Origin Story Interview W/ Gaurav Vora, Renergii

Origin Story Interview W/ Gaurav Vora, Renergii

Brighter Future


Jul 13, 2022

#BrighterFuture #entrepreneurship #Sustainability #ClimateChangeSolution #originstoryseries #seekthechange #agrifood #circulareconomy #circularcities #AgriTech #FoodInnovation

Brighter Future

Here at Brighter Future, we love having conversations with inspiring entrepreneurs about their start-up experience and how they’re making a difference. Today, we’re thrilled to be joined by Gaurav Vora senior venture partner at RENERGii Asia, an agri-food company focused on building innovative, future-focused food solutions and supporting start-ups. He is also the co-founder of BluFins a plant-based seafood company and head of development at Mycovation a mycelium protein company.

Hi, Gaurav! Thank you so much for taking the time to speak to us today. We’re excited to learn more about both you and RENERGii. To get started, we’d love to hear a little bit about who you are and how you got to where you are today.

Hello! It’s lovely to speak to you. I am originally from a city in the south of India. I had the opportunity to travel a lot in my childhood because my mother worked for an airline. This gave me a wider perspective on the world from a young age, especially since India had a very closed economy back in those days. It didn’t have access to the global market until the early nineties. Like many people growing up in my area, I knew early on that I wanted to move abroad for better opportunities.

I always had a kind of fascination with the Western part of the world because of how methodical things seemed to be there. In India, at least when I was growing up, there was a lot more chaos and there weren’t many opportunities. When I reached my late-teens, I had the chance to travel a bit and do my undergraduate degree in Management information systems in the United States. I chose Virginia Tech. After college, I worked at Deloitte for about three years. In terms of lifestyle, it was a good job and I enjoyed it. But I felt there was more I could do. I wanted to help people, especially those who weren’t afforded the same opportunities I was. That was what prompted me to return to India. I wanted to see what I could do back home to be part of building new businesses and giving people opportunities.

I joined a reputed consulting business because it felt like a good blend of my professional experience and personal passion for helping people.

I guess that was the start of my trajectory. I was out there building new businesses, looking at new opportunities, and they led to my next career move, which was working for John Deere in an innovation and business development role. John Deere is the largest agricultural equipment company in the world, and it was my job to find and develop new opportunities for the company in India. Because, believe it or not, India sells the largest number of tractors in the world.

So, obviously, getting any kind of market share in this location would be a huge boost to John Deere’s overall global business. Part of my job was working on public-private partnership projects with India’s state governments, doing distribution and sales to people who had never seen mechanical equipment like this in their lives. But we knew the economic advantage it would give them in their businesses, as well as the social impact it would have. It taught me a lot and allowed me to contribute back to society. We were trying to help democratise entrepreneurship, and help those who don’t have the education, financial resources or confidence to start a business to successfully get on that path.

That is what really piqued my interest in food and agri-tech and led me to where I am today.   

That’s quite a journey. It’s always fascinating to trace these things back and see where those tiny seeds of interest were first planted. You’re now part of an incredible venture called RENERGii. Could you tell us a little more about how that unfolded? And what do you think contributed to the success of that venture?

In terms of my professional journey, I’ve had a lot of support from my parents. My father worked at a very senior level for a corporation, so I was used to seeing him travelling and working a lot as I grew up.

I saw and was inspired by his work ethic, his focus, and the hard work he put in every day. That helped me when I started my career because I already understood what it would take to be successful.

I’m not quite there yet, but I know what it takes from watching him, and from the career advice he gave me. He has guided me on networking, how I should approach opportunities, and how I should do things, like differentiate myself. Lots of little things that I wouldn’t have thought of by myself because of having less experience or a different personality.  He really reinforced the importance of soft skills, like networking or public speaking, in addition to technical skills. In India, for example, people are a little more shy. It’s a cultural thing among Asians, so public speaking is a really valuable skill to have in the workplace.

Another important part of my journey was having the right kind of mentors at work. They’re invaluable as a support system and for learning new things. At RENERGii, for example, we’re trying to build a very clear model in the protein (sustainable food) space so that we can build a network of customers who can be useful to all of the start-ups we support. Being able to have that kind of conversation on the science part of the business is vital for securing investors, and having expert mentors who assist us with learning and expressing ourselves allows us to do that. In business—and hopefully in life—you never stop learning.

We couldn’t agree more! If you’re not learning and growing and innovating, your business won’t make it. Any entrepreneur will agree that running a business takes drive, commitment and hard work. What motivates you personally to continue to pour your efforts into RENERGii?

