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Phool.co’s agri waste-to-leather idea gets funding

T V Jayan New Delhi | Updated on August 28, 2020

Gemba Capital invests in angel and seed rounds in tech-enabled start-ups   -  Getty Images/iStockphoto

It has found a way to convert biomass waste, rich in cellulose into animal-free leather, fleather

Soon, that leather bag or jacket that you buy the from market may not necessarily be from animal hide. For, a biomaterials start-up, founded by two alumni of Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Kanpur about two years ago, has perfected the technology to convert agricultural waste into an alternative to leather, which could yield some best quality “leather-like” products.

Phool.co, a budding the Kanpur-based circular economy start-up, which shot into fame a couple of years ago by making incense sticks from used flowers from temples, has found a way to convert biomass waste, rich in cellulose into animal-free leather. Named ‘fleather’, the product is found to be as good as most conventional leather products.

The novel product from Phool.co, co-founded by IIT-K graduates Ankit Agarwal and Prateek Kumar, has already found takers with two early stage funders putting ₹10.5 crore ($1.4 million) to take this business idea forward.

“We have shown that any agricultural waste rich in cellulose can be used as feedstock for producing fleather. The tests carried on the product have shown them to be as good as leather produced using most animal hide,” said Phool.co co-founder and CEO Ankit Agarwal.

For a start, the start-up plans to use crop stubble for making fleather. “We plan to use the funds to set up a unit in Haryana where crop residue is abundantly available,” said Agarwal. According to him, each tonne of crop residue could yield anywhere between 140 to 70 square feet of fleather, which Phool.co plans to sell for a price of $1.5 per square foot.

According to Agarwal, there are a number of aggregators who collect in these States and the start-up plans to buy stubble paying up to ₹5 a kg. “Before this financial year close, we would set up units in two more locations in the country,” Agarwal told BusinessLine.

The start-up derives its name from the venture it launched a couple of years ago – recycling flowers used in temples for making a range of useful products, including incense sticks. “We collect 4.4 tonnes of flowers per day from Kanpur temples alone. Since December last year, we have been getting flowers also from Tirupati. Though Tirupati temple can supply 11 tonnes of used flowers a day, we have been able to procure only 2 tonnes a day as of now,” he said. Phool.co sells its produce direct to customers. “We have over 1.2 lakh customers buying these products directly from us,” said the IIT-K graduate.

Earlier, Phool.co had raised ₹3.38 crore in a seed round from Social Alpha, DRK Foundation, and a few others such as IIT Kanpur and Balmer Lawrie.

Padmaja Ruparel, Founding Partner, IAN Fund said: “Phool.co’s circular economy model brings triple bottom benefits of environmental, social, and financial sustainability.”

“Innovation in product development aside, I am a huge fan of Phool.co because it is deeply committed to upliftment of marginal women in our society. Phool.co has given a life of dignity to dozens of women and they did this despite having an option of automating the process,” IIT Kanpur Director Abhay Karandikar said.

Published on August 28, 2020

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