Rice Inc. and entrepreneurship - two UCL alumni tells us about their experiences setting up a social enterprise and winning the Hult Prize.
Mitesh Vagadia 00:04
We are UCL and these are all remarkable stories. Hi, I'm Mitesh Vagadia and I work in the UCL Student Support and Wellbeing team. In each episode, I'll be in conversation with UCL guests as they share with us their remarkable stories, experiences, and life lessons. In this episode, we meet UCL alumni Lincoln Lee and Kisum Chan, founders of the social enterprise, Rice Inc. Lincoln and Kisum are going to share with us their amazing story of how they came together in UCL halls in their first year, created Rice Inc. and went on to win the Hult Prize in 2018. And tell us where Rice Inc. is today. So for those who don't know what Rice Inc. is, tell us.
Kisum Chan 00:53
So I'm basically Rice Inc. is a social enterprise and our mission is basically to end world hunger. How we do this is we work primarily in the rice industry. And so what we do is we basically source quality rice from Southeast Asia, we bring it to the UK and we sell it. And then we plough back our profits to help smallholder rice farmers in Southeast Asia buy and gain access to more sustainable agri-tech. And the reason we do this is because up to 30% of rice is wasted even before it gets to the plate. And the main reason is because the smallholder farmers who grew up to 80% of the rice we eat, they simply can't afford existing technologies that are actually more sustainable and so they use traditional and sometimes very wasteful practices. And so with our programmes in the farms, we hope to help them reduce their losses and help them increase their income and quality of their rice as well as make it better for the environment.
Mitesh Vagadia 01:51
In terms of actually what that means on the front line for these rice farmers, how does that work in terms of the actual practical problem?
Kisum Chan 01:59
Yeah, so in terms of on the farmers' side, what we essentially do is come up with innovative business models to use existing technologies that are already out there and come up with business models to essentially enable this sort of access to these farmers. So, for example, what I mean by that, as a case study, we have taken basically a rice dryer. Right after you harvest rice, you got to dry the rice. Right now farmers instead of using commercially available rice dryers, they use a practice called sun drying, where they just lay out all of the rice that they've just harvested underneath the sun. This process takes around two weeks to completely dry to a good level of moisture content. And which is 14% if anyone's curious, but basically, after this, it's ready to be milled, which is the next step in the supply chain. So in this process of two weeks' sun drying, anything can happen to the rice. If it rains, then there'll have to be adjustments being made. So if it rains, the moisture contents, the rice can begin to sprout, which makes it non edible anymore for human consumption. And there are like really ridiculous stories where cows come in and eat the rice whilst it's been sun dried. Okay, right, that's an actual story that one of our farmers have said, and they're having to use this really rural technique only because they can't actually afford modern agri-tech like the dryer, which costs an average farmer around 30 years of savings to afford. So what we've done is we've actually taken these technologies worked with local manufacturers on the ground in Southeast Asia, to install them and get them at a cost effective sort of price for them. So we install the dryer, we rent it out to farmers, so instead of having to pay 30 years, it's just a couple of bucks for them. You can think of it like a laundromat for drying rice, that's how we normally describe it in rural villages.
Mitesh Vagadia 04:09
And is this at moment just for Southeast Asia? Is that the starting?
Lincoln Lee 04:13
Yeah, yeah. So we mainly work in Southeast Asia for now.
Kisum Chan 04:16
Yeah, that's, that's where most of the big chunk I would say most. But a big chunk of the rice production happens there. Places like Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar, they're all historically, the rice bowls of the world. Now India and China are big producers as well. But there's a lot of wastage happening in those particular areas. Other places that grow rice, for example, Australia, they're having no problems, right, or less problems, I would say. And that's just because they have access to sort of economic structures that enable that access to modern agri-tech. It's just that the farmers in the places we work, they just can't access it.
Mitesh Vagadia 05:01
Take me back to how you both met.
Lincoln Lee 05:05
Um, so basically I'm originally from Malaysia. And then I came, I studied a bit in Singapore and then I came here for my university degree. And I met Kisum because basically we were staying together in the same dorm room
Mitesh Vagadia 05:22
As in halls?
Lincoln Lee 05:23
Yeah, halls. So I was in Ramsay Hall. And Kisum was staying at Ian Baker, which is basically inside Ramsay Hall. And we both were both studying biomedical sciences. So we had like this, sort of like everyone who was studying Biomedical Sciences in Ramsay Hall and Ian Baker knew each other, there was this sort of informal group. Yeah. And yeah, that's where I first met Kisum, or at least heard of him.