When I think about what motivates me most—what really excites me—it’s new things. It’s being part of something that is on the cutting edge, whether that’s being first or among the first in the industry to do something or simply the first to try something. Even though I was in a more corporate role earlier in my career, it required me to look for new opportunities for the business. The other thing that really drives me is making a difference. This has been a common thread throughout my career. I want to do something new that will add real value to the world and to people’s lives. In terms of RENERGii, for example, in Asian countries, from a nutritional perspective, there is a huge deficiency in terms of protein consumption for the majority of the population.

So, how do you bring in a healthy, sustainable, affordable food product that tastes great and addresses this deficiency? At RENERGii, we’re trying to crack that code, I guess—among many others!

Fascinating! So, just to clarify for our readers, RENERGii is a venture studio, right? So it supports start-ups that are addressing these key issues, such as sustainable food sources, that affect both people and the planet.  

Correct. We focus on building new start-ups, helping entrepreneurs dive into these problems. Essentially, through our research, we identify a problem that we think can be solved. We come up with an idea/solution to solve it. And then we put together the right team to work on the concept. We bring in co-founders. We have some equity, just like a co-founder, and we also provide some initial funding. Those who take the risk and join the start-up get a salary so they’re not at a loss during those early stages. We’re essentially responsible for the business side of it. The people we bring in have the scientific expertise or technical expertise, but they need us for the commercial aspects, like the business model, sales and marketing, raising funding, etc.

For example, a start-up that I work closely with right now is called Mycovation. This venture looks at harnessing the versatility of mycelium (roots of mushroom) to make vegan, natural and health food ingredients. We are Asia’s first company to focus on this next generation of protein.

We have another start-up based in Indonesia called FeedWerkz, and that’s an insect protein business. It’s a very interesting idea because it’s a circular economy solution. Food waste is one of the biggest challenges faced by cities. The black soldier fly thrives on this food and therefore can convert the food waste into a source of protein—for animal feed.

All of these ventures are focused on protein, but they’re in many different industries and areas. We help them get off the ground, get them to a certain level, and when they’re big enough, when they have large enough funding, they can break away and work on their own while we scale back our involvement to being just a shareholder.  

It looks like you’ve got big plans for the future. We’re excited to watch your progress over the years to come. Often, as entrepreneurs and as people, we set out on a particular path but things don’t quite go to plan. We end up taking a different direction. Can you think of a time when you took a different direction than the one you expected or the one others expected of you?  

I think that most entrepreneurs (and people in general) will say that the COVID-19 pandemic was an unexpected and derailing time. It set many of us on different directions in our personal lives and careers. Back in 2020, we were expecting our second child. I was also travelling a lot in my role at John Deere Finance when COVID happened. There was a lot of uncertainty in terms of how we would manage and the health and safety of my baby and partner.  

I was talking to a close friend, who was a classmate from my MBA, and he was talking about how he had started a company called RENERGii and how he was looking for someone to help because it was just too many businesses and too many things to build. Because of the COVID situation locking down travel and my growing family, I was in a good position to take this amazing opportunity. I could have stayed in my corporate role. It’s not a direction I saw coming, but it’s certainly one I’m happy I took.

It seems like you took a leap of faith and it paid off! From our experience, those who have a personal passion for or connection to the problems they are solving are many times more successful than those who do not—and you’ve certainly got that. What kinds of challenges did you face with RENERGii, and what did you learn from them?  

I would say our biggest failure—or challenge—has been communication. Our teams are based in different cities around the world. For example, the Mycovation team is currently based in a city about one thousand miles from where I am right now. Getting everything done and keeping those lines of communication clear and open has been a real challenge. We’re not perfect at it but we’ve definitely improved. During COVID especially, everyone was working independently. We actually all just met for the first time—in person–a couple of weeks ago in Singapore. We knew each other from video calls, but it’s great to finally speak face to face and create that connection.

In terms of the start-up itself, we struggled a little with being new to the field and not having the level of technical expertise or knowledge to solve problems quickly. We needed to rely on experts and our customers to tell us “this is not up to standard” or “it’s not going to be good quality”. The big food companies, for example, would ask us all of these super-technical questions and question us about being new to the field. It was pretty demoralising, but that’s part of being a start-up. If you waited until you knew everything or had all the resources you need, you’d never get started. Those were failures in some ways, but they also led to us working in a new way, with collaborations. It was a great lesson to learn. We always had other organisations with similar challenges and experiences to bounce off ideas, which meant we could create synergies and help each other.  

Amazing! It’s true that we often learn so much more from our failures than our successes. It sounds like you ended up exactly where you needed to be. Some entrepreneurs report experiencing an “a-ha!” moment in their journeys—a moment when things just click into place or things suddenly take off. Did you experience that at all?

Yes, for us, the big “a-ha!” moment came when we got our first round of funding.

