Written by: Deepthi Sendilkumar
At Spira, we believe to support a more sustaining world with a responsible supply chain, we must connect consumers to the food system. It’s on us to foster the relationship consumers have with their ingredients. Spira is extremely fortunate to partner with farmers across the globe and amplify their stories. We are delighted to introduce our newest partner: Gugan Elangovan from GushGreens, and his story as a spirulina farmer.
Gugan comes from Tirupur, a small town in Tamilnadu, India. Throughout his school and undergraduate degree, Gugan led a healthy and active lifestyle. However, that all went downhill once Gugan started working full-time in the IT sector post-graduation. Gugan stated, “We wake up early, work late hours, and barely have time to take care of ourselves.” Despite efforts to take care of himself, Gugan’s body started to feel the effects as he was not able to focus and became plagued with chronic fatigue.
This set him in the direction of researching ways to optimize his health - where he first discovered spirulina in late 2016. Immediately he grew fascinated and started attending a workshop in Chennai to learn more. It was here Gugan learned that 1g of spirulina can provide the same nutrients as 1kg of fruits or vegetables. Although he later learned that there’s more to that simple comparison, he knew spirulina was a game-changer and could revolutionize how busy workers take care of their health. As he learned many of his coworkers had similar experiences of declining health from the sedentary and intense demands of the corporate world, he knew consumers demanded something that was quick, easy, and nutrient-dense. Hence spirulina would be the solution. Gugan continued his research to learn more about the superfood. In 2017, he came across Spira and Elliot Roth which ultimately brought him to VCU where he is currently attaining his MBA & Masters in Decision Analytics.
Idea to Reality
In 2019, Gugan took a leap of faith and started his own algae farm. In spite of a bit of resistance at the beginning from his family, he walked away from a steady and reliable job to pursue his passion and step out of his comfort zone. His farm is located in his hometown Tirupur and houses 6 algae ponds. Now with the support of his employees including his father and friend, the farm currently manufactures 300 kg of spirulina monthly.
To get a better insight into the algae start-up scene, I asked Gugan what a typical day life looks like. Gugan replied, “We usually start with a SCRUM call every morning with the farm to discuss how we can improve manufacturing and marketing as well as finding new buyers.” Gugan brings a refreshing and unique background coming from IT which can be seen in the agile expertise he brings to the organization and processes of the farm - one that he hopes will appeal to younger generations.
Spirulina in India
To learn more about the superfood’s presence internationally, I asked Gugan what the future of spirulina looks like in India. Gugan stated that “the younger generations are very interested in spirulina and can help spread the message, also the research speaks for itself.”
Due to the favorable climate of Tamilnadu, several algae farms are present. This was a huge asset to the success of Gugan’s farm as the community was incredibly welcoming and delighted to see a young farmer enter the space. Gugan told us that only 3% of India’s spirulina market is being fulfilled hence farmers are eager to see new faces join and love to help by providing connections or any other assistance.
Gugan’s Next Steps
Gugan is now focused on expanding and improving his farm through investing in more machinery. He believes that through improving his machinery the farm will be able to increase its output to 500-600 kg per month. Apart from the increase in the yield, newer machinery will also improve efficiency and quality while reducing drying process time and the overall burden on the employees.
With 6 months left in his MBA program, Gugan is excited to use the skills earned and implement them on the farm. He believes algae has tremendous potential and will be seen in a variety of industries in the future from pharmaceuticals, textile, and cosmetics - and so do we.