Entrepreneurship

Profile of Purpose: A Fundamental Right

At Future Farms, the future of agriculture in India includes food that is clean, healthy, and affordable.

January 18, 2022

Meet Sriram Gopal, founder and CEO of Future Farms, a hydroponics company on a mission to deliver clean, healthy food to all Indians. With a trillion-dollar market potential and a vision to make clean food a fundamental right, not a privilege, Gopal is growing his company for a greater good.

Gopal always wanted to be an entrepreneur because his father was one, too. Motivated by his role model, Gopal set out to build a business that would also create an impact. Hydroponic farming seemed to be a perfect solution, saving 90 percent more water than traditional farming and protecting people from pesticides, bio-toxicity, and heavy metal contaminants.

“The main reason we do this is because in India there are no mechanisms to check where the food comes from and it can be very, very contaminated,” Gopal said. “People can choose organic food, but they’re paying three times more. What it actually means is only people who can afford to pay three times more can actually have access to clean food. And to me that just feels wrong because I think clean food is not a privilege. If anything, it should be a fundamental right.”

Future Farms didn’t become the largest hydroponic and controlled-environment agriculture technology company in India overnight. Like most startups, it happened one small step at a time—from building small hobby kits with his father to creating rooftop farms and quarter-acre commercial farms. Gopal has set his sights beyond India, expanding his greenhouses and technology to Nepal, Bhutan, Thailand, and Singapore—so far.

“I want to grow a company that is global and that creates a lot of good. And if our technology works in India, I’m pretty sure it will work in all the other parts of the world where people are still struggling,” he said.

Listen to Gopal’s mini-profile to learn how doing the right thing for people can be the right thing for your business, too.

Grit & Growth is a podcast produced by Stanford Seed, an institute at Stanford Graduate School of Business which partners with entrepreneurs in emerging markets to build thriving enterprises that transform lives.

Hear these entrepreneurs’ stories of trial and triumph, and gain insights and guidance from Stanford University faculty and global business experts on how to transform today’s challenges into tomorrow’s opportunities.

Darius Teter: Happy New Year! And welcome back to Grit and Growth from Stanford Seed. I’m your host, Darius Teter. This is the fourth Profile of Purpose in our continuing documentary series. These short-form stories are told entirely from the perspective of business owners, and they offer firsthand accounts of the struggles and joys of building impactful businesses in challenging markets. We will start season two with our normal programming of full interviews and insights from faculty and global experts in the coming months.

In this episode, Sriram Gopal, founder and CEO of Indian company Future Farms, shares his story, from watching his father start a company to building one together. Future Farms is a hydroponics company with a vision to deliver clean, healthy food to all Indians, not just the elites. We’ll dive into how Sriram is able to grow food that requires less water, and has zero pesticides or toxic heavy metals, and how he overcame initial skepticism by developing his ideas from hobby kits to full corporate partnerships.

Sriram sees an opportunity for companies to succeed by helping others, and with a huge global need, and a trillion dollar market in India alone, Future Farms is well positioned to do just that. Let’s see why, with Sriram Gopal.

Sriram Gopal: It has to do with a personal philosophy, right? Like, business is business, but you want to get into a business that has some impact. You need to be in a good business. And I’m not saying, like, running a social enterprise. I’m saying business itself, business for profit, can be for good causes. My name is Sriram Gopal. I’m the founder and CEO of Future Farms and I’m from Chennai, India. Future Farms is a vertical farming and hydroponics company based out of India. We build alternative technologies for farming and create cost-effective viable solutions for the farmers. I remember when I was in school, I always wanted to be an entrepreneur because my father was an entrepreneur.

So that was my biggest motivation. So he was my role model and I wanted to be a better entrepreneur than he was. I really wanted to do something to create some impact. Five years back, I was watching a YouTube video, and I stumbled upon this concept, hydroponic farming, and I was completely blown away with its possibilities.

