Debopam Mukherjee, Founder & Director

If you drive towards Indore on the Indore-Bhopal highway, you may perhaps first admire the landscape, but slowly but surely, you will notice an imperceptible change in your surroundings. The change begins with the tree line, then progresses to the type of vegetation and agriculture, and soon to the advertisements on hoardings. However, you will soon realise the reason for this change - bamboo.

Bamboo is now found on thousands and thousands of acres throughout Central India, particularly in Madhya Pradesh. Western Madhya Pradesh has slowly become the bamboo capital of India. Sure, the North-East rightly claims to have an endless sea of bamboo forests. However, Central India has not only increased its bamboo resources but has also become the pioneer in its industrial application and its export.

Of course, the success of Madhya Pradesh and the bamboo revolution is due to the collective efforts of farmers, government agencies, and private companies. But if we were to single out one entity that pioneered and propelled the bamboo revolution, it would have to be Artison.    

The Artison Story

The story begins with the founder of Artison, Debopam Mukherjee, also known as Dave. He was a serial entrepreneur for 30 years in Silicon Valley. Dave was one of the first employees at Wipro. Later, he moved to the US and founded Astral Systems, where the world’s first VoIP technology was developed. He also founded Atesto Technologies, the company that transformed real-world testing and performance management for web applications, which was eventually acquired by Infovista (NASDAQ-listed).

“After selling my last company in 2008, I decided to take a sabbatical and began touring the world”, says Dave. During his tour, he witnessed firsthand the rampant destruction of natural resources and forests occurring across the planet.

“As a child, I dreamt of becoming a forest officer. A love for nature was instilled in me by my mother at Shanti Niketan”, Dave recalls. Then he continued, “I felt compelled to act”.

The Journey

To find a solution, Dave embarked on a journey that would take him from the Amazon forests of  Brazil to the labs of Germany and from the hills of Nagaland to the grasslands of Maasai Mara.

After four years of research and numerous failures, Dave finally found a solution: natural fibers. “The versatility of natural fibers and weeds such as bamboo, jute, and lantana aids in the production of products such as furniture, housing, apparel, and even pharmaceuticals….the applications are endless”, Dave asserts.

Among all the bamboo species, Bambusa bambos became Dave’s species of choice. Holding a cut of Bambusa bambos pole, Dave states, “Thishappens to be the world’s highest density bamboo, and it’s an Indian species. Also, it is completely sustainable, only needs drip irrigation, and can be grown in different climates”. 

After finding a solution, the next challenge for Dave was sourcing raw bamboo. “North-East proved unviable due to logistical constraints, and no other region in India had bamboo in sufficient quantity that would meet Artison’s vision”, says Dave. Noting the challenge, Dave decided to solve the problem himself – he started a nursery – and soon founded Artison.

Through Artison, Dave aimed to reach 40-year guaranteed buy-back agreements with farmers who would do Agro-Forestry model-based plantation of Bambusa bambos on their land and then sell the harvest to Artison. 

“Today, Artison sources raw materials from 20,000+ farmers across India. Artison has entered a 40-year buy-back agreement with these farmers who plant bamboo seedlings from Artison’s own nursery. We have also planted bamboo seedlings across 80,000+ acres of Central India and sequestered 3 million+ MT of CO2, which is a potential record”, Dave asserts.  

At the Frontier of Innovation

While Dave was planting Bambusa bambos across Central India, he was simultaneously investing in research and development. Dave partnered with labs in Germany and set up Artison’s own lab in Indore. In these labs, researchers developed engineered bamboo boards that were stronger than steel and more durable than teak. Today, these boards are called Processed Engineered Bamboo Boards (PEBB) or Artison Boards.

These boards were only the first of many breakthroughs and innovations that Artison pioneered. Going beyond engineered boards, Artison has also developed the world’s first bamboo fiber-based MDF and particle board. 

Given these innovations, Artison proceeded to apply its technologies. In 2021, Artison built the world’s first PEBB-based furniture factory in Dewas, India. It then started producing and building the world’s first PEBB-based pre-fabricated houses.

These breakthroughs are significant and potentially revolutionary as they can replace timber and reduce the use of steel, cement, silica, and asbestos.

Artison continues to invest in research and collaborates closely with its main lab in Germany. When asked why Artison invests so many resources in research and development, Dave responds with a small grin, “I want Artison to compete not just in India but across the world. I want Artison to not just make furniture and houses but fundamentally change human consumption. For that, we have to constantly develop new technologies.”

Dave continues, “Artison is fundamentally a fiber technology company. Artison’s broader vision is to revolutionise manufacturing by using natural fibers as manufacturing inputs”.

An Ardent Team

Dave and Aritson have colossal goals, “No one has ever attempted to do what we are doing. There is no textbook that will give us the answer. We need the right people to join Artison, the ones who have the drive to make things happen and can solve complex unstructured problems''.

Over a decade, Dave has built a very strong and impressive team. The Artison team boasts graduates from top MBA programmes such as IIM-C, IIM-A, INSEAD, and ISB. The technical team hails from institutions such as NID-A, SPA, and IIT. The team also brings vast industry experience from the VC, PE, e-Commerce (Amazon), and deep tech sectors.

“After spending 30 years with startups in Silicon Valley, I can tell you that the team makes or breaks a company. At Artison, we are blessed to have a team with a strong mix of technical expertise and experience mixed with business acumen. Without such a team, it would be impossible to handle the many facets of Artison”, asserts Dave.

