Clean technology companies have seldom attracted the sort of attention commanded by internet startups. But in a world struggling to meet its energy requirements and in a news timeline that is punctuated with fuel price hikes, the relevance of clean technology or cleantech is moving from strength to strength. Also, even when there is talk of clean technology, it is usually more about alternative sources of energy and less about conservation and management of existing resources such as water.
In our continuing attempt to highlight interesting startups in the cleantech space, we at YourStory.in caught up with entrepreneur Harshad Bastikar, the man behind the business idea of Jaldhara Technologies which operates in the areas of water management, waste water treatment and water recycling under the brand name “Greywater”. Jaldhara is a specialized technology company involved in designing, engineering, supplying, installing, testing & commissioning water treatment solutions.
In this candid chat with YourStory.in, Harshad speaks about the water management market, how the business idea has evolved, the regulatory atmosphere for water conservation and recycling and also, raising capital from Nexus Venture Partners and their role in Greywater’s growth. Given below are excerpts from the interview:
Harshad, how did the business idea for Greywater come about? How did you get around to chipping at the water treatment portion of it?
I’ve been in the industry for quite some time now. I used to head Thermax’s waste water management SBU. I was responsible for turning around the loss-making unit and ringing in profits in about 5-7 years. So, I knew how to do business. After the successful turn-around, I knew I had to move on to my next challenge. I also knew that I had to do something associated with water, liquid waste, etc. So, I worked on the business idea for a while and that’s how Greywater came about.
I come with a background in Electronics & Communication Engineering and I’ve over 20 years of experience in the instrumentation and systems management industry. Somewhere down the line, I shifted to the environment industry. To be honest, I knew nothing about water then. At Thermax, I had the opportunity to work on specific water management projects. That was when I realised the extent of water degradation and wastage.
I became very focussed on water conservation. You’ve heard of the concept of smart homes, right? You walk in to a room and the lights go on. When you walk out, they go off. I started thinking on the same lines about water. Why does there need to be a fixed flow of water on all taps, at all points of time? I started questioning everything about how water was managed and we tried implementing some of the ideas that we had.
At the first shot, we ended up saving 15-20% of the original usage. And the hunger to save more water grew. We also realised that waste water (which is nutrient-rich) could be recirculated and recycled. That was how the business idea for Greywater grew.
You were one of those who started out during the slowdown in 2008-2009. What were your thoughts about the timing then and in retrospect, how has it panned out? Also, tell us about the areas where you innovated.
At that time, it seemed like the timing was all wrong. It was 2008 when I had the seed of the business idea for Greywater. The recession had started by then. But at the same time, there was this tremendous need to recycle and reuse existing resources. At around the same time, the environmental norms became more stringent.
When I was at Thermax, I was doing process engineering and the waste water management plans at there were massive. They used to have huge tanks, kilometres of piping, elaborate designs, the works. When you looked at it, it seemed like a phenomenally large undertaking.
I realised that it could be done with a much smaller footprint. So, I went back to the technology end of it. We figured that the processes were fine and that there was no need to reinvent the wheel. So, the focus was clearly on reducing the footprint or the size of the water treatment facility. We reduced the extent of piping drastically and instead of multiple tanks; we got it all to happen within one tank.
The market was ripe and ready for something like this and we capitalized on that. Our systems were and continue to be like washing machines – simply plug and play. They are fully automatic (and not just automated). It fits into one car park area and it delivers better water treatment efficiency. Now, that’s a potent offering and that’s probably why it has worked.
So, what’s the size of the market that Greywater addresses? What is your target audience?
From a target audience perspective, it would be anyone who generates waste water. We have a full range of water treatment products such as cartridge filters, distillation units, chemical feed pumps, chemicals and media. Now, with respect to the market size, there are a whole lot of numbers floating around. We have data by NIC, FICCI, McKinsey, Cushman & Wakefield, etc. Everyone looks at it differently. I would say that the market within our reach would be worth about Rs.150 crores per annum in terms of our revenues. But the universal market is pegged at about Rs.14,000 crores, which includes even things like irrigation systems.
