At a time when food poverty and sustainability is high on the global agenda, improving the world’s rice supply chain is becoming an issue of growing importance. Huboo is pleased to announce it is working as the fulfilment partner with two ambitious entrepreneurs, Lincoln Lee and Kisum Chan, who have created an award-winning social enterprise that is dedicated to solving this problem.
Launched in summer 2018, Rice Inc. is on a mission to make the post-harvest processes of rice a much quicker, fairer and more sustainable process through improved technology and better farming infrastructures in South East Asia.
In just a few short years, they’ve already bagged a £1 million seed fund and have helped countless smallholder farmers across the world – and they show no signs of slowing. We recently spoke to Lincoln and Kisum to hear more about the inspiration behind Rice Inc. and how they came to work with Huboo as their fulfilment partner.
Rice Inc. is doing some amazing work in helping to combat rice wastage and you’ve already achieved a huge amount in a very short space of time. Tell us more about your business journey and how you came up with the idea for the brand:
Kisum: Lincoln and I met whilst studying Biomedical Sciences at University College London, and while we both really enjoyed the course and the work we were doing, we bonded over a mutual desire to help drive change in the world.
As we are both from Asian countries where rice is a staple ingredient in many households, we were particularly interested in the amount of wastage that occurs in its production – it’s estimated that 30% of rice is wasted before it even reaches the plate. When we looked into it, it became clear that the reason behind these high levels of wastage is because around 70% of the world’s rice is grown by smallholder farmers, who face significant challenges in the farming and processing of their crops. These farmers typically get very low sales prices due to a convoluted supply chain, which in turn means they are forced to use very rudimentary farming practices that create a lot of wastage simply because they are not receiving a fair price for their product and cannot afford to invest in better equipment.
What Rice Inc. does is source high quality rice around South East Asia and bring it to high value markets like the UK. We then reinvest our profits back into those smallholder rice farmers, helping them gain access to more sustainable agricultural technologies – for every bowl of rice we sell, we invest that bowl back into the rice farmers in South East Asia. The overall aim of this is to lead to fairer prices, more environmentally friendly production methods and a zero waste supply chain for the rice industry.
The Rice Inc. model has gained a lot of support and praise since launching – tell us about your Hult Prize award win?
Lincoln: We first heard about the Hult Prize when at university – it’s got an impressive reputation and is the biggest competition for social enterprises within universities. Roughly 200,000 participants worldwide enter every year, and it is hosted by Bill Clinton in the USA. The winning startup receives a seed fund of $1 million to help fund and grow their business. Naturally, we wanted to get involved and during our second year at university, we were lucky enough to become the first UK team to win, as well as the youngest ever winners in the competition’s history.
It was a huge moment for us and that kind of recognition really reaffirmed to us that Rice Inc. has the potential to make a big difference in the world.
It’s clearly been an exciting journey so far. If you had to pick one, what would you say has been your proudest moment to date?
Lincoln: For me, it would have to be about a week after we won the Hult Prize. I flew directly from NYC to one of the farms we were working with and a family greeted me at the airport. They immediately started thanking me and I didn’t really understand why they had all turned out and waited for me for so long, to then thank me so profusely. It turned out that they were the second customer Rice Inc. had worked with – the farmer, who was a single mother, had experienced an exceptionally wet paddy that season and her crop was in danger of being unusable. But because we had recently installed a biomass-powered rice dryer in her village, she was able to use this and save her crop. Given there are only two rice seasons a year, she was relying on that crop to feed her family and thankfully, Rice Inc. was able to help. It was a very humbling story and reminder why we started the business in the first place.
As most of your sales are online, finding the right fulfilment partner will be crucial for you. Tell us how you came across Huboo and why you decided to work with us?
Kisum: As a startup, we’re always taking inspiration from other interesting and innovative businesses. We first heard about Huboo as a fulfilment partner in an article we read which was all about how you are disrupting your industry and are not only serving major global brands, but also also startups like us. Being a relatively small social enterprise, it’s important to us that we work with a fulfilment partner that really understands our business, how our supply chain works and also how we have to be agile and flexible in the way we operate – Huboo showed us that right from the off.
Lincoln: As a business, we have to be really careful with how we spend our time and money and one of the things that really struck me about Huboo is how open and transparent you are about all aspects of delivery. This openness really helped us build trust in you and we always feel our business is in a safe pair of hands. Similarly, we have always felt valued as a customer and know that whenever we pick up the phone to speak to you, there’s always someone on the team there ready to help. We’re still learning after all, so being able to ask lots of questions and get a detailed and thorough response is key.
What is next on the horizon for Rice Inc.?
Kisum: Like most businesses, 2020 was a bit of a rocky ride with Covid, but we still have lots of exciting plans in the pipeline. As well as selling to businesses, we’re also going to start selling directly to consumers and plan to expand our range of products. You can find out more about our products and our upcoming plans on our website.
We also want to expand the range of services we provide to our farmers across South East Asia – so we’ll be looking at things like smartphone integration, as well as new partnerships we can forget to continue improving the supply chain.
And finally, what business advice would you give to other startups and social enterprises out there?
Lincoln: This might sound controversial, but I believe that success isn’t just about hard work, it’s about luck too. But the thing to remember is that in order to be in a position to get lucky, you have to put in the hard work first.
Kisum: Trust your gut instincts, always. From the big things, like following a cause you believe in, all the way through to practical aspects like choosing partners to help your business grow – like we did with Huboo. It’s rare that your instincts fail you.
You can get in touch with the team and find out more about their excellent mission at Rice Inc here.
If you’re looking to outsource fulfilment like Rice Inc, you can find out how to get started here.
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