Kisum Chan 05:54
So we came up with this idea in response to a competition that was started in UCL, which is called the Hult Prize. And for those of you who don't know what the Hult Prize is, it's basically the largest student social entrepreneurship enterprise competition in the world. And basically, my friend was starting that competition in or like the campus round in UCL for the very first time. Shout out to Marsha. And Marsha was basically trying to get more people to join the competition of course, and when and so because I was running another society called the Life Sciences Society. At the time, she reached out to me to help promo the competition and the and initially I was kind of resistant to the idea just because we had such a backlog of other societies events that we had to promo. But after like two or three times where she constantly started messaging me because the competition was approaching, we actually I actually was like, screw it, I'll take a look and then just like, post it out there. And then after taking a look at it, so the context of the competition, right? It's super flashy, win a million dollars, meet Bill Clinton, stay at the castle in which Harry Potter was filmed, and that was like, the advertising. That was the prize, essentially. Basically, the challenge was to build a social enterprise that could impact the lives of 10 million people by 2025. And then, so at the time, I just needed something from my CV to try to apply for consulting right to move out of bio sciences because I realised that was not for me. And this was second year. And so after sort of looking at it, I realised, so it actually looked pretty interesting. So I posted on my society, media channels and everything. And I was like, I gotta get it. So the requirements were to form a team of three to four, right. So and the first person I thought of, to call that would even like, consider doing something like this was Lincoln, who also conveniently wanted to move out of bio sciences a tiny bit, and was interested in entrepreneurship and business. And so the first person to come to mind for me to do something as crazy like this was Lincoln.
Mitesh Vagadia 08:38
Both of you wanted to move out of bio sciences. That's interesting. Why is that?
Lincoln Lee 08:43
I think we sort of realised that we, at that point, we weren't... We wanted to move out of bio sciences in the academic sense. So we didn't picture ourselves, I guess entering academia or entering medicine or some sort of research based job scope, we were definitely exploring the alternatives inside the industry. So like perhaps working on the business side of pharmaceutical companies, but that sort of opens it up quite broadly. Because then you can also just do any sort of corporate service companies. And so I remember that like, actually the first time we heard of the Hult Prize, we were actually in... so, after I met Kisum over the first year, we still stayed in touch during the summer. And basically, in the second year, we thought, like, okay, let's have like these regular like sessions, where we sort of like apply for the same companies and sort of like try to proofread each other's applications. And so it's during one of these sessions, where he first like clicked into the Hult Prize link. I remember because... on his computer at the time, Bill Clinton's face on it just popped up and he was like, "Yo, check this is out!" like, oh, you can win a million dollars. And then um, and then that's when we first were like, oh, hey, this looks kind of cool. And then later on, I remember vividly like, a week later, the Hult Prize, Marsha, she posted like a team mixer session. So it's for people who didn't have a complete team to mingle and try to form a team. And I was sleeping, having an nap on Thursday afternoon. And basically, I got a phone call, it was Kisum. And he was like, yo, are you going to the event? Let's go. And then I looked outside, it was like, raining. And he was like, late in, like dark in London winter. And I was like, No, I don't feel like going out in it. Can I do my nap and he was like no, just come on, get up. Let's go. And I was like okay. And we went and that was literally arguably like the first time we properly participated or considered participating in the competition. And yeah, so that goes to show how like anything like... Something unexpected can happen.
Mitesh Vagadia 11:02
So in terms of, let me get this in context, how many people apply for this prize?
Kisum Chan 11:06
200,000 I think is the number that Hult Prize uses.
Mitesh Vagadia 11:10
And there's one winner. And that was you guys.
Kisum Chan 11:15
Luckily, yes. Um, all throughout the stages, like we were really lucky to get to meet, like, really good mentors and people that have helped us along the way. Yeah, but...
Mitesh Vagadia 11:30
Is this going alongside your second and third year then?
Kisum Chan 11:34
So it was going alongside our second year. So I think they match it to the academic cycles. So it starts in the end of term one, and it ends at the end of summer. And so, you we basically... the finals is right before term reopens for third year.
Mitesh Vagadia 11:52
So you got to fly to New York. And then they put you up in New York in a hotel?
Kisum Chan 11:59
No. So like, we had to pay for everything. Yeah. So we got a bit of funding that we're grateful for from, from UCL, a couple departments, actually even our bio sciences home department when they heard that we got through to the United Nations round...
Lincoln Lee 12:15
It's pretty funny I think it's like each department paid for one aspect. So like, UCL Innovation & Enterprise gave us something. And it was more to do with getting flights and accommodation. And I think Management, because we both actually took a module in our second year an optional module in entrepreneurship. And so our professor was like, Wow, you guys made it. You guys are like practising what I taught you. And so they supported us as well. Um and our own bio sciences department as well. So it was like several different departments at UCL coming together, to support us.
Mitesh Vagadia 12:51
And you got to New York. What was that pitch like?
Kisum Chan 12:54
So interestingly enough that United Nations pitch was actually one of our worst pitches. And I'm not saying that just to say that Oh, even though we performed like the worst we still won sort of thing. But in terms of context, we were actually editing the slides till the very last second, like I remember an hour before the actual event where we were still editing. I was literally on like, also on the floor, again, sitting cross legged on my laptop on PowerPoint, just shifting things around, making sure all the numbers are true and accurate. And whereas the other teams, they had to submit their pitches, like I think three days before, they had their rehearsals, or everyone had their rehearsals three days ago, where that was supposed to be the final pitch. And the other, the last few days was just practice, practice, practice. Um, but then, but then yeah, like, we we just wanted to be as prepared as we could, do the most that we could possibly do right up until the last minute. And I even remember pitching, um, practising our pitch in the final hour right after we submitted the PowerPoint to, to the organisers, um, to... we were pitching to everyone that we could possibly pitch to, like even we were pitching to the security guard at the United Nations who was just patrolling around the area at one time. Right. But interestingly enough, that security guard actually helped us win the competition. Because, yeah, Lincoln, do you want to tell the story?
