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Smell, sight and smoke: Start-ups show the way

  • from Shaastra :: vol 01 issue 03 :: May - Jun 2022
Ouija Biosolutions founders Supriyo Sen (right) and Rituparna Buragohain.

Three ventures on ways to help farmers and companies and extract fragrant oil.


Founders: Supriyo Sen and Rituparna Buragohain  
Year:          2018
Big idea:    A bio-formulation to improve efficiency of oil extraction from agarwood

The whiff of agarwood oil captivated Supriyo Sen as a post-doctoral student at the Institute of Advanced Study in Science and Technology in Guwahati, Assam. His project at the institute was on agarwood, a fragrant wood used for incense and perfumes.

Sen, who had specialised in Agricultural Sciences with a PhD in biotechnology, came to learn more about agarwood and the oil that was extracted from it and used in the fragrance industry. His interest in the subject prompted him to set up Ouija Biosolutions Pvt Ltd with Rituparna Buragohain, a friend from his kindergarten days. Buragohain had graduated in Chemical Engineering and worked in the IT industry for close to two decades, during which he'd also obtained an MBA.

The company, set up in 2018, seeks to improve the efficacy of agarwood oil extraction. Sen's proposal was selected under the Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council's grant scheme for early-stage start-ups, the Biotechnology Ignition Grant Scheme, and was incubated at the Pune-based Venture Center.

Assam is the largest producer of agarwood, which is mainly found in the North-East. The oil is extracted from agarwood using a distillation technology that has not seen any major changes over the years. There are 20,000-30,000 agarwood oil producers in Assam, according to Buragohain.

Traditionally, agarwood chips are soaked in water for up to two months and then put in condensers to extract the oil. The idea was to speed up the process using fermentation. The Ouija team came up with a proprietary solution that is used in the fermentation process, halving the time that was otherwise taken in the soaking process as well as increasing the production of oil, Sen says.

Ouija has obtained a patent for a part of the process and has applied for one for another part.

Agarwood has fragrant resins or molecules which become part of the oil that is used in perfumes, Sen explains. "Our technology is to make the distillation process more productive because the traditional method is old and there has been very little scientific intervention," he adds.

The Guwahati-based company, according to Buragohain, has done field trials and will conduct a few more rounds before launching the product later this year. The formulation will be in 100-gram packets and the company plans to make 3,500 packets in the first year of operation, with the production more than doubling in the subsequent year.

Sen and Buragohain believe that there is an overseas market too for their product, as agarwood is grown in Thailand, Laos, Myanmar and Indonesia. They have so far relied only on government grants and may consider raising funds from angel investors to help market the product.


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