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Loopworm's Ankit Alok Bagaria on the pillars of a mentor-mentee relationship

Loopworm's co-founder Ankit Alok Bagaria talks about why insect protein is a sustainable food choice, what he looks for in a mentor, and productivity hacks

Ankit Alok Bagaria, co-founder. ofLoopworm. Picture: Ankit Bagaria
Ankit Alok Bagaria, co-founder. ofLoopworm. Picture: Ankit Bagaria

Entrepreneurship was never a part of Ankit Alok Bagaria's plans. He had a straightforward idea of stepping into the world of technical consultancy after graduating from IIT Roorkee. But as they say, life had other plans. Today, he is the co-founder of India's first insect-farming startup, Loopworm.

Recognizing the growing concerns about food waste and the need to find sustainable sources of protein, Bagaria, along with his co-founder and batchmate Abhi Gawri, started Loopworm in 2019 to turn organic waste into a valuable resource. "Insects are nature's scavengers, and they consume a lot of organic byproducts and food waste. We felt that insects are an underutilised bioresource," says Bagaria. Started in 2019, the BEngaluru-based startup, Loopworm, aims to bring the worms back to the circular loop of food waste while creating alternative sources of protein through insect farming.

Also read: Taking notes is underrated: Pankaj Jathar, Etsy

Talking about engineering, Bagaria makes it clear that although he comes from a family of engineers, it was a choice based on interest and not a lack of presented options. At IIT Roorkee, seeing his peers start their ventures to find solutions to varied problems, Bagaria felt drawn to take up a solution-focused path rather than the usual career trajectory. 

His first startup, while studying at IIT Roorkee, was focused on providing farmers with real-time data about their crops using spectral imaging to help them to select appropriate fertilizers. However, the technology required access to smartphones, which many farmers couldn't afford.

“Although it didn't work, it got me interested more deeply in the agriculture sector and pushed me to look into food solutions, a base for Loopworm,” says Bagaria of what he learned from the failed venture. "It also made me realise that for any startup, having a passionate team is crucial," he adds.

For the final project at IIT Roorkee, Bagaria along with his co-founder and batchmate Abhi Gawri, combined their interest in the agri-tech space with the food waste problem that had been bothering them, to start Loopworm.

Bagaria talks to Lounge about what a good mentor-mentee relationship should look like, productivity hacks, and why the value of insect-based products is yet to be understood widely.

Who do you consider your mentor?

I have had different mentors in different phases of my life. One of my mentors is Akshay Singhal, who is one of the co-founders of Log 9 Materials. He was a senior at IIT Roorkee and is an investor in Loopworm. A mentor needs to understand and respect a mentee's perspective, which Akshay does wonderfully. He is very hands-on and knows me well, as he has seen my journey, so his advice is always insightful.

One major insight you worked on with your mentor's guidance

Akshay would always say: Think bigger. It was difficult to understand initially, but now I do. Now, whenever I'm planning something, I ask myself if I'm limiting myself and if there is a way to think bigger. Is there a vision attached to what I'm thinking? It's simple but very effective.

What does being a mentor mean to you?

Being a mentor is trying to understand your mentee by establishing an open communication channel and having mutual trust. You can give advice based on your experience, but it is not good to spoon-feed the mentee. It's important to understand that they may or may not follow your advice. It's a mentee-driven thing rather than a mentor-driven thing.

Describe your morning schedule

I don't like waking up with alarm clocks, and I don't have the longest sleep cycle. I normally wake up at around 7 am after about five to six hours of sleep. So it's okay. I try not to do things in a rush in the morning. After breakfast, I usually check my email and messages. I think about how my day looks like and what things I have to get done. I try to keep it as simple as possible.

What's the one positive routine that you've developed during the pandemic?

It all got messed up. Abhi (Gawri) and I had gone back home as it was difficult to manage by ourselves in Bengaluru. The one good habit that I did pick up was I read a lot because there was nothing else to do. Today that helps in doing more research and understanding the agri-tech field and startups.

Any book or podcast recommendation about mentorship or workplace growth that you can think of?

I am not a big fan of self-help books. I like to read a lot of textbooks. A book that I would suggest that everyone should read is The Intelligent Investor by Benjamin Graham. It beautifully lays down the entire principle of how businesses work and how you analyse good businesses, and that can be implemented in your businesses as well.

What are some of the productivity principles you follow that have improved your professional and personal life? 

I am a big fan of using whiteboards. It helps me structure my thoughts and is handy. I also use the Gantt chart frequently, which is time versus activity. It provides a graphical visualization of a project schedule. It can vary from 10 years to one day Gantt chart, depending on how you want to use it. One of the most effective productivity tools that is often overlooked is the Google Calendar. Just watching a ten-minute video on how to use Gmail effectively can help you realize how many tools you're still not using.

Any serious hobbies that you have?

I love playing chess online. It's a daily activity and a serious hobby. It also helps me get sleep better. I also read a lot of good research articles.

I have also learnt an easier way of understanding complex research. First, skim through the text and identify the keywords. Then watch video explainers related to them which would help in understanding the basic idea. Review papers are a good way to start in-depth learning, this will also help you pick specific research papers.

Do you think more people would opt for insect protein if there was more awareness?

Yes, definitely. I think the way it is marketed or packaged is still a main problem. We eat mushrooms but if it is marketed as a fungus, which it is, no one would accept them easily. 

Insects have been used for different products for ages. For instance, silkworms are used to make sarees that are widely worn in India but people hesitate to use the insect themselves. People are yet to understand how insects can be used as an alternative source of protein, shifting focus and burden away from animal farming while also helping tackle a worldwide problem, food waste. 

Also read:  The trick to staying organised at work and life

Monday Motivation is a series featuring founders, business leaders and creative individuals who tell us about the people they look up to and their work ethics.

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