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Rashtriya Atal Samman awardee stresses need to develop Northeast's fishery sector

Priyanka Chakrabarty , June 28, 2024
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Guwahati: Winner of Rashtriya Atal Samman 2024 and a successful entrepreneur from Tripura, Dr Debatanu Barman, spoke to Business North East about his journey - from beginnings to building a firm worth over Rs one crore. 

Excerpts of this interview are as under:

Business Northeast: Tell us about your experiences so far.

Dr Debtanu Barman: I am from Tripura, born and brought up in a fisherman community family, My forefathers were in the fishery business and fish farming so I have seen fish farming up close since my childhood. My father, a veterinarian, suggested that I should pursue either MBBS or Fishery. I chose the latter; I learned an entrance exam and got selected for the College of Fishery Tripura under Central Agricultural University Imphal. After graduation I got selected for a scholarship programme funded by Ghent University, Belgium. I took that scholarship and I went abroad for higher studies. I have done my Masters in Aquaculture. I went to Ireland, England, Indonesia, and Vietnam for internships.

After moving around in various parts of the world, I have understood that a lot of things need to be done from the Indian fishery perspective in terms of indoor and hi-tech fish farming. What we are doing with the pond system is not that sustainable so much. To address it we have used hi-tech based farming models.

Another thing that encouraged me to enter this profession is that in our fisheries sector, there are very few people in the private sector with a professional degree. Most of them have become Fisheries Officers in their respective states. Some of them are scientists, and others are working in banks and other sectors. However, nobody is willing to enter the private sector. There was a need for professional people in the industry. That is why I chose this particular field. I felt that I should learn the technology and understand the market. Then I realized that I should pursue something entrepreneurial.

In 2012, I joined my first private sector job at Cargill Animal Nutrition, a USA-based company. I worked there for 3.5 years in fish feed. We focused on the promotion of fish feed, utilization, and commercialization of farming in the northeastern states. After that, I worked with Hi-tech Pharma, a medicine-based company, for 2.5 years. Then I felt that I should establish my own identity. So, in July 2019, I founded Aqua Doctor Solution from my flat, which is where I currently reside. All the registration is done from that particular flat address. We started with some trading activities, buying from traders. Slowly, we connected with many people. Then I moved to a small co-working space in 2020 in Kalighat. We worked there for almost one year. In 2021, I moved to a bigger office space.

Currently, my office is in Kolkata. At the moment, we have three companies. Aqua Doctor Solution is the parent company. We have a subsidiary company called Barman Aqua Clinic Private Limited, registered in Tripura. Here, we conduct research and development activities and offer consultancy services. We also have another company called Brinje Farm Fresh Private Limited, where we are promoting aquaponics and hydroponics. We are developing these along with urban farming models. Through Aqua Doctor Solution, we are developing B2B, B2G, and B2C services for the government, semi-government entities, NGOs, FPOs, entrepreneurs, and fish farmers.

Business North East: Please let us know more about your education and how it has helped you in your business.

Dr Debtanu Barman I have an MSc in Aquaculture. Prior to that, I graduated as a Bachelor of Fishery Science.

Business North East: How many people are there in your business?

Dr Debtanu Barman There are 8 of us. Besides, we also have interns from different universities like Amity University, Noida, Galgotias University, New Delhi, University of Burdwan Bardhaman, and the like. We have 8 people in direct job roles and 3-4 people who are paid commissions.

Business North East: Are fish farmers associated with you as well?

Dr Debtanu Barman: At present, we have more than 20,000 farmers' portfolios with us. I am also a consultant to a few government agencies in Assam.  I also work for Grameen Vikas Trust in New Delhi as a consultant for Uttar Pradesh. Next week I will join Grant Thornton Bharat LLP as a fishery consultant. We are doing a lot of consultancy work for a number of developing and livelihood projects linked to NGOs and FPOs in the northeast and east.

Business North East: Please tell us about your business model.

Dr Debtanu Barman: We are basically a knowledge-based firm where we help people gain knowledge on fish farming, understand that and convert it to an economic venture. We also connect them to the right marketplace. We basically take care of A-Z solutions under a value chain process of fish farming and fishery-related activities.

Business North East: Why is the company called Dr Aquaculture?

Dr Debtanu Barman By Aqua we mean Aqua culture. I have used the word "Doctor" to signify that professional people are linked to it. By solution, we mean “one shop, one-stop”. We give everything that people are looking for in fishery.

Business North East: Are you earning revenue?

Dr Debtanu Barman: Now my company is worth Rs 1 crore. We started in 2019 and received a setback due to COVID. In that period also we earned Rs 50 lakh in revenue. We are making 20-35 percent profit every year.

Business North East: Please tell us about the Rashtriya Atal Samman you have received.

Dr Debtanu Barman: I was the only person for this award from the Northeast. Last year, deputy speaker of Tripura received this award. They have recognised me from the last 10 years as I have done lots of freelance training programmes through my YouTube channel. We have organised more than 200 learning stations online during the COVID pandemic. Through this, we have trained more than 5000 people. About 25-35 percent took to fish farming after taking such training.

I got information about this award from Tripura. Atal Foundation is having different centres in northeastern states and in different parts of country as well. From the Tripura team, my name was recognized. I just received a mail that I have to go and receive this award.

Business North East: How are you linked to IIM Calcutta Innovation Park?

Dr Debtanu Barman: Last year, I was a startup incubatee from Tripura for my start-up called E-fish tutor. In 2-3 months, we are coming up with a mobile application where you can learn about anything about fishery.  For example, if you want to learn about pearl culture you have to go to Google and you have to go to many pages.  But, in our app, we are adding small videos and presentations. We have also added life demo videos.  We are also adding a buyers and seller platform where the farmers can upload their products. The most important part is doctors on call 24/7 online services, both online and offline. This model was selected from Tripura. I went to attend 3 months of incubation programme in Guwahati. This programme is called the Northeast Entrepreneurship Development Programme (NEEDP). After three months of interviews, mentoring and presentation I am selected among the top 25 startups in the Northeast. I have received a 4 lakh pre-incubation grant from the North East Council and IIM Calcutta Innovation Park.

Business North East: What was your initial investment?

Dr Debtanu Barman: Initially, I had no funds, so I took a mudra Loan of 5 lakh. With that money, I started my business. Gradually, we have increased the business. I took another loan from the State Bank of India for expansion. Earlier we used to have only one product. Now, we are selling more than 100 products and services.

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