MYSURU: Imagine being able to grow mushrooms in a room! You don’t need land for it or daunting infrastructure. Three student agripreneurs from Mysuru are doing it quite successfully with their startup ‘Fungo Mushrooms’.
Engaged in the production and marketing of edible mushrooms in the city, the startup sprouted in a single room rented out by Clint Davis, Ajay Jose and Raj Kiran. “As part of an academic project, I had to make wine from lab-grown edible mushrooms. The project was a huge hit and my teachers were impressed by the mushrooms-- that is when we thought of monetising it,” says Clint Davis, a final-year student of BSc Biotechnology studying at the JSS Academy of Higher Education and Research, Mysuru.
He found support in his roommate and the son of a farmer, Ajay Jose, studying Emergency Medicine from the same college. But the startup took shape after the duo met their junior from college, Raj Kiran, a student of B Sc (Food, Nutrition and Dietetics).
It was not a smooth takeoff. “From day one, we were discouraged. The moment we said mushrooms, people started making fun of us; some said that it would be difficult. But many told us that mushrooms were rare. That caught our attention. And we decided to go for it,” says Clint.
Bigger hurdles awaited them. “Since our mushrooms are lab-grown, we needed many implements and an infrastructure. Finding funds was tough,“ says Ajay Jose.
The trio is not new to challenges, Raj Kiran, for example, has been funding his education from his PUC days through part-time jobs. Clint and Ajay also have engaged in agriculture from their school days.
The students went on a fund-raising drive: After college hours, they did catering stints, delivery jobs and many other part-time jobs to raise the money. Friends helped them by giving gold ornaments to be pawned. Together, they managed to get over Rs 3 lakh. “Our parents were sceptical but they gave us whatever money they could,“ says Ajay.
The amount was not sufficient to launch the project. But they were not disheartened and they turned to innovation.
To save money, the trio decided to create the set-up on their own, which included learning welding and fabricating electronic circuits. Their production area is a rented one-bedroom accommodation with vacant land around. They modified the room to simulate lab conditions. Since the facility needs to be maintained at a constant temperature between 25 degrees C and 28 degrees C, they installed two exhaust fans connected to a circuit coupled with a thermostat. “We created this system on our own. Whenever the temperature increases, the fans will run. They stop when the temperature is brought to the optimum level,” says Clint. The students also have installed a humidifier.
“Though the cycle of production can last for three months, we usually replace the fungi every two months since the yield tends to reduce after that,” says Ajay. About 250 kg of mushrooms are produced every month.
According to them, marketing was a big hurdle. “It was difficult to convince vendors, many had reservations about college students, they were scared that we would abscond if there was anything wrong with the produce. But we offered them discounts, credit and buyback of unsold inventory,” says Raj Kiran.
People were apprehensive about the lab-grown mushrooms. “We had to take vendors to our lab and offer them free samples,” says Clint. “It was easier to convince customers directly as mushrooms are consumed mostly by doctors, bodybuilders, nutritionists and food scientists and they knew the nutritional value,” says Raj Kiran. They market oyster mushroom since, they claim, these have the highest concentration of protein compared to other varieties.
The boys first prepare a medium for the fungus to growin. They turned to hay as it was easily available. The hay is heated in a custom-made autoclave at high pressure to clear out microbes. After which they arrange the mushroom spawn sandwiched by the disinfected hay inside plastic bags. The bags are then stored in a darkroom for 30 days to let the fungus grow. Thereafter, the fungi are moved to a greenhouse to let them flower into mushrooms that are later extracted after full growth. According to the boys, they do not use pesticides or harmful chemicals during any stage
of the process.
“We are in the process of launching our product online. We are also looking to branch out to the byproducts of mushrooms such as protein powder, pickle, vinegar, soup and wine,” says Clint.