Lincoln Lee 14:43
So it was super funny like as Kisum was practising, basically, a security guard came up, he was like, staring at us because it's just like, some guy like looking at a wall and reciting, and we were like, Hey, you want to like you want to be our audience? He was like sure. And after we pitched, he basically asked us a question that was very specific to the dryers that we were using. And we realised we've never heard that question before. And he told us that he's a security guard to the United Nations now, but back home in Africa from where he's from, he was he actually had a degree in agricultural science.
Kisum Chan 15:23
I think he had like a Master's or a PhD. And we were like, well, I guess we could we sort of like, guessed an answer. And he suddenly was like, No, no, no, you should say this, this this this, because so and so and so, and it was like a bunch of like, solid facts about like the chemistry of the soil and things like this. And I was like, Oh, damn, like, that's a good answer. So we recorded it down. I told like my team like, this is the answer. If someone asked us for this, and two hours later, on stage at the UN, this question pops up, um, and my team, our team actually just kills it. Answering exactly the same as that security guard. And everyone was shocked because we had mentors working with us for like a year. And they've never saw that question before. So they were like, how do you guys know this fact? And then we're like, literally, if we if we had just ignored a security guard, we would have not known the answer on stage. Yeah.
Mitesh Vagadia 16:19
Kisum Chan 16:20
Mitesh Vagadia 16:22
What was the question?
Lincoln Lee 16:23
Um, so it was basically our dryers are, basically they're powered by rice husks. So the shell of the rice, it's a natural byproduct. And, um, he asked basically, once you use that rice husk, what else could you do with the husk because it'll essentially still be a waste by product, because we're just burning it. And basically, we guessed that it could be probably used for some sort of like agricultural produce or fertiliser. And he was like Exactly. And this is exactly why it can be used as fertiliser, because it contains X amount of potassium, X amount... And like this is proven to be good for the soil and then so it was like solidly backed up by facts and we were like well we didn't know all these facts and but when we said it on stage it was like whoa, these guy's these guys really have done their research really well. And it's actually really sustainable. And yeah, that was that was amazing to actually when that question came up I was like grinning all the way.
Kisum Chan 17:20
So you can see there's like a video of our pitch online and I'm sure you can see see Lincoln's expression when that that came out.
Mitesh Vagadia 17:30
Did you get the guy's... did you get the security guard's name?
Lincoln Lee 17:34
No, we tried finding him after the pitch but we never found him.
Mitesh Vagadia 17:39
He existed right?
Lincoln Lee 17:40
Kisum Chan 17:40
We can't make this stuff up!
Mitesh Vagadia 17:52
In terms of the idea itself, where did the idea come from?
Kisum Chan 17:56
So the idea of like white rice drying right Why did a bunch of biomedical scientists decide, hey, let's do some rice drying. Um, that's that idea actually came from. Basically when we were brainstorming how to create a social enterprise that impacts the lives of 10 million people by 2025. That was one area that we wanted to focus on, which is agriculture. And that was one of the few suggested industries that we focus on by the Hult prize. And within that agriculture space we were trying to find, basically, we were trying to come up with like different ideas on how to impact people's lives positively. We were coming up with crazy ideas with for example, maybe like an indoor sort of plant garden where you could grow vegetables and fruits so that you could, on the one hand, help with cooling costs because plants indoors, it helps with regulating heat and buildings and stuff like that. And even stuff outside of agriculture, for example, solar powered lampposts and places don't that don't have solar powered lampposts. But I remember the night where we came across well, where Lincoln actually came across a side article that said that 80% of rice that's ever produced, doesn't actually get to market
Mitesh Vagadia 19:24
Kisum Chan 19:25
80. That was a number we saw in that article.
Mitesh Vagadia 19:28
Kisum Chan 19:29
Yeah. And but we later found out, right, so when we did some more research, that number was closer to 30 than 80. 80% was just like, one specific place in one specific country in a very small area. But still, when we did some more research, it was 30% and a $52 billion industry, that's a lot of rice that's being wasted. And when we dug in further, as to what was causing the 30% of loss, it was just because we came up with articles that said drying, right after you harvest your rice, you have to dry it. There were other problems like transportation and bad storage practices, but drying, that attributed to 30% of that 30%. So a significant chunk of loss was caused by that. But when we looked at other places that had, I think I mentioned before, that were a bit more developed and had a rice industry, they had sort of they didn't have this problem with drying. And it was because of, again, this lack of access. Technologies are out there. It's just coming up with business models and to try and bridge that gap of technology and access
Mitesh Vagadia 20:46
Kisum Chan 20:47
and costs, exactly.
Mitesh Vagadia 20:48
Well, it almost seems like you looked at something. That was a wastage that 30% you focused and said, well, how can you reduce that?
