3/18/2014 – This post was written by Natalie Hansen, and was originally posted on the College of Business website.
A small fungus has taken over the sustainable enterprise world — and is improving the lives of rural Vietnamese farmers in the process. Trang Tran and Tanmay Telang, co-founders of Fargreen, have pulled in thousands of dollars in funding and accolades from business competitions in just the first year of the venture’s existence. The money and publicity mean that Tran and Telang are closer to their five-year goal — to inspire 1,000 farmers to use rice straw to grow mushrooms.
Fargreen, which uses the motto “Going Far by Going Green,” began as a learning tool, Tran says. Tran is a Global Social and Sustainable Enterprise (GSSE) MBA program alumna and Venture Accelerator student at the College of Business. “After one semester in the GSSE program, I wanted to try out my own venture,” she explains. When she started planning her own enterprise, it was an easy choice to focus on boosting Vietnam’s sustainability efforts. With the help of co-founder Thuy Dao, a friend and agricultural engineer in Vietnam, the idea of using waste from rice production as bio-fertilizer for growing mushrooms was born in February 2013. Later that year, Tanmay Telang, also a GSSE MBA alumnus and Venture Accelerator student, came on board and Fargreen was on its way to bettering Vietnam’s rice farms.
“90 percent of rice production happens in Asia,” Telang explains, “And Vietnam is the second biggest producer.” Typically, used rice straw is burned and releases thousands of tons of pollution into the air every year. As the first sustainability-driven startup in Vietnam, Fargreen is working toward preventing 10,000 tons of gasses from being released through open burning. Using the rice straw to grow mushrooms also gives farmers another income source.
To help Fargreen get off the ground, Tran and Telang have entered – and won — several national and international business competitions including the Global Social Entrepreneurship Competition and the Western USA regional round of the Walmart Better Living Business Plan Challenge (they compete in the finals round later this year). Fargeen is competing in the William James Foundation Sustainable Business Plan Competition and is gearing up for the Blue Ocean Enterprises Challenge at CSU in May.
The duo is headed to Vietnam later this year to oversee further implementation of their business plan. Telang says they continuously look for new team members from diverse backgrounds who share a passion for international development and understand Fargreen’s mission. “It’s a multi-layer problem. This is all about collaboration and helping farmers become more prosperous,” Tran says.