Apples to bats, Kashmir's startup scene gains momentum with foreign funding – Business Standard

A Srinagar-based startup, pioneering the modernisation of apple farming in Kashmir, recently secured Rs 60 crore in foreign funding, making headlines in the entrepreneurial landscape. Another startup, which aims to elevate the quality of the Kashmiri willow so that it can compete with English cricket bats, successfully bagged Rs 30 lakh on Shark Tank India. And a logistics startup facilitating deliveries for Amazon and Flipkart in the Valley raised Rs 4 crore from domestic investors since it was launched in 2019.

Jammu and Kashmir, traditionally reliant on agriculture and tourism, is experiencing a rise in innovative enterprises, particularly after the JK Startup Policy was introduced in 2018. 

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Battered for years, Kashmir’s industry needs such attention from foreign and local investors, says Khuram Mir, founder of Qul Fruitwall Farm Installations, the startup that received Rs 60 crore from Belgium-based impact investor Incofin and Noida-headquartered Fiedlin Ventures.

Mir, who belongs to the remote village of Pinjoora in South Kashmir’s Shopian district, left his job in Europe some years ago and returned to revitalise his family’s apple business. Transforming it with modern interventions, he turned his experiment into a business, assisting over 5,000 farmers in transitioning to modern, high-density apple farming. 

Apple farming is critical to Kashmir’s economy and accounts for over 75 per cent of India’s total apple produce. Directly and indirectly, it employs around 3.5 million people – that’s over one-fourth of Kashmir’s population. The sector, though, has been facing competition from Iranian and American apples. 

Traditional apple trees take some five years to fruit. The modern ones that startups like Qul are introducing begin bearing fruit in the second year. The quality, size and colour of the fruit, too, is better.

Qul, which has an annual turnover of over Rs 40 crore, intends to scale up its operations and reach 30,000 farmers over the next few years. With a focus on improving yield and quality, it aims to quadruple their production within five years. 

FastBeetle, another startup launched in Srinagar in 2019, is, meanwhile, supporting local businesses and serving as a delivery partner for e-commerce giants like Amazon and Flipkart. 

With an annual turnover of Rs 8-10 crore, the company has raised Rs 4 crore from domestic investors, including from Jaipur-based KM Trans Logistics and Shark Tank India.

The firm, which has a valuation of Rs 22 crore and a network of warehouses and delivery centres across the Valley, delivers some 300,000 orders in a month, says Abid Rashid, its co-founder. It also services customers outside of India.

The Kashmiri willow has also inspired a startup: Tramboo Sports.

The startup, which secured Rs 30 lakh on Shark Tank, harbours the ambition of internationalising bats made from the Kashmiri willow so that it can be a competitor to the English willow. 

“Since our launch in 2021, we have sold 25,000-odd bats across the world,” says Saad Tramboo, the co-founder. The company anticipates a jump in turnover following recent funding.

Tramboo has set up a seasoning chamber to enhance the quality of Kashmir’s cricket bats, which it sources from manufacturers. The family-run chamber ensures the wood is appropriately dried, making the bats competitive in both national and international markets. Despite being slightly heavier than the English willow, efforts are made to maintain the bats’ standards and quality.

Tramboo’s bats are priced at around Rs 40,000-50,000 – half the cost of the English counterparts.

Jammu, too, is seeing the emergence of startups. 

Among them is Nambhya Foods, an Ayurveda-based health brand launched in 2019, which now delivers 10,000-12,000 orders a month. Founder Ridhima Arora, who initially invested personal savings of Rs 30 lakh, later secured a funding of Rs 1 crore from investors on Shark Tank India.

“Our turnover has since gone up from Rs 1-2 crore to Rs 12-14 crore,’’ she says.

Between 2018 and 2024, officials say, 167 startups have registered with the main nodal agency, the JK Entrepreneurship Development Institute. Additionally, 708 startups have registered with the centrally-sponsored Startup India Initiative since it was launched in 2016.

Ishan Verma, who oversees the JK Startups Association, says these initiatives have benefitted from incubators at institutions like the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and National Institute of Technology (NIT).

Despite the positive momentum, there are concerns about the government’s support for startups, with calls for a renewed focus on funding and policy development. The region awaits a new Startup Policy, which would promise increased funding and streamlined processes and would be aligned with the National Startup Policy.

Meanwhile, changes in land laws and a new industrial policy are attracting investments in other areas as well. 

Last year, Dubai-based real estate giant Emaar entered Srinagar with plans to build a mega-mall and twin IT towns worth Rs 500 crore, marking a significant foreign direct investment milestone for the region. And last week, the government informed the Rajya Sabha that since 2019, Jammu and Kashmir has received investments of about Rs 5,657 crore.


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