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Agritech startup DeHaat raises $12M to reach more farmers in India

DeHaat, an online platform that offers full-stack agricultural services to farmers, has raised $12 million as it looks to scale its network across India.

The Series A financial round for the eight-year-old Patna and Gurgaon-based startup was led by Sequoia Capital India. Dutch entrepreneurial development bank FMO, and existing investors Omnivore and AgFunder, also participated in the round. The startup, which began to seek funding from external investors last year, has raised $16 million to date and $3 million in venture debt.

DeHaat (which means village in Hindi) eases the burden on farmers by bringing together brands, institutional financers and buyers on one platform, explained Shashank Kumar, co-founder and chief executive of the startup, in an interview with TechCrunch.

The platform helps farmers secure thousands of agri-input products, including seeds and fertilizers, and receive tailored advisory on the crop they should sow in a season. “We have built a comprehensive database of crop tests to offer advice to farmers,” he said.

DeHaat, which employs 242 people, also helps them connect with 200 institutional partners to provide farmers with working capital, and when the season is over, helps them sell their yields to bulk buyers such as Reliance Fresh, food delivery startup Zomato and business-to-business e-commerce giant Udaan.

DeHaat today operates in 20 regional hubs in the eastern part of India — states such as Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, and Jharkhand — and serves more than 210,000 farmers, said Kumar.

Shashank Kumar, Amrendra Singh, Adarsh Srivastav and Shyam Sundar Singh co-founded DeHaat in 2012

The startup has developed a network of hundreds of micro-entrepreneurs in rural areas that distribute agri-input goods to farmers from their regional hubs and then bring back the output to the same hub.

“We have an app in local languages and a helpline desk that farmers, many of whom don’t own a smartphone, use to reach out to us and explain their pain points and needs,” he said.

DeHaat does not charge any fee for its advisory, but takes a cut whenever farmers use its platform to buy agri-inputs or sell their crop yields.

The startup will use the fresh capital to extend its network to 2,000 rural retail centres, on-board more micro-entrepreneurs for last-mile delivery and reach 1 million farmers by June of next year, said Kumar. DeHaat is also working on automating its supply chain and developing more sophisticated data analytics, he said.

At stake is India’s agriculture market that is worth $350 billion and serves nearly 100 million small and independent farmers, said Abhishek Mohan, VP at Sequoia Capital India, the VC fund that writes more checks than anyone else in the country.

“This industry is on the brink of a massive transformation thanks to ease of regulation, farmers getting organized and increasing penetration of smartphones. DeHaat is leveraging these trends to build the next-gen product in agricultural supply chain,” said Mohan in a statement.

“The tipping point that led to Sequoia India’s decision to partner with them was the field visit, where the farmers expressed how proud they were to be associated with a platform they felt truly worked in their favour. This impact and deep brand loyalty stems from the leadership team’s razor-sharp focus, deep empathy and fine execution,” he added.

Boeing to re-fly uncrewed demo mission of their human spacecraft after first try met with errors

Boeing has confirmed what many suspected following the partial failure of their original Starliner capsule Orbital Flight Test (OFT) – the company will re-fly the mission, once again seeking to test and demonstrate the Starliner’s launch, flight, Space Station docking and landing capabilities prior to flying a version of the mission with actual astronauts on board.

In a statement, Boeing said that it “has chosen” to re-fly the mission, in order to “demonstrate the quality of the Starliner system.” The aim will be to do all the test objectives that were on the table the first time around, the statement continues, and this second flight will be flown “at no cost to the taxpayer,” which presumably means Boeing is eating the cost of the unplanned second attempt.

During the first OFT, the launch (aboard a ULA Atlas V rocket) went exactly to plan, but after the Starliner decoupled from the launch vehicle, it fired its own engines too early owing to a mission timer error, and expended more fuel than was planned without reaching its target orbit. NASA and Boeing decided to end the mission early rather than attempt a Space Station docking after putting the Starliner into a stable orbit, and found, then fixed a second error during the landing process.

Initially, both NASA and Boeing maintained that further investigation would be required before making a determination about whether another OFT mission would have to be flown. Representatives from both noted that the original OFT, while not successful in each of its goals, nevertheless did prove out the proper working of many aspects of the Starliner’s systems. Immediately following the launch and initial error, NASA and Boeing held a press conference in which NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine further noted that were astronauts on board, they likely could’ve saved the original mission goal of a docking via manual intervention.

No timeline has been given for the OFT re-flight, but it’s definitely going to impact the schedule for when Boeing will be able to fly its first astronauts aboard Starliner. Boeing and SpaceX are both participating in NASA’s Commercial Crew program, which aims to return human launch capabilities to U.S. soil via partners from private industry. SpaceX is now preparing for its first crewed demonstration mission, which is currently set to take place sometime in mid-to-late May.

Boeing’s aircraft operations are also encountering setbacks – but due primarily to COVID-19. The company announced it would be ending production of 787 airplanes at its South Carolina factory on Monday, which essentially mans that all of its commercial aircraft production capacity is currently paused.

