A career in Agriculture with Food Science opens up a whole new world of possibilities to address the biggest challenge of our times, a Sustainable Food Chain.
Deepak Rajmohan, our next pathbreaker, CEO of Agri-tech startup, GreenPod Labs, works on solutions to minimize agricultural food waste based on controlled environments driven by Nanotechnology.
Deepak talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about stumbling upon statistics that 40% of fruits and vegetables are spoilt before they reach the consumer which made him think of developing sustainable and natural solutions to minimize waste by increasing shelf life based on the concepts of Food Science.
For students, our experiences and challenges are our best teachers because they give us the tools and techniques to explore our own ideas !
Deepak, tell us about your background?
I was born and brought up in Chennai. I have always been curious about learning something new and interesting. When every friend of mine was choosing a conventional degree path such as a Mechanical or Computer Science degree, I decided to chose Agriculture Engineering as my field of study.
To be honest, I did not know much about the course before choosing it. I looked into the course structure and did my research to understand the job prospects – that research was convincing enough for me to choose the course. Now, so glad I took that decision – I have enjoyed/ enjoying learning about different aspects of Agriculture and that has transformed my career.
While doing my bachelor’s, I got super interested in doing deep research and that drove me to do my masters. I have been a foodie my whole life and an opportunity to study more about the science which goes behind every food that is made was fascinating. That triggered me to go to Oklahoma State University in the US for my master’s in Food Science.
What did you do for graduation/post-graduation?
I got my bachelor’s in 2013 (Agricultural Engineering) from Anna University and got my masters from Oklahoma State University in 2017 (Food Science).
What made you choose such an offbeat, unconventional, and unique career?
I couldn’t pinpoint one key influencer or moment that made me choose this career. I think my curiosity helped me build my career. My brother has been a long term mentor to me and was instrumental in guiding me in the right direction. And my mom has been supportive of every decision I have ever taken.
During my undergraduate degree, I met a professional who was working as an R&D manager for a chewing gum company. He talked about his work and explained the process involved in food product development. It became a huge passion for me and I wanted to be in a similar field and that made me decide to go for my master’s in Food Science. Eventually, after my masters, I became a Food Scientist and developed food products. My fascination became a reality.
How did you plan the steps to get into the career you wanted? Or how did you make a transition to a new career? Tell us about your career path
Every career move I took was out of the ordinary, choosing Agriculture Engineering wasn’t the usual path, and after that, going for masters in Food Science wasn’t a normal choice. And last year I quit my job in the US and moved back to India to start my new company. My journey from my schooling to becoming an Entrepreneur has been purely triggered by my passion and interest.
Before moving from one phase to another, I tend to do a ton of research about the field I’m getting into. I will try to understand the opportunities within a new field and the skills required to be successful in that field. When I decided I wanted to do a master’s in the US, I had to figure out all the scholarships available in different universities – since studying in the US is expensive. I had to go through different blogs online and speak with others who were studying with scholarships. That groundwork helped me secure a scholarship for my masters.
The scholarship was funded by the Oklahoma State to the State University to conduct research that can uplift the state’s economy. It was a research scholarship that paid my tuition fully and I also got a stipend for the living expenses. The criteria wa to come up with innovative ideas and write a research proposal and get the funding.
After my graduation from my master’s, to be successful at getting a job in the US as a Food Scientist – you need to build a strong network to get interviews and potential job offers. In order to build the industry network, I reached out to 700+ food industry professionals in the US on LinkedIn and had phone conversations with more than 250 people. This process gave me two things, 1. It helped me gather information and insights about the industry 2. It helped me build a strong network and indeed I got the job I wanted.
Overall perseverance and growth mindset were critical for my career transition.
My primary objective while working as a Food Scientist was to research innovative ingredients, study ingredient functionality in food products, generating new food product ideas, and developing new food products. The job required a perfect blend of being creative and analytical at the same time – I loved it. Most of my career in the industry was around developing snack and cereal products for infants and kids in the US. R&D work involves working with cross-functional teams in the operations, marketing, finance, and supply chain. This ability to navigate through and collaborate with different teams is helping me now as a CEO managing a cross-functional team.
I stumbled upon statistics which said about 40% of fruits and vegetables are spoilt before they reach the consumer. My experience working with the biochemistry of food ingredients, made me think we could develop a sustainable, natural solution to minimize waste. That was the beginning of this new entrepreneurial journey.
How did you get your first break?
I think scoring 97% in my 12th grade would be considered as the first break for me. I got it because of my hard work and perseverance. You just have to keep trying, I was not a smart kid growing up – I was an average student but my motivation to do something big in life helped me put in the hard work to get high scores in my 12th grade. After that, it was a domino effect.
What were some of the challenges you faced? How did you address them?
Life will be filled with challenges along the way and you have to keep your head straight and keep going. There are a couple of challenges I faced along the way:
- As I mentioned earlier, I was an average student until my 12th grade, I didn’t have the right motivation to do great at school until my public exam in my 12th grade. I had to overcome my fears and inabilities to perform at my best and I did do that.
- When I moved to the US, my spoken English wasn’t great, but to build a great network you need to improve your English standards. It was a huge motivation for me – I started listening to US news channels, talk shows, podcasts, interviews and I started imitating the US English accent and I got good at it. Eventually, I won the university level public speaking competition and represented my university at the national level. It was a huge pride.
Where do you work now? Tell us what you do?
I have my startup now, called GreenPod Labs in India. We’re an Agri-tech startup working towards minimizing the agricultural food waste. I’m currently the CEO of the company.
We use a proprietary composition of active compounds from plants which creates a controlled environment to preserve the quality and extend the shelf life of fruits and vegetables. We use nanotechnology to precisely control the environment around the fruits and vegetables. The technology helps us optimize the product and its efficiency.
We’re solving the food waste problem in India.
Being a CEO requires a diverse set of skills, such as management, team building, leadership, research, etc. You can’t acquire all the skills at once – you have to keep learning.
I wake up at around 5:30 am and I start my day working out. I will usually have meetings with the team in the morning and after which I start working on product validation and experiments.
What is it you love about this job?
The ability to be creative and working with smart people has been the best part of being a CEO.
How does your work benefit society?
We are trying to solve the food waste problem in India to impact society in multiple ways such as increasing the country’s income and improving food security.
Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!
I can’t think of one single example, there are plenty of memorable moments.
Food waste causes multiple consequences in the country, such as huge economic losses, poor food distribution causing hunger, and greenhouse gas emissions to the environment. It is multifaceted problem and solving it could transform society.
One example is if a smallholder farmer uses our product during storage and transport to the nearest mandi – he would be able to minimize the fruits/vegetable wastage and improve the produce quality. By minimizing the produce wastage his annual income will increase – which in turn would improve his livelihood.
Your advice to students based on your experience?
Follow your heart and your passion. Once you know what you like the most, work hard, and be focused. Never be afraid to pursue a career path that is not considered the standard path in society, follow the path which will make you and you alone happy.
My current plan is to build my company as a global company and solve the food waste problem in developing countries. My long term plan is to be a serial entrepreneur and become a polymath.