash prizes will be awarded.
- The incubation support will be for a period of 12-24 months (extendable further based on need and performance assessment), and the exact duration of each winner’s incubation period and the kind of support required will be decided on a case-to-case basis, based on the assessment of their needs.
- Winner will be eligible to receive grants for pilots, demonstrations and validations under the IAIN. They will also be eligible for seed investment from Social Alpha subject to successful due diligence and approval of the investment committee.
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