“Going Green” has been a fad over the last few years and in particular over the last few months because of the sudden realization that our environment needs healing ! But there are some who have been pursuing a career in enabling “Going Green”.
Hrishikesh Sherikar, our next pathbreaker, Managing Director at Vericlone Technologies, applies scientific principles of growing plants, specifically Tissue Culture Technology, to clone plant tissue in a lab and then transfer them to pots which can then be adorned for various applications such as vertical walls or nurseries or gardens.
Hrishikesh talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about being introduced to Rose Cultivation at a very young age and deciding to apply cutting edge Biotech techniques to propagate plants from lab to the real world.
For students, Horticulture needs technology to flourish. Plant technology has the potential to change the world, if you choose to pursue it as a mainstream career !
Hrishikesh, tell us about your background?
Mr N. A. Joshi. is the true motivation and reason for what I am today. He devoted himself to his hobby of producing rose plants by his own polybag method which was invented on 24th February 1966.
In my childhood days, I got an opportunity to be with Mr.Joshi closely. He even taught me how to convert rose to graft. He rooted a true love for plants inside me. As a kid, whenever I used to visit any farm, he always used to teach me something new about plants. And that ultimately triggered a passion within me for plants which i took up as a career, proudly.
What did you study?
I did my post graduation in Microbiology from the University of Pune in 2010, and then completed my Masters in Crop biotechnology and Entrepreneurship from the University of Nottingham in 2012.
I then worked in Primarosa, Kenya in areas of flower growing (2012-2013). Since then I have worked at Rushikesh Rosarian in the areas of Growing, R&D and Laboratory (2013-2014). I started Vericlone Tissue Technology, a tissue culture company in 2014 and have been its Managing Director since 2014.
My current priority is to apply scientific principles of growing plants at Vericlone to achieve the vision of being one of the world’s best quality plant growers.
I wanted to learn crop biotechnology as well as the management aspects of business. So i decided to take such specific management courses related with horticulture. In Nottingham University they do have such courses for entrepreneurs. The title of my course is MSc in Crop Biotechnology and Entrepreneurship. In this course I learnt crop science, plant genetics, and tissue culture. And in the management course we learnt about finance and project management. We got a great opportunity to visit the most reputed research centres, seed and biotech companies in the UK. The crop science department in Nottingham University has a very rich background in research. The GM (genetically modified) Tomato comes from the same department. So, having studied such a specific course, my knowledge in business and crop science helped in starting my tissue culture company.
What made you choose such an offbeat, unconventional and uncommon career?
Earlier, male rose seeds would be planted in soil and uprooted while selling them. But N.A.Joshi, a former president of Rose society, came up with the polybag method after years of dedicated research. The idea of black polythene bags that carry rose plants is his idea of creation. This prominent invention saved so many plants from dying due to transportation. This method has now followed across the world for rose cultivation.
This is a unique revolution in the nursery industry in India. His innovation gives many nurserymen in India the ultimate comfort in regulating their nursery business. He happens to be the only participant and the only representative from India to attend the 6th and 7th world rose conventions held at Baden Baden, West Germany (1983) and Toronto, Canada.
In 1980 my father Mr. Maharudra Sherikar, following Joshi’s footsteps, started Rushikesh Rosarian. He is one of the major growers of rose plant in India. He is an expert in rose grafting and growing ornamental plants.
These two personalities have had a huge impact in shaping my career.
Tell us about your career path
After completing my masters from Nottingham University I got an internship opportunity at Primarosa Kenya. I interned there as a Production Manager, which gave me the experience to work on an international platform. It helped me understand the work culture in international businesses. I was handling multi-hectare polyhouse and learnt project management skills.
After returning to India we decided to start Vericlone, a tissue culture company. Initially, we were growing plants via vegetative propagation which takes lots of time and space for the ornamental plants to grow. The tissue culture technology enables rapid growth in specific time. So we are able to get more plants in the nursery.
Vericlone Green is a vertical wall company which deals in construction of vertical walls using plants.
What were the challenges you faced? How did you address them?
