Odisha based bootstrapped entrepreneur’s innovation – e-smart meters

In 2002, Kishore Patra observed that everything we use in our daily life is changing faster and getting smarter. Whether it’s a TV or a mobile phone, all these devices have evolved continuously, and that made him ponder why the electricity supply system hasn’t become smarter? Back then, he was still running a paint industry in Puri, Odisha.

Being a firm believer of Swami Vivekananda, Kishore draws inspiration from his teachings. “Take up one idea. Make that one idea your life — think of it, dream of it, live that idea. Let the brain, muscles, nerves, and every part of your body be full of that idea, and just leave every other idea alone. This is the way to success.”

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Kishore has been working on the project e-EMB (e-Energy Metering Box) since 2002 and had the first product model finished by 2005. He had formally registered the company as KPMP Electronics in 2002. At that time, the product was not exactly market fit. So the KPMP Electronics team redesigned the model and after various design and model iterations, the final working model was ready in 2009. Since then, the team has been working on adding modules and features to the system to make the product more flexible and useful. He started working on this product with a three-member team. In the journey, a few members left the team; at present it is a 50-member team. Kishore’s son, Likan, who was working with the team right from 2010, has now joined the team fulltime post graduation. He now manages the operations and quality assessment division of the company.

The product – e-EMB

Smart metering systems market is slowly catching up with major MNCs and the government electricity boards are warming up to the idea.  At present, there is no smart metering system available in the market but there are many companies working on this product. As of today, Secure Meters, Landis+Gyr, L&T and Itron are working on smart electric meter in India.

Kishore’s company, KPMP Electronics, has developed a revolutionary smart meter that comprises of GPRS modem for communication to enable people to see the true value of Smart Metering Data. The e-EMB (e-Energy Metering Box) is an advanced and remodeled version of existing energy meters. The meter can easily be pole mounted or can be even mounted indoors.  A unit installation can have multiple numbers of meter connections and all basic features such as collecting Information or disconnecting the supply remotely. The electricity boards can monitor consumer electricity usage real time, and if a particular household consumes more than the assigned load, these boards can disconnect the power supply.

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When we asked him what differentiates his product and team from the rest of the competitors, Kishore said, “We have been working on this project for the last 12 years with the same team members from the beginning. So whenever a problem occurs, we sort it out easily. And as we are developing the hardware, software and communication modules of our own, it becomes very easy for us to work together.”

Most successful hardware entrepreneurs share that B2B model is the best one to follow and scale as compared to the consumer-focused model. But in this case, they are dealing with government electricity boards which do not show much enthusiasm for new technology. The team has been working really hard for the past four months to seek channels to convince the state electricity boards to install their smart meters. They are now pitching this product to private electricity suppliers in Mumbai and Delhi as well.

To garner interest and convince the Odisha Electricity Regulatory Commission, Kishore’s team had organized a seminar-cum-workshop back in August 2011.

Is it really necessary?

When a new product tries to replace an existing solution, it always faces criticism.  But why do we need to remodel the existing metering system?

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If current average transmission and distribution average losses remain the same (32%), India needs to add about 135 GW of power generation capacity before 2017 to satisfy the projected demand after losses. Putting efforts on providing surplus amounts of energy is given more weightage these days rather than managing and monitoring the supply. Power leaks can be avoided by implementing smart meters that provide ease of maintenance and facilitate in power monitoring.

India faces a huge problem of illegal meter connections and has a long list of electricity bill defaulters. These electricity boards face a major challenge to tackle this problem. Implementation of smart meters gives electricity boards the power to cut off electricity supply to defaulters’ households. This will bring in more transparency in this whole electricity billing procedure.

It is high time electricity boards understand the potential of this product and implement it. Today, when consumers can check the number of footsteps they have walked through fitness and lifestyle apps on their smartphones, the day is not far when they would like to know their electricity consumptions on their smartphones as well.

Challenges in the journey

One of the biggest challenges for any hardware startup is the huge capital investment at an early stage. Even Kishore faced similar problems in the initial days when he needed large sums to invest in the R&D of the product. To keep this R&D process ongoing, he used his profits from other business venture into this startup.

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Investment on talent is also another grey area for any startup especially hardware. Due to poor support framework, there is a dearth of talent to support hardware revolution in India. “We got talented professionals from various parts of the country to work with us, but very few people stayed with us in this journey.”

Another important aspect to remember is that he wasn’t starting a company based out of any of the ‘Startup Hubs’ but from a small town, Puri in Odisha.

When it comes to hardware, procuring raw material is a major concern for founders. Kishore too experienced the same issues when he couldn’t manage to get his raw materials in Puri, Mumbai or Hyderabad. Not one to give up, he got in touch with suppliers and manufacturers in China, and placed orders for his initial testing of 200 smart meters in Puri.

One positive silver lining, he feels, is the emergence of Alibaba. It has given the world the power to reach out to the Chinese manufacturers and place orders through the platform.

Future Prospects

Kishore has followed the lean startup model while working on this product. He has been iterating over various designs with his teams and validating them with real life testing. He says, “As we have made various models of the same product, we have already planned for the upcoming model which we will start working at the earliest.

The team is trying to partner with other major players in this market for implementing the distribution of this smart meter. If you have any suggestions or can help the team in implementing their meters, do get in touch with them here.

We hope that they are successful in this endeavor; this is an amazing real life example of how an entrepreneur bootstrapping his venture from a small town, is trying to make an impact. 

Subodh Kolhe