With every flush, we waste 3 litres of water whereas about 663 million people do not have access to safe water. It is right that you should flush after urinating because it is hygienic but what if we have an alternative where you get to maintain hygiene without flushing? A venture has been started by the IIT-Delhi graduates where they are urging the world to go for WATERLESS FLUSH! Impactpreneurs had a detailed talk with Uttam Banerjee, co-founder of Ekam Eco Solutions on his crusade. Edited excerpt:
When and how did you sow the seed of your venture?
It started with our research on waterless urinals at IIT Delhi in 2009. No commercial activities were taking place around the product as IIT-Delhi says no to commercialization. My professor, Dr Vijayraghavan Chariar then once said that the research is of no use if it does not reach the mass. Hence, the year 2013 marked as the stepping stone of Ekam Eco Solutions. Through Ekam, we want the ignorant world to know about what happens to the waste after excreting, where it heads to and what impact it has on the environment and the mass.
Why the name, Ekam?
Ekam is a Sanskrit word which means “oneness”. We believe that everything, from sanitation to pollution to water scarcity to diseases are inextricably interconnected. Hence, the name Ekam, oneness.
What is the USP of your company? Kindly, brief us about your products and the business model.
Our products are developed with the sole aim of achieving sustainable sanitation. People are not aware what actually sustainable sanitation means. Sustainable definitely does not mean recycling the product by using a lot of energy. Sustainability should be maintained at all the levels of the production. Our products are completely user-centric and through them we exchange ideas.
We are very critical about giving subsidies. We believe that a product which is sold for free does not gain much value. So from day one, we have not given out a single product for free. We also had a lot of discussions whether to start this mission as an NGO or for-profit business. We ended up by making the mission a private limited.
Our work environment is completely different from normal work culture. Most of our employees are trained plumbers. Our plumbers have undergone through training where they have been trained to use various software and they are expert in excel. I can proudly tell that any of our plumbers can enter any CEO’s office and deliver a presentation confidently.
How do you attract investors?
We don’t want investors who are just into investing rather we want investors who believe in our mission. We did contact 20-25 investors but compatibility was always a major issue, their thought process never synchronised with ours. Hence, for two and a half years we had no investment and we managed our expenses through our sales. Recently, we have received an investment of Rs. 2 crores from two people who believe in our products, it is kind of seed investment.
We heard that you are discussing your products with the Indian Navy?
We are not only discussing our products with the Indian Navy but also with the Indian Railway and the Indian Army. The major challenge we are facing with them is to make them believe in a start-up.
Which among your various products is making maximum profit?
It is, of course, Zerodor as it helps in waterless flush and also maintains the hygiene.
What are the challenges you face? How do you overcome them?
The behavioural challenge is the major challenge we face. Urban and corporate people are ignorant about conserving water and tackling odour issues, to surprise you, rural people are more aware of these grave issues.
The resistance comes when we ask people to change their lifestyle. Hence, our products aim to make people comfortable and they do not force people to change their lifestyle.
What impact has been created so far and what do you want to achieve?
We have installed 10,000 Zerodors till date i.e., we are saving 5 million litres of water every year. We are exporting to African countries also. Botswana has high acceptance rate amongst all the countries.
Five years down the line, we aim to increase our installation to 1,00,000 which is 10 times of what we have installed.
Describe the passion that drove you to feel that what you are doing is right in spite of heavy competition and inherent risks?
Since childhood, I wanted to do something meaningful in my life. Of course, like the majority, I have also worked in companies. I have worked in an automobile company but every day I used to think how making cars will benefit the society. I was lacking interest in it. Even while pursuing my engineering, I used to think how the things which were taught were applicable in the industrial world. I used to feel that the things taught were more of like studying excel. Hence, I pursued Masters in Industrial Design and for two years I did interesting things in the fields of cerebral palsy, redesigning rickshaw and bamboo. I even visited the kids suffering from cerebral palsy and understood their lifestyle and on seeing their inconvenience, I designed products for them. Hence, I started my own venture.
What was the breakthrough or when did you feel that your efforts paid off and you first tasted the success?
I am yet to taste that.
Are you working on any new project?
Females have to come in direct contact with the toilet pan which is used by many (especially, most of the restaurants have unisex-styled toilets). Also, females have a lot of issues with their menstrual cycle, pregnancy and also their clothing styles are quite different. They are very much prone to infections and their hygiene is at high risk. Hence, we are up to bringing innovation to this field.
Your message to entrepreneurs/ wannabe entrepreneurs? Any particular insight you have got that you think might be helpful to others?
Don’t run behind money. Today’s startup culture is taking the turn towards generating funds and investments rather they should make their product a solution to a problem.
To know about such entrepreneurs, visit Impactpreneurs.