I think communication is what makes or breaks a business. I’m always trying to become better at it. Be it through developing a narrative about the business, explaining an initiative to the team, or communicating goals with a vendor. If you can communicate clearly and can get everyone on the same page, everything becomes much better and so are you!
Tell us about your work
Vericlone tissue technology is the brainchild of Rushikesh Rosarian group. We’ve been running the Rushikesh Rosarina group for the last 40 years. Vericlone deals in producing and supplying tissue culture plants and in constructing as well as maintaining vertical walls. Plant tissue culture is where high tech meets horticulture. Plants cells are isolated from the mother plants and grown on artificial media such as agar. This process is undertaken in the laboratory under a laminar airflow machine that creates an optimum sterile condition. The resulting plant material is referred to as Tissue culture. After a few days we can reintroduce the plants into pots.
Our nursery has been operating since the past 40 years and has over 350 varieties of plants and trees with some of them from renowned breeders from across the world. We have built a laboratory to clone plant tissue at Vericlone Technology. Today this technology allows us to grow a million plants in an area of 3500 Sq ft of laboratory, thereby saving space and resources. Some of the species we are successfully growing at our laboratory are Syngonium, Spthiphyllium, Calathea, Orchids, and Ferns. The grown plants are then transplanted and sold to plant nurseries all over India as far as Visakhapatnam, Cochin, Delhi and Calcutta.
What is a typical day like?
Technology allows me to work 24/7 from anywhere, anytime. Hence my work has a tendency to always be “on”. Having said that, I’m also able to shift gears in other ways. I’m not thinking that much about the day-to-day routine when I’m not in the office as much as the long-term strategy for the company. I absolutely love what I do, so naturally, it’s something I enjoy thinking about, talking about, or investing time on, even in my ‘own personal’ time as well.
How does your work benefit society?
I believe in letting technology do all the work. Many people like to own plants at home or work but complain about not having adequate awareness about taking care of the plants or it being too time-consuming. Proper care, correct watering and nutrition are important for plants to thrive. For this, we have developed a new hassle-free organic garden kit that allows the gardening enthusiast to provide easy care for their plants to thrive. Think of it as a plant pharmacy in a box. This product can also be viewed at the upcoming display.
Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!
The Greenwall project that we did for Mantralaya, the administrative headquarters of the state government of Maharashtra in South Mumbai was a proud moment for us. Greenwalls enhance the workspace whilst providing a healthier environment. We are proud to have provided plants that were grown in our nursery as well as homegrown in our laboratory. They were chosen keeping in mind the light intensity and wind velocity of the area.
Your advice to students based on your experience?
When I am asked to give any advice, I usually recite some of the sayings which I always say to myself. As Henry Ford famously said, “Whether you think you can, or think you can’t, you’re right.” Believe that you can succeed, and you’ll find ways through different obstacles. If you don’t, you’ll just find excuses.
Being an entrepreneur and a founder means you’re always growing, always pushing yourself further and further out of your comfort zone to achieve the unachievable. I feel fortunate that I don’t have a distinct roadmap that I have to follow in my career. I do what I believe is best for my business, and I go wherever it takes me
An interesting innovation that we have promoted is the combination of growing plants together with aquatic animals such as different species of fish, a system that is known as Aquaponics. Aquaponics is known the world over and was used in various South East Asian countries in rice cultivation where fish were added to the paddy fields. We have adapted this technology to blown glass bowls where plants, fish and bacteria live successfully together. This Aquaponics bowl is an ecosystem that can be placed on a table at home or the office and makes an ideal gifting solution.
For less experienced gardeners or those with limited space, we have Plugs – small-sized seedlings grown in trays to raise vegetables and bedding plants. Plugs are also useful if the sowing window is missed.
We even have a solution for someone who would like to grow plants with zero hassles. We have specially created easy-to-grow seed balls. They can be thrown on the ground before the monsoons and the rain will take care of the growing process.
For frequent travellers we are excited to offer a water capsule which when placed in the potted plant or soil, will provide water to the plant for up to 7-8 days.
To learn more about our work, you can visit: www.vericlone.in
Below, please find photos of our tissue culture and nursery plants and video of our work at our laboratory and hardening facility:
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