Kisum Chan 20:57
Yeah, yeah, I think Lincoln you'd like to put a wall Instead of trying to find, do you want to say it?
Lincoln Lee 21:04
Oh, yeah, I guess I, the concept we went for was like, instead of trying to find a solution or like create a wholesale solution, the solutions out there, it's just about getting the right solution to the right people in the right way. And that that's essentially what we focused on. And, and it turned out actually, that during the hult price competition, so if anyone listening to this wants to apply to the hult price, they actually like that, because you're taking essentially a proven product that's maybe distributed in a less efficient way, and just sort of finding a new way to new users for it. new way to distribute it. And I guess that's a lot better for the world because you're not trying necessarily to create something new. You're just trying to give people access to what they need. That's already proven to help them. Yeah. Yeah.
Kisum Chan 21:55
And then on the bright side, you don't have to spend so much time like years and years doing r&d and stuff like that, because chances are, that solution is already out there just have to find a creative way on getting that.
Mitesh Vagadia 22:10
That entrepreneurship that you guys have. What does that come from,?
Kisum Chan 22:15
for me for in terms of the core, like, I guess entrepreneurship and where, I guess I get my attitude from, I was mainly interested in exploring entrepreneurship, which is why I wanted to join the hult price in the beginning. In the second year I decided I'm going to explore this industry was because two things. One is my grandparents and second is stuff I did before University of my friends. So the first thing my grandparents, I'll just take an example. I guess I always heard stories from young that they were quite entrepreneurial in the sense so my great grandparents immigrated to Malaysia from China. So they were quite poor. My great grandfather died when my grandfather was very young. And so apparently he had to support his family while he was studying at school. But what was unique was that he was, I guess among the siblings, he was considered quite bright among his peers. So but he had to work every morning and every evening before he got to school, but the only jobs he could do, were sort of like illegal jobs. So what he would do is he'd wake up at 6am every morning, go to factories that sell fried dough, which is sort of part of a cuisine back home. And he would take the leftovers from that factory and basically sell it to, what was it called, to coffee shops. And basically, they would give him money, half I think half half or something. And then what he would do is he would basically then go to school, and I hear stories about how like, because it's technically illegal back then in 1930s. I hear stories of like when the police came, he and his friend or something would like climb up the tree and wait, hide their bicycle in the bushes wait for the police patrol to leave, and come back down and cycle back to school, and everyone school would think that he's rich, because he comes in with a pocketful of change, but it's actually not his money. It's like the money for the factory guy and then he'll go back after school, pay off the factory, take all the leftovers, bring it back, come to eat or something. And he would have no time to do his homework. And so part of his earnings he would use to pay his cousin who was in the same classroom, to do this homework for him. And then right at the end before his exams, he would basically buy an extra book and do the whole book and the tests. And so it's I guess, like hearing all these stories since I was young. Before I came to university, I mentioned that was the second time I met what some of my friends and I decided we would just try something ridiculous like this. We had free time and we basically we were studying for I think most people study A levels before they come to university I did GCSEs. So the main practice that we do is deposit papers, and but they're extremely, so you can get them freely online. But there's some suppliers that basically printed out bind it and sell it, but they sell it at insane prices because they're literally I think only one or two bookstores in the whole of Malaysia that sell it. And I guess I always had this idea with if I can just print it myself, like, why don't I just I just bind it and sell it to you for much cheaper price. And then my friends are like, hey, actually, one of my relatives owns a shop that print stuff. And so we were like, okay, let's go around to like our old schools and like, ask the teachers if they they want their students to get these books and the teachers were like, yeah, sure. Um, and then we started this sort of like, small ring of like, a distribute book distributions in schools. That's before I came to university. It started once I came to university, I stopped I think and and that sort of exposed me to this world of entrepreneurship, hearing stories of my grandfather and doing this, and that's when in second year I decided, oh, let's let me see what I can do. But I think what I learned also, it's like it's very different. First of all, starting a social enterprise than a normal business, because it's really mission driven. And I guess second of all, starting sort of something with a big goal, you and where you get, you get investment and you have to professionalise it. It's very, very different from all these stories that you hear that the the core entrepreneurship spirit is the same. But there are a lot of there a lot of lessons that I had to learn as well and still am learning. Even though I was like, trying to take that spirit. There are a lot of things and techniques that people have done over the years to make it to make it I guess more professionalised and on a much larger scale. Yeah. Well, hearing that hearing your story about your grandpa that actually reminded me of some when when my dad was growing up, my dad, he was, um, he wasn't from, like a good background he was um, when, I think so, in his younger days, I think when he was 13-14 back then China wasn't as where he's from wasn't as prosperous as it is now. And so he had to actually drop out of high school to start selling. Not Bostick, but porridge, rice porridge on the streets that's like a breakfast thing as well. And in China, I so he actually had to drop out of school and then do this. He eventually saved up enough money from the side hustle to support his family with this money, and also he saved up enough money to actually start renting out a place and move to Hong Kong subsequently where apparently the opportunities were much greater use that money to buy, basically not buy but rent out a flat. And what he did with that was that he subdivided that flat and this was also kind of dodgy at the time.