Darius Teter: When faced with skepticism, Sriram had to overcome it by scaling up one step at a time.

Sriram Gopal: When we started, I went to some of the government bodies, and I wanted to get some expert opinion because this was really new. They just brushed it away. They said it’s just not viable because the cost of technology is too much. And it won’t work in India. I somehow was not convinced with that fact and we kind of wanted to be the black swan.

We wanted to prove them wrong. Future Farms has been in existence for the last three and a half years. And I still remember the day we started. So it was just my dad and I in our old factory. And we started building small kitchen, garden, home, and hobby kits. We sold that, made money from that, and then we started building slightly larger farms and we built farms on rooftops, we did farms in parking lots. Then we got a big breakthrough and one of the large corporates wanted to set up a huge farm in a hill station. We did not even hesitate for a minute. We took that opportunity and set up the first quarter-acre commercial farm.

The upside for hydroponic farming is that you save 90 percent water. It’s very labor efficient. This is not like traditional farming. It’s not really strenuous. It’s like you’re walking in a field where everything is to your hip level and you simply don’t even have to bend to pick or weed out or do anything of that sort. So even senior citizens can be deployed. Even the physically challenged can be engaged in such farms.

It is completely clean. It protects people from three main threats. One is pesticide toxicity. The other one is bio-toxicity, and the third one is heavy metal contamination. The input costs are really low. The farmer just needs to have a barren land. We will help him set up the polyhouse. We set up the entire equipment and then we help him sow the seed, grow the crop, harvest, package, and sell to market.

Darius Teter: Sriram is very aware that clean food isn’t just a health issue, it’s an economic one.

Sriram Gopal: The main reason why we do this, and this is very close to me, is because in India, the standard of food is very, very low because there are no mechanisms to check where the food comes from and it can be very, very contaminated. In fact, there is a report that states that leafy green is four times more loaded with pesticides when compared to anything that is available in the developed world.

There are alternatives. People can choose organic food, but they’re paying like three times more. What it actually means is only people who can afford to pay three times more, can actually have access to clean food. And to me that just feels wrong because I think clean food is not a privilege. If anything, it should be a fundamental right.

We are extremely proud of our journey. And I think it’s just the beginning. In India, this market is supposed to be $1 trillion US in the next four years. So it’s a great time to be here. I think a lot is happening in India right now. And we are developing at a pace that we can’t imagine. So I’m just a tiny dot in this whole thing, and we’re definitely going to become a superpower in the future, I’m pretty sure, but I want us to be a superpower for the right reasons.

If we continue with the current practice of agriculture, we’re soon going to not have food for a whole lot of people. So we have to have technology in place, which are labor-efficient, resource-efficient, and much more clean and productive.

I want to grow a company that is global and that creates a lot of good. And if our technology works in India, I’m pretty sure it will work in all the other parts of the world where people are still struggling for clean food.

Darius Teter: Thank you to Sriram Gopal, founder and CEO of Future Farms, and to you for listening to this Profiles of Purpose.

Like everything in their greenhouses, Future Farms has grown rapidly. To date, they have completed over 60 commercial projects and are the largest hydroponics and controlled-environment agriculture technology company in India. They’re also branching out — they’ve expanded their offerings, including a wireless greenhouse automation solution. It’s good to see them build on the spirit of innovation that got them started. And they’ve already begun to answer the call globally, with operations in Nepal, Bhutan, Thailand, and, most recently, Singapore.

To learn more about Sriram and Future Farms, visit their website at business.futurefarms.in. And to see more Profiles of Purpose like this one, go to the Stanford Graduate School of Business YouTube page.

Darius Teter: Grit & Growth is a podcast by Stanford Seed. Laurie Fuller researched and developed content for this episode, with additional research by Jeff Prickett. Kendra Gladych is our production coordinator, and our executive producer is Tiffany Steeves, with writing and production from Andrew Ganem and sound design and mixing by Alex Bennett at Lower Street Media.

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