A startup competition in the city at the Wharton India Economic Forum (WIEF) saw ideas from entrepreneurs from across the country. Around 10 startups made their pitches and here we look at a few ideas.
Cleaner Ganga, fragrant incense sticks
Cleaning the holy Ganges is no simple task and has been the objective of many activists, environmentalists and politicians, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Amid various attempts and campaigns, a startup in Kanpur is protecting the Ganga from becoming a ‘religious sewer’.
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Help Us Green, founded by two 26-year-olds in 2015, collects floral waste from temples, mosques, gurudwaras along the Ganges and converts it into natural and chemical-free lifestyle products. Currently, the startup collects around 1.5 tonnes of floral waste from Kanpur and 8 tonnes from Varanasi.
The waste is composted and converted into plant fertilisers and incense sticks.
Not only does it keep the floral waste, often laden with chemical-induced pesticides, from ending up in the river, the startup has also generated employment opportunities for the local residents.
The flowers are dried up and rolled into incense sticks by women’s self-help groups. Men, who worked as manual scavengers earlier, have been assigned the dignified job of collecting floral waste from places of worship.
Established by Ankit Agarwal and Karan Rastogi, the two-year-old startup has many awards to its credit now. The two have not needed any funding yet and don’t foresee the need yet either. “We are a self-sufficient company so far,” said Rastogi.
However, both Agarwal and Rastogi had to wade through a fair share of resistance, including from their families. “It was only after we won a competition at IIT-Kanpur in August 2015 that people started to take us seriously,” said Rastogi. Many such awards followed, including the Tata Social Entrepreneurship Competition in 2016.
It was a game-changer for the startup when Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav offered recognition and land to set up more processing units. “Now we can move our operations from our backyard to a processing unit. We have been offered land at subsidised rates in Kannauj and Varanasi,” said Rastogi.
The duo’s winning streak continued at the startup competition at the Wharton India Economic Forum in Mumbai last week. Help Us Green won the people’s choice award and a prize money worth $6,000.
The company now plans to set up seven hubs along the Ganges by 2019. “Currently, we have two hubs. We plan to expand along the banks and collect 15 to 20 tonnes of floral waste by 2019,” said Rastogi.
Startup: Help Us Green
Established: May 2015
Turnover: Rs 63 lakh in FY15-16. Expected to double in FY16-17
Averting gas leakage in refineries
Down south, a technology developed by a handful of engineers from the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras, has created quite a buzz in the oil and gas industry. To capitalise on the feat, they have established a startup that now provides surveillance solutions to oil refineries.
Detect Technologies, which won the startup competition at the WIEF, uses its patented Guided Ultrasonic Monitoring of Pipe Systems (GUMPS) to predict and detect oil and gas leakages that have been the cause of life and property damage worldover.
It is the first continuous real-time pipe monitoring system in the world that can work even at temperature extremes. “To sum it up, GUMPS would act as an artificial nervous system continuously monitoring a huge network of pipelines and alerting the plant for any impending leaks,” said Daniel Raj David, one of the five co-founders of the startup. The 22-year-old is also in the final year of his dual degree course in mechanical engineering at IIT-M.
With students at the helm of the startup, the journey has not been easy.
“The biggest challenge has been the productisation of GUMPS from its technically-sound stage to its commercially-sellable industry-certified stage. Oil and gas refineries have some very stringent certifications for electronics due to the risk of sparks,” said David.
After a successful stint at one of the larger refineries in India, the startup is gearing up for more work from other refineries from across the world. Their pitch at the WIEF won them USD 12,000.
“There are a few projects and problems that we believe we can solve for industries and we hope to tackle them as well when the situations are conducive,” said David.
Startup: Detect Technologies
Established: February 2016
Funding: A pre-seed investment of Rs 10 lakh from IIT-Madras Incubation Cell
Skilling through spoken English
When two University of Pennsylvania graduates, Arshan Vakil and Tahem Verma, returned to the country with their learnings still fresh, they observed a gap in the skill set and employability of people.
Basic knowledge of English and the confidence to speak it — two integral parts of employability —lacked in many, especially those trained in vernacular medium.
Following two years of industry research, the duo launched the latest version of their mobile application enguru on December 15, 2016. Not only does the app offer short-term as well as certificate courses in spoken English, it opens up the window to various job prospects at the end of the course.
The app allows one to choose 12 regional and international languages to learn English from. The availability of content offline is an added advantage.
The curriculum is custom-made for users. At the beginning of the course, the app measures the competency of the candidate, the time s/he can give to the course and hence decides the curriculum.
The app is a culmination of offline research, said Vakil. The duo first launched Kings Learning, an on-campus English coaching centre in Bengaluru in 2014 to understand the requirements of the industry.
“We wanted to come up with a tech-based solution but we started with an offline business. That helped us develop our content better,” said Vakil.
The first version of the app was launched in May 2015 that allowed anybody with elementary English knowledge to learn. However, the duo decided to map the courses to employment opportunities.
In the latest version of the app, the courses open up interview avenues for the learners. The learners are made to take tests, with checks in place to detect plagiarism. Certificates are issued at nominal rates. Depending on how the learner fares, there might be job interviews lined up.
“Currently, there are more than 60 jobs from 26 employers on the platform,” said Vakil. The user base for enguru has shot up from 1,000 a day to 6,000 a day. The courses are tailormade for jobs in retail, hotel management and BPO sector.
“Finance is in the pipeline,” said Vakil.
The startup is now planning to build a robust loop for assessment, courses, employability and employment.
Startup: Kings Learning, mobile app enguru
Established: Offline business in April 2014, app in April 2015
Funding: USD 575,000 from angel investors
Turnover: Rs 1 crore in FY 15-16 for Kings Learning. Flagship product enguru is available for free on android.