Mitesh Vagadia 28:19
Kisum Chan 28:21
But back date back in those days that was really common and he actually rented out individual spaces in that flat to other people and start this like almost like real estate side hustle, as well. So I feel like this entrepreneurial spirit, it's like quite common. Would you say it's a bit more common and and and back in Asia?
Lincoln Lee 28:42
Yeah, definitely. You get like, various stories of people doing this. I think hearing Kisum's story like basically one of my grandparents fell sick and we had and we had to hire a carer. And when I'm speaking to carer, I found out she was doing this at the site. She had like three apartments working for an individual. Three apartments. Yeah, I rent out each apartment to like four different people.
Kisum Chan 29:10
Like, yeah. If you know anyone who was looking for a room, let me know.
Mitesh Vagadia 29:16
Yeah, as a real estate person?
Kisum Chan 29:17
Exactly. um, yeah. It's right here, quite common. But it's interesting because back in those days, our parents generation, and our grandparents generation, they weren't doing this because they were passionate about that. This is for survival.
Mitesh Vagadia 29:33
Kisum Chan 29:34
Right. But now, I would personally say that I'm really lucky to be in a position where, where it's not necessarily for survival, but it's more for something I'm trying to do as to follow my passion and trying to help as many people in the world as possible. But in terms I 100% agree with Lincoln in terms of that mindset, those core entrepreneurial principles, it's the exact same. Basically, if you put condense it, it's just about trying to hustle.
Mitesh Vagadia 30:07
Kisum Chan 30:08
Right. come up with creative ways of doing things that other people haven't done before, or haven't thought of making a business or an industry more sort of streamlined, more efficient, and helping society as a whole through that.
Mitesh Vagadia 30:23
Amazing. You mentioned few times about failing and coming up against these challenges. Two things: A) How do you recover from failing, because a lot of people struggle and are scared of failing or taking that risk initially. So how does someone overcome failure and continue on and go again? That's my first question. My second question is, what was the biggest challenge you've had so far?
Kisum Chan 31:01
I think for in terms of failure and how to overcome failure. And in my personal experience, it's, I was really lucky because I had a strong group of mentors, that helped almost like, put things in a different perspective, to see the good in the bad situation. Seems like a recurring theme but in entrepreneurship, there are ups and downs every almost every single day. But despite it being so, I guess inconsistent, you have to always have sort of built that resilience and the only way to do that so initially, to have like, a positive perspective always helps. Having a strong group of mentors to guide you and, and like sort of like the next couple of steps when when things aren't so bright for you. That always helps having a strong group of friends and basically a support system is always good. And to be honest, the only way to sort of overcome this fear of failure is to fail more, fail fast, get back up quickly. That's, that's, that's the name of the game in entrepreneurship, keep failing, because the more you fail, the more you learn. The more you learn, the closer you are to success, whatever that means to you, and in your own context.
Mitesh Vagadia 32:40
Lincoln, have you got anything to add?
Lincoln Lee 32:42
Yeah. So So definitely, I agree with what Kisum has mentioned. Failure for me personally has been quite hard, because I think some of the, the failures that I encountered in Rince Inc was a lot to do with I guess, misconceptions on how how working with people would be like, I carried forward from, I guess student clubs, societies, things like this. It's very different when you're working for like a society or something and an actual company, especially when someone's invested in a company and is expecting something to happen. There are a lot of things that I didn't know. And sometimes a lot of it can feel like a shock. But I think that what Kisum says is very true. And I sometimes like to think of it in a way that one of the mentors who was also an entrepreneur and trying really hard to start his start a couple of businesses of his own, mentioned it to me one time, he was like, entrepreneurship's bit like a boxing match. And he said, every morning you get up and you go into the ring, and you have an opponent there and you plan, you you know how exactly you want to hit him or like, like knock him down. But then suddenly, you get like
Kisum Chan 34:08
Lincoln Lee 34:09
Yeah sucker punshed essentially like you, you you jab to the left and so he dodges and you know it hits you and I like to think of, so one of the most famous boxing movies all time is like rocky, Yeah. And how he wins is he doesn't blitz in and just like, destroys the opponent. He's very famous for being able to last all the way to the end, no matter who or what hits him, and no matter how he falls, he comes back up and he just, he doesn't give up. He tries again and again, no matter how badly he loses matches, but he comes back again, to try again. And I think that in entrepreneurship, especially for in this day and age that's very important. Because you you might fail, people have, there are tonnes of people who have actually failed their businesses. But they decide to start another one and another one, and sometimes it even seems illogical to start to continue. But you just need that one opening. Essentially like a boxing match, you just need your that one opening that you see. And if you can deliver on it, deliver it well, then then, then you're done. I'm not yet done, but like, you know, that that's that you just need to wait for that one opening and seize it when the opportunity comes.
Mitesh Vagadia 35:32
I like that.
Kisum Chan 35:34
And there's just to add on to that, and so a lot about, yeah, you're gonna experience failures, you're gonna experience successes. But as long as you're net positive, that's all that matters.
Mitesh Vagadia 35:49
And you gotta have the eye of the tiger
Kisum Chan 35:53
Mitesh Vagadia 36:00
You mentioned mentors a few times. If you got like actual business entrepreneur mentors that you regularly in touch with?
