Over the course of last year, four Bengali youths have been hard at work to make a revolutionary product from India. Based in three different continents, they have collaborated over a shared passion to make an innovative product that they hope will change the way we live.
Reclaiming green spaces from the tyrannical drab urban landscape is no less a fight for freedom in modern day India. Appropriately called Ecotop, this product is a unique tile that allows one to install not only a green roof but a tropical garden inside the bedroom if one so desires! This is a modular landscaping platform, a multi-layered Lego-style tile that is meant to cover any plain or uneven surface the eco-friendly way.
The portable two by two feet tile, which is leak proof, has been designed in the US by an Indian, tested in Switzerland by another Indian, and manufactured completely in India using indigenous resources by two other Indians. The four friends -- two from IIT Kharagpur and two others from Jadavpur University in Kolkata -- have been collaborating on this project for the past year on the Cloud.
“Last year, I was listening to Prime Minister’s Independence Day speech on television and was inspired to make something for India. Mr Modi said that we import thousands of items from other countries, mostly from China. If each youth picks up one item and makes it world class, then in the next five to 10 years we can become an import free nation. We at Capacloud picked an item like the green roof title, 90 per cent of which is being imported today, and are now manufacturing it. We will soon be exporting this to neighbouring countries as well,” says Jayabrata Bhaduri, the face of Capacloud, the company that is making Ecotop.
Jayabrata, who graduated from Jadavpur University in Mechanical Engineering and went on to complete a management programme from SP Jain, calls himself a typical Bengali profile. “I studied the right things and went on to work for multinationals,” says Jayabrata, indicating that there was nothing he could complain about how his life had turned out. Yet, he left its comforts and jumped into entrepreneurship. Why? Jayabrata answers,
As I said it is about making a difference. If we can build our own products we can save so much on import. It is a matter of pride to make in India.
Interestingly, he is the only person among the four co-founders who is ‘out in the open’ about working in a startup. “I work full time with Capacloud now. The other three hold different full-time jobs because we are yet to make any money out of this,” adds Jayabrata, who looks after the supply chain and marketing of Ecotop.
Introducing the core team of Capacloud, Jayabrata says,
Our friend in the US is a product designer. He designs commercial and fighter jet aircrafts. The one in Switzerland is an experimental scientist, who tested the product in his university laboratory. The third, the youngest among us, is based in Kolkata and helps with IP, patent and legal compliance issues.
They also have other peripheral teams that look at quality control and export. “We have an excellent team in Dubai and they are all set to export the product to the Middle East. We also have mentors like Prof John Davis, Director of Duke University, and former Marketing Head of Nike, among others.”
At present, the Ecotop is manufactured in two locations, one in Kolkata and the other in Tumkur near Bengaluru. “We have received pre-orders from these two places and have the capacity to manage 10,000 tiles per month. We are looking at similar manufacturing facilities in places like Gujarat,” says Jayabrata, adding, “We failed many times in this one year, changed the design several times and have finally come up with this design which is fool proof.”
The team is initially targeting the B2B segment. “In our research phase we interacted closely with architects, builders and landscaping agencies. The landscaping market is huge. Today, the SEZ and tech parks all have to comply with the green rating norms. Thus with our Ecotop they not only get an easy-to-install, remove, and remodel a green roof but also save on energy and water,” says Jayabrata, adding, “We are in talks with experts for a lead score ratings on the sustainability of the product. This sector is unorganized and we are fighting this fragmented market to sustain and grown.”
According to Biswarup, another Co-founder based in Kolkata, they were looking for a material for the tile which was leak-proof, lightweight and could withstand pressure from people walking over it. “We spent hours and hours discussing different materials we could use. At one point, Jayabrata went to the kitchen and saw the vegetable cutting board, which is a PVC board. We reaslised that it is recyclable, did not have any harmful effect and was lightweight. We built our concept from there.”
Ecotop employs the use of multiple embedded functional layers with micro-channeling made from talcum-based stress-resistant composites that gives the feel of marble but a rust and crack immune durability of decades, claim the founders. A specially designed geo-textile mesh acts as a filter to prevent any form of soil or compost loss.
“We conducted exhaustive tests and analysis on the strength of the tile, consulted manufacturing experts on how to minimize wastage since the vein of our product is the irrigation system,” says Biswarup. Though the initial cost of Ecotop product is more than the ones begin used by green roof agencies, the startup claims that the cost will come down drastically in the long run. “Ninety per cent of materials for green roof are imported. Our focus right now is to cut down on the import and provide a totally indigenous product. From a small nozzle to other bigger parts, everything is made in India,” adds Jayabrata.
What started out as an ‘adda’ (hanging out on doorsteps over cups of tea) among four friends has now the potential to grow into a profitable business. Says Biswarup,
While I was in IIT Kharagpur, there was an urge to solve basic problems of the people. Usually, we talk about changing the world, do ‘addabazi’, drink cups and cups of tea and go back home to the same life.
In college, Biswarup was part of a startup that dealt with waste management. The startup failed. He says, "There was a big mismatch between the idea and the implementation. I failed miserably. But when I met Jayabrata and the others guys, I saw they were so methodical about everything. The plunge has to come with a lot of planning."
Biswarup’s father, who is a PSU employee, never supported his son’s ambitions of starting up. “He would always say you will fail. But over the years, he has seen that I will not give up, and we have come to a point where he now says you may succeed,” adds Biswarup. According to Jayabrata, for the other two founders in foreign shores too it was the desire to build something tangible for India than merely succeed as software developers abroad that pushed them to come together and start up.
That, perhaps, is a good place to start – the freedom to choose how to make a difference.