Our client base includes residential complexes, SEZs, industries, hospitality chains, resorts, commercial complexes, hospitals, etc. Club Mahindra, Dahej SEZ, Atlantis, L&T, etc. are some of the prominent names.
We’re a 24 member team now and I don’t think we’ll be hiring any more, at least in this quarter. From a company point of view, we’re planning to move towards municipal projects, which are of a much larger ticket size, in about a year and a half. The idea is to do more EPC (Engineering Procurement Construction) type of work. Currently, we don’t have the scale to take on such projects. We intend to move ahead through an acquisition. The interim expansion plan is to make inroads in the industrial sector in terms of effluent treatment, etc.
We understand that you’re a Nexus Venture Partners portfolio company. Can you take us through how Nexus has added value apart from the monetary piece? Also, are you looking at raising capital again?
Yes, we had raised about Rs.9 crores of venture capital from Nexus Venture Partners in February 2011. Once I had the business idea developer, I met Sandeep (Singhal, the co-founder of Nexus) and we had a chat about it. From the time I met Nexus to the time the deal was closed, it took about 2 months. One of the biggest advantages of partnering with Nexus is the amazing amount of access that they have to resources/expertise across the world, through their portfolio and otherwise. There was this one time when I had wanted some information regarding a certain desalination approach. Sandeep sent out some emails and within a day, he shared with me the details of a similar project elsewhere in the world. They’ve also helped extensively on strategy, systems, processes, PR, etc.
At the end of the day, they are friends and one derives a great deal of confidence from the fact that they’re so accessible. You just have to pick up the phone and call. The advantages of that can never be sufficiently reinforced. And with respect to the query about raising capital again, I think we’ll need another fund infusion for the acquisition that I was talking about earlier.
Where do you see the water management and waste water treatment market going forward? Also, what’s the vision for Greywater 5 years from now?
Well, we’ve laid the foundation for the trend that you don’t need expensive, high-end technology for treating water and dealing with waste water. Now that it has been done, a lot of players will come into the market with a similar approach. In such a scenario, consolidation is likely. Currently, 30% of the market is made up of mom-and-pop type of outfits and local players. That is likely to fold. It’ll become very difficult for them to survive with more and more technology coming and customers becoming more knowledgeable.
Over a period of five years, we want to change the way the world treats water. We will continue to work on the premise that there is no need to spend to billions and millions and water can be managed more simply and economically. Today, we find that the customer is too dependent on the company that provides the treatment plant. For instance, even if one valve doesn’t work, it’s a huge cause for tension as it calls for intervention from the provider’s end. To deal with that, we’re looking at bring the water treatment/recycling plants under remote management. Once the Pollution Control Boards (PCBs) are convinced with this approach, then it should be smooth sailing.
What are your thoughts on the regulatory atmosphere in the water management space? How do you think water reuse/recycling can be promoted?
I have been proposing measures to encourage water recycling to the government at practically every forum for the last one and a half years. My question is simply this – why can’t the government incentivize people/companies for reusing/recycling water? That will close the loop and will work infinitely better than having a regulatory watchdog-sort of body. That is probably the most frictionless way to get people to adhere to the environmental norms, which are rather stringent. After all, how much can the government monitor steps taken and ensure compliance? By incentivizing self-regulation, the government can create a win-win situation.
The cost of investing in a water treatment and recycling plant is very high, even for municipalities. But what needs to understood here is that water supply itself is an issue. Think about it. Every time the fuel prices increase, there is a rise in the cost of raw water as it needs to be pumped and that requires fuel. There is a very compelling need to reduce the water supply stress. A steadily implementable supply of water is perhaps the nation’s greatest concern today. Water reuse and recycling can impact this positively.
We at YourStory.in wish Harshad and Greywater much success in the years to come. To know more about this interesting startup in the water management, reuse & recycling domain, check out http://www.greywatertech.com. Also, do let us know your thoughts on this story by writing to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sriram Mohan | YourStory | Bangalore | 18th September 2011