In 2013, Abhay Bishnoi from Rajasthan joined a Noida-based private firm after completing his graduation in engineering. However, a year into working at the organisation, he found that his salary and career growth prospects were both disappointing.
In search of better options, Abhay decided to attempt competitive examinations. “I quit my job and began taking coaching for the UPSC, other civil services, and banking. However, I couldn’t crack any of them,” he tells The Better India.
A conversation with childhood friends Manish and Sandeep made him realise that he was not alone in this boat — the other two were equally unhappy with their career trajectory.
It was during this discussion, Abhay recalls, that someone mentioned the words ‘mushroom farming’. “We discussed the cordyceps militaris mushroom, and a friend from the UK told me that this type can be used as a health supplement. It’s also called the ‘super mushroom’ and is known for a range of benefits,” he says.
These benefits include immunity-boosting, anti-diabetic, anti-cancer, anti-microbial, anti-viral, antibacterial and antioxidant properties.
Learning from mistakes
Abhay notes, “The mushroom variety is used by companies, researchers and individuals alike. It is rare and has a high market value. A kilo can fetch a sum of Rs 1.5 to Rs 2 lakh,” he explains.
He says the trio thought these mushrooms could serve as a lucrative business model to earn money. “These mushrooms are grown in a controlled environment. So if it’s possible to grow them in the UK, then it’s possible to do it anywhere in the world. We just needed to create appropriate conditions to grow the variety,” he says.
The friends conducted research into the variety and its commercial prospects in India. “We learned about Nainital-based Divya Rawat, who has earned popularity in mushroom farming. In 2018, we went to seek training at her centre and learned the technicalities of mushroom farming,” he adds.
Meanwhile, three other college friends also learned about Abhay’s plan of mushroom farming and underwent training for it in Thailand.
“Their move helped us understand and share various aspects of growing cordyceps militaris. We also spent a considerable time researching about the variety on YouTube, which helped us gain insight from across the world,” he shares.
Explaining the process, Manish says, “The mushrooms are derived from brown rice. The brown rice bakes at 120 degrees inside the jars in an autoclave. It is a strong heated container used for chemical reactions such as steam sterilisation.”
The process sterilises the jars by eliminating bacteria and other contamination. “A tiny contamination can spoil the entire harvest. Once the process is complete, chemicals are introduced in the jars and stored in laminar (lab equipment) for 12 hours. The equipment has ultraviolet (UV) light which prevents contaminants like bacteria from damaging the batch,” Manish says. “A 400-gram capacity jar can be used to grow 1.5-2 grams of mushrooms.”
The jars are removed in the next 12 hours and stored in a dark room. “A week later, the mushrooms start growing, and the jars are moved to another room where they can be exposed to light. They remain in the set up with a temperature maintained between 18 and 22 degrees Celsius. The room also needs the arrangement to control humidity as required. The jars are opened once the desired growth is attained. The mushrooms are dried in an industrial oven, after which they are ready to be used for multiple applications. The entire process requires 85 to 90 days,” Manish explains.
The dry mushrooms can be consumed like tea, by boiling in hot water for ten minutes and drinking on an empty stomach. The boiled mushroom is edible.
Sandeep adds that after completing their training, they decided to launch their startup, J B Capital. “Initially, we planned to have the farm set up in Nainital owing to the conducive weather conditions. However, considering the lack of capital and logistics, we decided to establish a 2,500 sq feet unit in Rajasthan. The land was cheaper to lease. We raised a sum of Rs 12 lakh from family and government under the startup scheme,” he notes.
Despite an ambitious start, the three business partners soon faced challenges. “We started with 1,200 jars and lost all of them. The result was disappointing, but we did not give up and remained determined to start again,” he says.
Sandeep and his friends took cautious steps. Learning from experiences as they went on, they eventually tasted success in cultivating the product of desired quality and quantity.
Today, the startup earns them a quarterly business of Rs 6 lakh, they say. “We grow about 8 kilos of mushroom and sell it under the brand Cordymine for Rs 1.5-2 lakh per kilo. We have 200 customers on board from Dayra Ganganagar, Bikaner, Churu in Rajasthan and a few in Punjab,” he says.
The startup has recently expanded its online presence on Flipkart, Amazon and other such platforms.
A satisfactory business model
However, Sandeep says that growth has not come easy. “As the mushroom variety is lesser-known, we struggled to create awareness in the market. Initially, we went to the local market and even reached out to people door-to-door, explaining the product to potential buyers. At times, we sold the products on cash back guarantee,” he says.
The marketing experiments worked in their favour, and business improved. “Word of mouth marketing became our biggest strength as people who benefited from the products referred others to us,” Sandeep says.
He adds that the mushrooms are organic, chemical-free and have no artificial agents compared to other diabetes controlling medicines in the market. “Their natural form is the reason for the mushrooms getting more demand in the market,” he says.
Vijay Periwal, an entrepreneur from Punjab, has been using the product for the past two years. “I had a weak heart, with 28 per cent of it functioning due to blockages. I could barely walk half a kilometre a day. But using the product alongside my other medication has helped me improve my stamina. Now, I can walk about 12 km a day and play sports like badminton and hockey,” he says.
A 2014 study says, “Cordyceps extract has also been found as a promising source to increase cardiac output up to 60% in augmentation with conventional treatment of chronic heart failure. The product from wild type and cultured Cordyceps has also been shown to significantly decrease blood viscosity and fibrinogen levels preventing myocardial infarction.”
Vijay says that he also recommended the product to a friend recovering from dengue. “My friend’s immunity was weak, but his health has improved in the past six months. It costs Rs 150 per day, but worth the benefits,” he adds.
Abhay says the company plans to offer a franchisee model for budding entrepreneurs. “We also plan to launch a pocket-friendly, multi-vitamin capsule conceived from five varieties of mushrooms,” he adds.
Before signing off, Abhay says he is glad that the business worked out in their favour. “We are satisfied with the business and income. We are earning from what we love the most and helping improve the health of others,” he adds.
Edited by Divya Sethu