The Many Facets of Artison 

If you were to spend just a day at Artison, you might come out a bit confused. One minute, Dave is talking about Japanese furniture joinery, the next, he is on a call to build resorts in Maasai Mara (Kenya), and during lunch, he is talking about developing fabrics from natural fibers.

It may appear erratic to the uninitiated. But Dave smiles and says, “We move at speed, and rapid progress seems chaotic from the outside. Yes, there is a lot going on at Artison, and different units of the company are working on different projects and sectors.”    

The first and oldest of these units is Artison Greens. It secures Artison’s raw material supply and is tasked with reaching agreements with farmers and signing 40-year buy-back contracts. This unit runs its own nursery and has done Agro-forestry model-based Bambusa bambos plantation across 80,000 acres in India and reached agreements with 20,000 farmers. It is also in talks with the government of Kenya to start the plantation of Bambusa bambos in Kenya. Simultaneously, Artison has started operating a nursery and a model plantation that uses sewage water in Dubai. Dave adds, “Artison Greens has put forward a proposal to the Government of UAE for the plantation of 10,000 hectares of Bambusa bambos”.

Next is Artison Living, and it was the second unit to be launched. Artison Living is the furniture and interiors division of Artison. It specialises in making do-it-yourself (DIY), screwless, and nutless furniture. “The furniture items adhere to Scandinavian design principles and aesthetics, yet we ensure they have an Indian touch”, Dave stated. Currently, most demand for Artison’s furniture comes from India, the Middle East, and Europe. Until 2022, Artison Living had been a B2B business. However, in December 2022, Artison Living will launch its e-Commerce store. “This is the first time we will be reaching the customer directly”, says Kunal Soni, the Head of E-Commerce.

Artison Build is the third unit of Artison. It is the unit that has seen the most explosive growth. This unit builds factory-made, pre-fabricated houses that are easy to assemble, highly sustainable, and eco-friendly. Artison Build houses also reduce the use of cement, silica, asbestos, steel, and other materials in the construction process. Dave says, “Each square foot of our Artison Build house sequesters 6kgs of CO2. This is an opportunity for our customers to give back to society as all our products are eco-friendly and ethically manufactured.”

Since all of Artison’s products are termite-proof, waterproof, weatherproof, and long-lasting, the maintenance costs and hassle for customers are substantially reduced. Artison Build houses are, of course, a hit with customers but, interestingly, the pre-fabricated houses are a hit with environmentalists also, owing to Artison’s unmatched green metrics. 

Finally, Artison Energy & Technology is the fourth unit of Artison. It is tasked with meeting all of Artison’s energy requirements. It has built a 27MW run-of-the-river (ROR) hydropower plant in Madhya Pradesh, which will meet the company’s energy requirements in the coming years. 

The Artison Impact 

“Artison has had a seismic impact on the Environment, Society, and Economy of many rural communities”, states Deepak Khare, the Head of Artison Greens.

Artison has created 9,000+ jobs, 25,000+ indirect jobs, has 20,000+ farmer partners, and shares 24% profit as a bonus with farmers annually. On the environmental front, the company has created 80,000+ acres of Agro-forestry model-based Bambusa bambos plantation, sequestered 3 million+ MT of CO2, conserved millions of gallons of water, and prevented soil erosion to a great extent. 

Interestingly, 50% of Artison’s workforce is female, and Artison is associated with 900+ women-led Self-Help Groups (SHGs) to plant bamboo on degraded lands. It has also been the launchpad for many first-time entrepreneurs.

Artison has been shortlisted for the national ODOP award in recognition of the bamboo revolution it has initiated. Further, recognising the exemplary work of Artison, the CM of Madhya Pradesh, Shri Shivraj Singh Chauhan, personally initiated the planting of 2,000 acres of Bambusa bambos plantation in Dewas district.      

Dave says that this is only the beginning. He states, “In collaboration with Dewas district and the MP government, we are starting a Center for Bamboo Excellence and Development in Dewas. This will be a premier training facility to train workers in the industrial applications of bamboo.”

Also Read - Sakata Seed: Driven by the Motto of Quality, Reliability, and Service

The Future Beckons

There is an unmistakable buzz at Artison. One feels it while walking through its offices or factory. It became obvious that every single member of the Artison team was excited about the future, from the farmer to the researcher, and from the technician to the field officer.

“We are very excited. We are in talks with the Kenyan and UAE governments to begin the plantation of Bambusa bambos”, Dave says with a glitter. “But there is much more”, continues Dave, “Within India, we plan to reach 1 lakh hectares of plantation by 2024 and open two new mega factories. Such expansion is needed as we are already overwhelmed with demand, and this is when we haven’t even started marketing”.

When asked how Artison plans to reach its customers, Dave points to a whiteboard in his office with ‘TARGETS’ written in bold. “We will launch our e-Commerce store in December 2022. We are already on Meesho and Amazon. As you see, we have recently opened an office in Hyderabad to cater to customers in South India”, Dave says.

Sure enough, the whiteboard contained an extensive list of projects and targets that Artison wished to accomplish. Most interestingly, Artison seems to have its eyes set on Europe. “Europe is where we are getting inquiries on a daily basis, our green metrics are unmatched, and there is a real hunger for quality eco-friendly products. As we speak, we are in the process of opening an office in Stockholm, and by next year, we will start delivering houses to customers across the European Union”, Dave asserts.

If there is one thought that Dave wanted us to leave with, it was that Artison was on a colossal mission, and they are only just getting started.