Kisum Chan 36:10
Yeah, so we basically when we first started, we had nobody to help us. And so what was, I guess, unique about us was we were that team that basically would keep contacting everyone. I think at one point, it was a bit, I would basically keep contact, we will basically take all the judges in any of the rounds. When the hult prize came, we talked to everyone I think there was one time where we I think Kisum mentioned to me like, I should stop scheduling too many appointments because like, it got a bit ridiculous where we won't even have time to observe what people would say would just be like, meeting after meeting.
Lincoln Lee 36:52
Sometimes like it wouldn't, like the people we were meeting could have been from like a really random background like a professor from like, some sort of obscure, obscure department in UCL that had some vague connection to rice. Yeah.
Kisum Chan 37:11
And yeah, so but basically exposing ourselves to so many people, I think what was useful was that, one was that we actually managed to develop some relationships with some of the people who were very useful. They are very experienced, they, they and they also sort of like what our first delivers basically, they believed that we could do it, when essentially, in the beginning, no one would have thought that we could have won because first timers we only second years undergrads, no industry experience in industry want to do. No business experience at all.
Lincoln Lee 37:48
Only connection to rice was that the fact that we were Asian?
Kisum Chan 37:51
Yeah. That's really literally nothing going for us. It's just sort of like on paper, it's a good idea, but anyone could do it as well so why us. But out of all the people he contacted, there were a few that basically was like, I think they can do it. And they wanted us to succeed. And so we, we basically developed, like, I guess, not to say even mentor mentee relationship. Sometimes I would actually call them like our friends, our friendships with people who, who are basically much more experienced.
Mitesh Vagadia 38:27
What do your parents think of what you've done so far?
Kisum Chan 38:29
I mean, like, when, when we first won the competition, the I call my parents told them the good news, we were in New York, I was very sleep deprived. And then they were like, Oh my gosh, congratulations. So when are you thinking of starting business school or like grad school? You know? I was like, hard to break it to you, but I'm not trying to do this full time. Um, but yeah, there they're incredibly happy and whenever they can they do support they've supported for my family, they've supported me financially, quite a lot. They were I was lucky enough for them to pay for, like University. I know, some people don't actually get that privilege. So I'm very grateful for that. And even even sometimes when Ricer Inc is a bit low on cash, they're like, we don't have much but here's what we can try and help you out with. That was a big thing and friends, right, like whether we have like a small project or like a big project, if they can, they and they have time, they would sort of help like, for example, we have, I have a couple friends from high school that have helped us out from here and their friends from societies, my flatmates. I remember when we were still practising for a pitch. They were would stay up with me and Lincoln, and we'd just pitch in the living room. And they'd be like, they'd give us feedback. And yeah, there's so many people, so many people.
Lincoln Lee 40:14
Yeah, I think one funny thing when he's mentioned his parents, because I remember this situation clearly, it was early on in the competition when we were, I think we were crowdfunding. We were on a platform, there was a prize, you get to get people to vote. And people could comment as well. And so obviously, we reached out to our friends and family to vote. But the two people who commented and they were they basically said they were sent really encouraging comments like amazing initiative, great job was basically Kisum's mom and dad and and we were so surprised because we expected people to vote but we didn't expect people to comment and then suddenly, we got a notification. You have two comments below. Oh, and yeah, it was his mom and dad and I think even like definitely our friends family, they're really supportive. Like, I think one example I'll remember forever is like, um, when we were piloting, we needed to speak with farmers. And basically I asked my family back home, do any of you know any farmers? And then my grandad was like, yeah, I do, like from like, 30 years ago or something. I hope he's still alive, and he was like, we can go, um, and it turned out my aunt and uncles, my parents, all when they brought Kisum our team, we realised that we didn't have enough space. So my friends volunteered to drive us all the way up there. It was like
Kisum Chan 41:49
It was like a long drive
Lincoln Lee 41:50
Five hours into the farmers. It's like a big group of friends and family whwfollowing us, wondering, why is Lincoln wanting to visit farmers for the summer when he should be doing an internship. A good job. And yeah, and so they always support where they can, even though you even in this funny situations, I think those are like moments you remember? Yeah.
Mitesh Vagadia 41:52
It's incredible. It's like you've had these little angels along the journey, the security guard, your grandparents, your parents, you know, put you in touch with these people helping you out when you must be needed it. Yeah. at the right place at the right time. And you are here today because of the journey that you've been on. Yeah.
Kisum Chan 42:40
Luck has a major part to play, in our journey. But I think what we've experienced is that luck can come luckiness is something that happens to everyone. You just have to try and be ready for that luck when it strikes. For example, if that security guard was patrolling the whole UN, right. But it just so happened that we were pitching and we were ready with our pitch and that we were exposed to that sort of environment. So luck can happen anywhere, anywhere anytime you just have to be ready for it, strike at the right opportunity.
Mitesh Vagadia 43:26
Where is Rice Inc today and where is Rice Inc gonna be in five years time?
