THRISSUR: To think out of the box is what students need to do in order to achieve success not only in academics but also in the careers they will take up in the future.And this is what Nikhil V M and 10 of his friends did. The third-year biotechnology students of MET’s School of Engineering in Mala identified the importance of Azolla, an aquatic fern found commonly in India covering large water surfaces, and used it to begin a startup venture.
According to Nikhil, who is the CEO of MET's Biotech Company, Azolla has a lot of value as a cattle feed. In the past, farmers knew that Azolla helped to increase milk production in milch animals. However, with the coming of processed cattle feed and disappearance of natural water bodies, Azolla faded away from the menu, he said.High in nutrients, Azolla is a complete feed not only for cattle but also for fish and poultry. Not many farmers are aware of it.
There are a lot of poultry and dairy farmers around our college. We thought about spreading awareness among them about this amazing feed, he said.That's how the idea a startup germinated. Nikhil placed the idea before the Kerala Startup Mission (KSUM) with the help of his professor. But in order to get funding for the startup, the students needed to convince KSUM. For that, we built a temporary tank on the college terrace to grow Azolla. But getting the seeds was the toughest part.
Finally, after a long search, we came across a farmer who was growing it in a small tank. We bought some from him and began our endeavour,” said Nikhil.The students prepared the tank by mixing cow dung, soil, superphosphate and a mixture of micro-nutrients in water and poured it into the tank. The seeds were then planted. Since Azolla has the ability to grow very quickly, we were able to harvest nearly 1.5 kg. We mixed Azolla with cattle and poultry feed and supplied it to farmers.
They noticed a 20 per cent increase in the production of milk, he said.Following this, KSUM offered an initial funding of Rs 5,000 to build bigger tanks to enhance production. Presently, we have three 10 ft x 10 ft tanks. It takes 10 days for Azolla to reach harvest stage. We are not going in on a business mode for now since it requires various sanctions. Our aim is to popularise it as a feed, he said.The startup's next step is the extraction of caffeic acid from Azolla.
Most of the extraction process is being done in our college lab with the help of our staff Dr Nishad V M, Deepak Varghese and Dr Harikrishnan Hariharan. Caffeic acid is used in cosmetics and for treating cancer, he said. Arun Povil R is the COO and the other team members are Arunima Sudheer, Parvathi S Varier, Nayana Ravindran, Gayathri Ajithan, Sruthy V S and Akshay Kumar, he said.