Why Shriti Pandey chose to leave a comfy job in NYC to start up in her hometown Gorakhpur
Shriti Pandey founded Strawcture Eco in Gorakhpur in 2017 to make living spaces more functional, aesthetically desirable, environment-friendly and affordable to all.
Why are small cities and towns teeming with success stories? What makes these stories different? Apart from the usual hard work, and determination, men and women emerging from these places seem to have that extra “fire in the belly”. That, coupled with the attitude to make a difference in the lives of those around them.
Shriti Pandey’s is one such story. After completing her master’s in construction management in the US, she chose to stay on in New York City to work with a consultancy firm. But something bothered her deeply. Hailing from Gorakhpur, she felt like she was living in her own bubble in the US; everything she did was about her own comfort and aspirations.
In 2016, Shriti decided to move back to India. She won the SBI Youth Fellowship that required her to work in remote villages. After completing her fellowship, she decided to start up - in an area that could utilise her skills to the fullest.
Home is where the startup is
She could have easily started up in a big city like Mumbai or Delhi, but instead, chose to go back to Gorakhpur. Speaking of her decision, she says, "I am a strong supporter of the fact that ambition, money, and opportunities can be found anywhere, even in small towns. I was also aware that people in small cities and towns face unemployment as the majority of of engineers are not really skilled and have no inspiration and direction. I wanted to be a source of inspiration for them.”
Armed with the knowledge, passion, and Steve Job’s quote, “The ones who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do,” Shriti founded Strawcture Eco in 2017.
She explains: The startup is dedicated to making living spaces more functional, aesthetically desirable, environment-friendly, and affordable to all. We build fast, durable, and aesthetically pleasing houses using compressed agri-fibre panels and steel structures.The panels are made of 100 percent rice straw and, in the long run, will be a viable solution to stubble burning in India. We can build a home in four weeks.”
Affordable housing for all
Strawcture Eco has the exclusive licence to the technology and works in partnership with a European company, Ekopanely, pioneers in the technology. The company has the same vision: making access to homes easier and faster for underprivileged families in urban and rural areas.
“Our enterprise builds houses that are customised , designed by an architect, and provide a sustainable way of living for the masses.We are trying to solve two problems - one is of crop residue burning in India, which is in the news and is a big contributor to Delhi’s hazardous pollution levels; the other is to provide alternative housing solutions that are low-cost, sustainable, non-toxic, and take less than half the time to be built as compared to traditional construction,” Shriti adds.
Strawcture Eco is currently bootstrapped. It has won a few competitions like United Nation 22nd Youth Assembly Impact Challenge Award, and the runner-up award in the Uttar Pradesh Startup Conclave that provided them with funding. It is incubated at Atal Incubation Center, Banasthali Vidyapeeth and IIM Bangalore Women Startup Programme has provided them with mentorship.
The startup is a for-profit enterprise; the revenue model is the profit margin based on the construction cost. It recently built its first pilot home in Gorakhpur, for which it received a positive response.
Piloting in Gorakhpur
Being a woman founder, Shriti has faced quite a few challenges to get people interested in her project. However, she says, she has faced more challenges in the big cities than in her hometown.
“I have met potential investors and industry members who have been sceptical of a woman leading a construction company and wondering if I would be able to get things done. In my hometown, people have been very encouraging. I have also received comments like, ‘You should have a male co-founder to make people more confidence in your idea’ and questions about my personal life even before they spoke about my work,” she says.
Despite the constant stares, scepticism, and disbelief, Shriti worked hard with the support of a small group of friends, her family, and “a lot of decent men who supported me and had my back”.
Strawstructure Eco has plans to start manufacturing insulated compressed panels out of straw to provide an additional source of income to farmers. With this project, a farmer can make Rs 25,000 from a one-acre plot of straw, and reduce the carbon emission caused by stubble burning.
“We are working towards a big pilot in one of the developing states in the country to showcase a new alternative model of social and affordable housing. We aim for dignity for families, and to design with empathy. We are hoping that the technology would be accepted by the government so we can, with support of families, build houses under Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana and meet the government’s mission of providing housing for all by 2022,” Shriti says.
Ultimately, Shriti says, it’s all about what you want to be, to yourself and to others. “I believe if you have the privilege to be what you want to be and have the opportunity to have a voice, your life should be more than just about yourself.”