Kisum Chan 43:33
Where's rising today? um, in terms of Rice Inc today. Within this, just over six months now that we've been working on this full time, right after we've graduated, in terms of the impact with the farmers, we've and the amount of rice that we've saved, because of the machines that we bought, we're talking and i'm proud to say this, we've saved over a million meals of rice, worth of rice that would have otherwise been wasted.
Mitesh Vagadia 44:08
Kisum Chan 44:10
And hopefully that's just the beginning. Not only are we doing work with farmers and helping them, helping them increase their livelihood, helping decrease wastage in the rice system being more eco friendly. But we're also we've also recently launched a new initiative where we actually source quality rice from around the world and supply that race so that anyone can eat sustainable rice and how that works is that for every bowl of rice that we that you eat that are from us, we reinvest profits back into building more of these dryers to obviously save more rice and that rice is actually, so for every bowl of rice that you eat, you're basically saving a bowl of rice that's been lost. Right in terms of when you when you eat it when you buy it when the caterers buy it, so that rice is actually available in UCL canteen
Mitesh Vagadia 45:17
Kisum Chan 45:18
Today. Well, not today. It started last month. So well yes, technically today every day from now on. So go to the spice counter, you'll find our rice and for every meal of worth that you eat over there receiving a meal of rice that's otherwise loss through RV investment activities, go straight back to farmers
Lincoln Lee 45:44
In five years time. Didn't we talked about this before last time on. So we have a deadline? Because of the Hult price? Yeah. 10 million people by 2025. Yeah. So we should have helped 10 million people by then. We really envision that we hope in five years, we, our goal is to basically build a sustainable supply chain in rice that's ethical. Because right now our goal is, first of all, to basically be able to get rice from the farmers we work with, because right now they face low priced sale, the quality isn't high enough to come to places like the UK and the US where some more high value market for them. But they could essentially produce that same quality. They just need the proper technologies. And so we envision sort of like integrated kinda supply chain in five years time where we could basically de-commoditize rice essentially guarantee farmers a fixed price for their rice, because our brand would be strong enough. People would recognise it enough to be able to know that if you buy rice, rice, Rice Inc rice, it's basically going to be sustainable for the environment, to be ethical for farmers, and it's going to be fair to them as well. And so we'd be the money is well spent. And, and with that, we would essentially be able to not just reduce the waste and tackle world hunger that what we want to do, but also create a more sustainable ecosystem within the rice industry that is basically fair to both the consumer and the producer. And would basically make it sustainable in the sense where it would consistently provide high quality and nutritious food for for basically the world for the 4 billion people that eat rice every day. And that's where we hope to be in five years.
Kisum Chan 47:41
Yeah, like right now, the rice industry, like normal rice supply chains are kind of mess up as you can tell from the 30% that's going to waste right. That 30% a big chunk of it I mentioned is attributed to drying but a big chunk like another chunk of it, bad storage practices, the way that the middlemen handled the rice inappropriate as well. All of these other problems are also contributing to that waste. So right now our reinvestment activities only fall with the drying bit because that's what we know that's what we're good at. But in the future, once you've solved that problem, hopefully, for at least the majority of rice, smallholder rice farmers, hoping to move into those bits of the supply chain to one day create that the ultimate ethical and sustainable supply chain for rice that everyone sort of wants to emulate.
Mitesh Vagadia 48:41
We'll go to fun questions. Other students who are potentially thinking, or they're starting their journey at the moment, what piece of advice would you give them?
Kisum Chan 48:55
Just do. It's all I would say. Just all you really need is to take those first steps, to problem solve, to keep failing. Everything else will come naturally to you. If you have any sort of idea, like ideas, great ideas, fantastic ideas. They come every single day to everyone. I haven't heard a single like, okay, I've heard a couple bad ideas. But then there are good ideas that people are thinking of. But those good ideas don't materialise, because people are too afraid to take that first step to think that, oh, they can't do it. They don't have the resources to do it. The resources come secondary, the mission is first, you'll think of a way to assemble those resources in a creative way to achieve what your mission is. But taking that first step, whether you're in, you were in our position three years ago, during University, or even high school or even maybe you're later down in life. I would encourage you to start early. Don't think about the problems so much. If you think about everything that can possibly go wrong. You're never going to be spending enough time to think about the things that tend to go right. And all it takes is a couple of small wins, that changes people's lives. Right? For example, my flatmates that I was living with in second and third year. Calvin, one of them, the other ones, Stephen. They were, so right now because of the whole Coronavirus situation in Hong Kong. They were kind of they were like, kinda, basically they have a lot of free time right now because schools are shut universities are shut. They were curious about entrepreneurship. And I was like, just start a social enterprise. Right? It doesn't have to be game changing like the next unicorn. It could be, but you don't know unless you take that first step to sort of get them to get on that track. Just know that you can achieve that as long as you can basically, because all the resources are out there, it's never been easier to start a business. Whether that's in the form of like e-commerce, or like a more traditional business like starting a restaurant. I know Lincoln, your friend has started like a Nasi Lemak store and Malaysia, right, which is like a traditional rice dish.