Up until that point, things were a little chaotic. There was lot of miscommunication and lots of things were not going well. We were trying to do too many things and were not able to prioritize. When we joined the Trendlines accelerator, we had to get our story in order. We had to tell potential investors about our vision and mission in a clear and convincing way. That was our “a-ha!” moment. We got ourselves in order, told a compelling story about who we are and what we were going to do, and we got the funding we needed. When we got that cheque, everything else just came together for us.

You mentioned that collaborating with other start-ups or consulting with experts and mentors can be incredibly helpful when facing the entrepreneurial unknown. It can make all the difference, especially in those early days. Did you have to make any personal sacrifices in the early days of RENERGii to help get it off the ground?

In some ways, there were sacrifices. I’ve always had a lot of self-doubt, and the people around me had doubts, too, about whether this was going to be something that would be worth giving up my good job for, and investing my time and energy in. I had to convince them, but I also had to convince myself. Especially with a young family and all of those obligations, it was a leap of faith to leave behind my steady job. I won’t complain about the sleepless nights or call them a sacrifice, though, because I got a lot of flexibility in return. I think the biggest sacrifice was giving up a very traditional, stable, secure life and career. It was a risk, for sure, but I’m happy to be on the other side.  

That’s a common thread among those we’ve interviewed. Often, the biggest sacrifice is letting go of that safety net and stepping out of your comfort zone. Similarly, as a society, we know we have to make some sacrifices and changes to ensure a better future for the next generation. We’re curious to hear a little about how you envision the future.

Personally, I think the decisions we make today are going to determine the future. That’s where I see the future. We’ve been talking about climate change for decades, but when COVID appeared seemingly from nowhere, I think the message finally hit home. People are starting to really understand that the planet and the environment and all that it provides for us cannot be taken for granted. The decisions we make and actions we take today are literally world-changing. They will change the course of the future.

Personally, I take a lot of comfort in the fact that I see tons of innovation and steps in the right direction through my role at RENERGii. I see a real focus on climate change, sustainability, advancements in sustainable food sources, and so on. Countries will be impacted in different ways and adapt in different ways. The West—including Europe, Western Europe—will be affected in a different way than countries with large populations and economies, like India, China and the Asian countries. It’s going to take time, but we have no choice now but to change.

That’s very true, but your positive outlook is so reassuring. It’s good to know that there are people like your team out there creating solutions. When future generations look back on your life and what you have achieved, what do you hope they’ll take away from your story?

That’s a very deep question! On a personal level, I hope that people remember me as someone who always helped them when they needed it. That’s who I am, and it’s what I enjoy doing. Supporting people and helping in any way I can is what I would like to be remembered for. I’ve had a lot of support from people around me, so it’s something I can pay forward to others. I don’t know if I can be a Mother Teresa or something, but I hope that when my kids grow up, they feel proud that I did my part. When I look at my Dad, I’m proud of his achievements, and I’d like them to feel the same way. For example, my Dad was the first person to bring solar electricity to India. When we’d go to the factory, I could see the respect that this colleagues had for him and his achievements.

As a start-up, it will take a long time for us to get to that level, but if we can convince some of the larger food companies and others to adopt them, our solutions could really make a huge difference in the world. And it would be amazing to be part of something like that.

Wow! What an inspirational person to have in your life. We’d like to give you a chance to inspire others, too. To speak directly to up-and-coming entrepreneurs, young or old, who are just starting out and are possibly shaping the future through their businesses. What advice do you have for them?   

To young entrepreneurs, and to my younger self, I would say take risks and keep trying new things. I was much more cautious when I was younger. I wanted to take a safer and more traditional route. But learning is the most important thing. You can learn a lot more by working in (or volunteering for) different organisations than you can in college or from a textbook. So, try new things. Try to create something unique, solve a problem, improve an existing solution, add value for people. Take those risks and keep going!

Great advice! Thank you for sharing your insights. Unfortunately, we’ve come to the end of this interview. It was wonderful to have had the opportunity to speak to you today, Gaurav. To close it out, we’ve got one final question for you: If there was one lasting message you could share with the world, what would it be?

That’s a tough one! I think my message would be: keep smiling!

The past few years have been stressful and challenging for everyone. Find ways to keep smiling or to stay happy. Reduce your stress in natural, uplifting ways. And when you have that happiness, spread it to others!


A huge thank you to our wonderful guest Gaurav Vora from RENERGii for participating in this interview and sharing his knowledge! If you would like to find out more about him and the great work being done by RENERGii, you can find more information at: http://www.renergii.com

To stay up to date with all of our latest content and interviews with amazing entrepreneurs like Gaurav, subscribe to the Brighter Future newsletter here.

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