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Polybee – Founder Siddharth Jadhav Appropriate title to be included

Can you tell us about your journey from being a Research Scientist to the founder of Polybee? What inspired you to start Polybee?

However, I had no clear objective of starting a company; it became the result of pursuing my curiosity. I worked at the National University of Singapore as a Research Scientist and was doing fundamental research dealing with the Physics of flight, control systems, and the design and automation of drones. Ph.D. in the US was my Plan A, but after observing work under academia closely for a few years. I realized that this was not something I was looking to spend more years on. That’s when I decided to take a shot in the dark and see what’s exciting in technology.

By the end of Oct. 2018, I joined The Lean LaunchPad program at the National University of Singapore, which encourages researchers to explore the commercial potential of their skills. My inclination towards agriculture was inspired by the book Sapiens: A Brief History of Mankind, which discusses the role of agriculture in the progress of civilization. I realized that it’s one of humanity's first inventions, but the one in which technology is least involved.

The seeds of Polybee began as a side project to solve a specific problem: automation of pollination using drones. As I worked on this problem, one thing led to another, and I realized that the opportunity was much larger than we thought. Eventually, I had the right amount of resources and an adequate team to feel that it was the right time to found a startup. Therefore, in the end, it was serendipity and opportunities that led me to become a startup founder, not a calculated aim to set up a company.

How do you tailor your products to meet customers’ needs in the changing market?

In the early days, while trying to figure everything out without knowing where to go, the hunch was our compass. Following a tight feedback loop that starts with listening to the customers and understanding their problem statement, and then going back and correcting our course is what helped us improve in the prototype phases.

Once a niche is established, everything is broken up into three phases-

  1. Proof of concept- working on something that helps the customers believe that this could work, using trials
  2. Potential for scale - getting them to believe that the technology is robust, reliable, and ready to scale by expanding the scope of deployments
  3. Commercial Agreements- getting revenue, improving user experience, and delighting customers.

How do you think technology ties into food security today? What all challenges did you face while incorporating various tech-based solutions in your company?

Polybee as a company has a mission to enhance food security, and that mission has always governed our efforts. We aim to build a service that enhances productivity in the fresh produce sector. Today, our service has two features:

  1. Autonomous pollination
  2. Yield forecasting

These are built using three technology pillars - autonomous micro-drones, AI, and a proprietary pollination method.

Ensuring a stable, affordable, and equitable supply of food to everyone is a major challenge due to uncertainties, like climate change and the increasing urban population. We can enhance food security by optimizing the value chain, the first node of which is agriculture production, the second is food distribution, and the third is consumption and wastage.

What challenges did you face while scaling to a country like Australia? How did you manage to pitch Hort Innovation to invest in Polybee?

We have all overseas customers and were affected by Covid and the lockdowns since we were cut off from them. However, we battled it by keeping customers excited and maintained contact by working with partners, such as Horticulture Innovation, who would advise and de-risk our journey.

Hort Innovation is a grower-owned company that invests funds in new technologies. Australia doesn’t have bumblebees, so there is a lot of uncertainty about pollination. That’s where our company stepped in with a solution. We reached out to them in the early days, just before the pandemic started, and began deploying in Australia after it got over. We obtained sufficient capital from them, and they introduced us to some of the biggest Australian companies who are now our customers.

We’re also active in other overseas markets, like the Netherlands, where we reached out to big agriculture companies and although we didn’t have as much support as in Australia. we still got customers to directly sign contracts with us.

All in all, there’s no sure way - one needs to think on their feet and be proactive. Even today, it is an ongoing pursuit, and team members spend weeks and months in these countries to make things better.

How did BITS Goa help you in your future path and shape where you are today? What advice do you give to the current students unsure of their paths?

As for BITS’ role, I’d say it was my time at TEDx, which I was the curator of in 2015. The role’s financial responsibility, interviewing experience, and lessons on how to get people excited through effective narratives and storytelling were valuable experiences in hindsight.

In a slightly different way, BITS’ unique thesis program with the overseas option gave me my first exposure to research, which was how I was even involved with the National University of Singapore.

I would ask students to prioritize curiosity and learning through experience above all else. Instead of hinging happiness on a certain job or degree program, enjoying the learning process and discovering what you’re interested in is far more important.

Lastly, BITS is known for its start-up culture. What is your advice to entrepreneurs just starting out?

Just chase the problem that truly excites you, and make sure you find the right sphere for you. Getting a business up and running is such a long and exhausting journey, so ensure you start something that makes you want to wake up every day and go to it. That excitement comes and goes sometimes, but you should allow yourself to stay convinced that you’ll do this for the next 5-10 years. Be passionate about what you do. Even if it doesn’t work out that's okay - there are plenty of problems that are yet to be solved.