Lincoln Lee 51:31
Yeah. It's pretty funny, because I was just thinking about this when Kisum said it, but basically, my friend was similar to a situation where he basically spent his entire life dreaming about opening a restaurant. He went to culinary school, was working for restaurant and I guess he said that the industry was very, it's very top down where you have to work for years at the bottom slogging for someone before you even get close to being a chef. And then saving enough money to buy your own restaurant. And he I told him like, you know, like there are pop up stalls, just buy a table, put it outside a market, sell your food. And he spent like I think a month solid month, testing his recipes, asking all his seniors his shefs his peers to try it, refine it. And he was he was telling me about how like he's tested it and everything and I was like, that's great, but just, just do it. Go, go make a batch of 20 packets, get a table, get a chair, get someone to drive you to the market and set it up. And so he did. And actually, like two days ago, he just texted me telling me that like he's sold his hundred packet successfully. And and he doesn't have enough kitchen space now because he wants to make more batches because he sees that as opportunity there. But he's only cooking it from his home. So he was like, Can I use your house?
Kisum Chan 53:07
Leveraging other resources that you have available, exactly.
Lincoln Lee 53:12
But yeah, and I think I would like to add a layer to what Kisum said about just doing it. I think a lot of students, especially people in our day and age, they don't know what they want to do, or at least they're not sure. And there's a lot of external pressure on people to know what they want to do to have it all figured out. And I strongly believe that you should just do it. But at the same time, I also believe that it's okay. It's okay to not be sure, to students, it's okay to not really know what you want to do. I always believe that if you don't necessarily know what you want to do, you might as well do something you like. And that was the mindset I had. When I started my entrepreneurship journey. I just knew I liked it. I didn't really know what I wanted to do with it as well. I just decided I'm going to explore it, and trust in the process, trust in the journey. And I think it's a lot more enjoyable that way as well. Because then you're doing something you enjoy. And you're not necessarily stressed out about like, Oh, this is going to be my life. You just sort of absorbing and learning. And I believe that once you reach certain points in that journey, then you'll be able to say, Oh, actually, I think now I can have put some elements of a plan in place because I've experienced it. And so that would be my advice to someone who is like starting university or midway in university and trying to wonder what what do you want to do.
Mitesh Vagadia 54:39
One final question. You've told me what advice you would give to someone else who's starting their journey. What advice would you give to your younger self?
Kisum Chan 54:51
I think for me, a lot of the hardships that have come through, like the hard lessons that I've had to learn to learn, through like bad experience throughout the journey. And it's always a lot of sort of resistance to progress, especially in the beginning of the rising journey, at least on my part in terms of productivity was a lot about fear on what could go wrong. And that made me sort of adverse to taking big risks, or out of box ideas because especially coming from a more traditional Asian household. You were told to just stay on this on the road, that's crystal clear, nothing bad is ever going to happen. Get a graduate job, for example, just go to a good university, stuff like that. And then so, if you don't achieve that, or if you're if you don't fall under that straight path, then you should be worried. You should be worried. Worried about what's going to go wrong. That's sort of the mindset that I've been taught, taught with growing up. But then, in hindsight with all the stuff that has happened in terms of and we've, and I personally experienced some like really traumatising stuff throughout the journey sometimes like, we'd be stuck in the middle of Southeast Asia, in the jungles, not having like, access to communication to like someone. I would say to myself that everything will be fine. Don't worry about it. If it happens, it happens, but there's always a brighter day tomorrow.
Lincoln Lee 56:45
The advice I would give to myself, if it was five years ago, maybe the waste of time applying to other universities.
Kisum Chan 56:59
Just go to UCL study biomedical science. Low pass around the hall.
Lincoln Lee 57:05
I think what I've learned is that you two things. One is that it's fine to, to be to take risk and building on what I said before, like just to explore and go with the flow. But there's a smart way to do it as well. Fail fast. Yes. But I like to add, fail smart. Don't, don't do things don't fail the same way twice. Fail smart in the sense where you don't, you don't have to just jump into something headfirst. Sometimes you should just take a leap of faith, but it doesn't hurt to be smart about where you leap. And that's the main advice I would give to myself. And the second advice I would give to myself, is sort of like to really understand a situation when something's wrong. Because just because you've made mistakes and everyone makes mistakes, that doesn't give that doesn't mean that you should be accepting of the situation that has gone wrong. Just because you made an error doesn't mean that someone else can do something negative towards you, as well as a result of that. And if and it does make the world go blind and if you've sort of damage someone's eye, you should apologise for it. But you shouldn't be, but you shouldn't have to take the damage to yourself. There was something I had to learn in this journey and still I am learning. Yeah.
Mitesh Vagadia 58:33
Gentlemen, it's been a pleasure talking to you guys. And it's been so fascinating listening to your story. Thank you, for coming in and sharing your remarkable story because to me, and to a lot of people, this is a remarkable story.
Kisum Chan 58:49
It was our pleasure.
Lincoln Lee 58:51
Thank you so much for having us today.
Mitesh Vagadia 58:55
I hope you enjoyed that. And thank you for listening. In our next episode, I'll be talking to UCL alumni Nick Cavani about his experience growing up a member of the LGBTQ+ community and how this impacted on his education