Boeing suspends 787 airplane production

Boeing said Monday it will suspend all 787 operations at its South Carolina factory following a stay-at-home order issued by the governor, effectively putting the company’s entire commercial airplane production on hiatus.

The closure will start at the end of the second shift April 8. Boeing announced the production suspension on the same day it confirmed that it would re-fly the Starliner capsule Orbital Flight Test following a partial failure of that mission late last year. The test aims to demonstrate the Starliner’s launch, flight, Space Station docking and landing capabilities prior to flying a version of the mission with actual astronauts on board.

“It is our commitment to focus on the health and safety of our teammates while assessing the spread of the virus across the state, its impact on the reliability of our global supply chain and that ripple effect on the 787 program,” Brad Zaback, vice president and general manager of the 787 Program and BSC site leader said in a statement.

Boeing already stopped operations at its Seattle area facilities. Boeing said Sunday it would extend the suspension of production operations at its Puget Sound area and Moses Lake sites in Washington until further notice. The company said it extended the closure due to the spread of COVID-19 in Washington as well as the reliability of the supply chain.

Boeing didn’t provide a date when it will restart production of the 787 airplanes or provide guidance on any of its other operations in the U.S.

Employees at the Boeing South Carolina (BSC) facility who can work remotely will continue to do so, the company said. Those who cannot will receive paid leave for 10 working days of the suspension. Boeing said this is twice as long as its company policy. If the closure persists, employees will have the option to use a combination of paid time off or file for emergency state unemployment benefits.

White House signals support for a new international Moon Treaty

The international community has struggled for decades to formalize rules regarding the collection and use of resources in space and on the Moon. While the U.S. and all spacefaring countries declined to endorse the most famous attempt, the 1979 “Moon Treaty,” the new Moon race has spurred the White House to announce it is open to a new international agreement on the topic.

In an executive order issued today, the administration signaled that it will be the policy going forward to “encourage international support for the public and private recovery and use of resources in outer space.”

The order doesn’t impose anything but remains a mere statement of policy, so this is just an initial step. But it’s an indication that the U.S. wishes to move forward with a new framework regarding the use of resources in space.

The question of which laws apply (including property laws and border agreements) once you leave the surface of the Earth is a complex one; even if it weren’t, many laws and rules on the topic were written or conceived of during a very different space age and various forms of Cold War. Considering the present boom in the space business and the impending colonization of near-Earth bodies like the Moon and potentially asteroids, new rules are clearly necessary.

As it stands, there is very little in the way of official legal status for materials harvested on the Moon, brought there to stay, shared with other countries and so on. Which authorities on Earth are going to arbitrate disagreements? How will we prevent the lunar surface from being disfigured by a commercial mining operation blowing chunks of regolith into orbit?

Like the lack of rules surrounding filling the sky with communications satellites, and the resulting global outcry, it’s clear something needs to be done. But even the scope of the rules is in question. Should things like property rights on the Moon be considered? If so, considering the complexity of that question, would the rules be finished in time to avert the conflicts they’re intended to? But if not, why not? And when will they be considered?

As you can see, this is a pretty big can of worms the U.S. is planning on opening, but it has to be done sooner or later.

To that end, the U.S. will “seek to negotiate joint statements and bilateral and multilateral arrangements with foreign states regarding safe and sustainable operations for the public and private recovery and use of space resources,” the executive order reads.

No doubt there are high-level talks already in progress, or else the administration would likely not find it expedient to publicly declare support for a new approach to space regulation. Doubtless every other country planning commercial use of space is ready to take part — but that doesn’t mean negotiations will be simple or easy.

Bidet startup Tushy scales up to meet demand amid toilet paper shortage

Business at Tushy is booming.

While the circumstances that led to the boom are sobering, the bidet company needed to adapt its strategy after seeing an uptick in business amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Other companies in this cohort include video conferencing service Zoom, meal kit service Blue Apron and Facebook, thanks to its social network, video hardware Portal and Oculus Quest VR headset. These companies all have something in common — they offer solutions to problems that, until recently, were not all that urgent.

Founded in 2015 by Thinx founder Miki Agrawal, Tushy aims to replace toilet paper, CEO Jason Ojalvo tells TechCrunch. Ojalvo, who joined the company as CEO in 2018, says North America has been a holdout when it comes to bidets. As a result, the nation flushes about 15 million trees down the toilet every year.

Tushy, which has raised $2.9 million since its founding, has been profitable for the last two years. That’s in part thanks to the company’s focus on sustainability — not just from an environmental standpoint, but from a business one, Ojalvo says. That means not over-hiring or spending too much on marketing.

“We’re really careful about doing it in a way so we won’t explode like some other direct-to-consumer companies can do when they raise too much money and they over-hire and then they have to let people go,” Ojalvo says. “That’s just a debacle that I’ve seen first hand and I don’t want to be part of it. Not only do I not want to be part of it but I don’t want to be the leader of the company that does that.”

Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, Tushy saw its growth double year-over-year. Ojalvo says that’s partly been a result of having customers who evangelize on their behalf. Fast-forward to around March 9, when sales really started to double beyond the norm; a few days later, Tushy was having days where it brought in $500,000 in sales.