Top Ten Innovator Ramla Kaleem Shah.

Ramla Kaleem Shah is the CEO and co-founder of Aqua Agro, based in Karachi, Pakistan. Ramla studied electronics engineering and computer science at NED University of Engineering and Technology in her hometown.

Aqua Agro aims to improve crop outputs for farmers through the Internet of Things (IoT) and AI-based real-time crop monitoring. Services include water resource management (to reduce water inputs by 50%), soil nutrient deficiency analysis, fertilizer usage tracking and pest attack prediction and advisory. Aqua Agro begun in 2015 and was borne out of Ramla and team’s observation that there was nearly zero use of technology and innovation in rural Pakistan. The team realised that the needs of rural farmers could be addressed through innovation, such as real-time data monitoring and expert systems. Although they faced challenges, such as the fact that many farmers are illiterate and had difficulty understanding how technology could solve their problems, the team persevered and was able to develop a low-cost product that worked for their target beneficiaries. To date they count more than 30 orders, covering approximately 200 acres of land and hundreds of direct beneficiaries.

What inspired Ramla to found a start-up?

Well, in her words, she has always dreamed of playing a small part in changing the world.

A large part of Ramla’s motivation comes from a fervent dedication to self-sustenance and the belief that her country must take its future into its own hands. For her, entrepreneurship is “the only way” to address Pakistan’s needs. “Independent entrepreneurs have to step forward to create impact,” as an alternative to charitable institutions and the government.

Ramla first learned about entrepreneurship in her third year of university, upon joining an entrepreneurship society. The society’s seminars and workshops, along with a four-month course from another business institute, played a significant role in helping her decide what she wanted to do in life and enabled connections with like-minded students and experienced business professionals. One of these professionals was Dr. Muhammad Khurram, who would later become her mentor and business partner. This exposure to the world of entrepreneurship led Ramla to develop her first entrepreneurial project, which she and her team of classmates were able to commercialise and sell just in time for graduation. From there, there was no looking back. Now, at 26, Aqua Agro is Ramla’s third start-up.

Throughout Aqua Agro’s development, the Shell Tameer team has been present to provide support and guidance. In addition to providing a curriculum of courses tailored to supporting small and burgeoning businesses, Ramla is particularly grateful for the team’s confidence and trust. For Ramla, “an entrepreneur above all needs someone to believe in them… and that is what the Shell Tameer did. They believed in us.” As she looks toward to the future and eagerly anticipates Aqua Agro’s growth, her advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is that the “journey is not easy, but it is worth it. The sense of achievement that comes with having done something with a larger impact is immense.”