This startup is making sustainability in industries a reality with affordable green chemicals

Proklean is a Chennai-based startup that develops, manufactures, and markets products that are non-toxic and biodegradable, for various industrial and household applications.
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As sustainability in manufacturing gains traction, companies across industries are looking for greener alternatives. However, non-toxic biodegradable chemicals aren’t easy to use. Organic alternatives are typically 3-5x expensive than their counterparts, poor on performance, or are difficult to adopt

Proklean, a Chennai-based startup founded in 2012, is attempting to solve this hurdle in green chemical adoption by offering products that not only reduce cost of operations but are also safe for users. 

“Proklean’s approach is to make products that deliver on all of these parameters thereby offering solutions which are adoptable by the users. Proklean products are made with only renewable carbon-based raw materials in an extremely low impact process and being readily biodegradable the products are 100 percent circular,” says Co-Founder Dr Sivaram Pillai. . 

The Proklean team

Proklean Founders, Sivarama, a PhD in biochemistry, and B Chandrasekhar, an alumnus of IIM, Ahmedabad, met via a Yahoo group. As they were both interested in probiotics, they decided to collaborate to start a company. The company’s third founder, Vishwadeep Kuila, joined the duo later on. 

Proklean develops, manufactures, and markets products that are non-toxic and biodegradable for various industrial and household applications. It has developed a unique patented technology using probiotic bacteria to make green chemicals. 

The company has established multiple lines of business – leather, textile, pulp and paper, and institutional and home cleaning products. Proklean claims to have customers in all segments.

Building the products 

The founders conducted various tests and trials to come up with the right blend of probiotics and raw materials to produce their line of green chemicals. 

The founders came up with a way to conduct the fermentation in indigenously with low-cost fermenters that did not need any heating and cooling, and - most importantly without the need of any further processing post completion of the fermentation. This allows the startup to keep the costs low while making green products. 

Specifically, the founders came up with a way to conduct fermentation in indigenously designed low-cost fermenters. This process does not require any additional heating or cooling or any processing post completion of fermentation. Proklean’s chemical production leads to low cost green products. 

Proklean has ensured that its products are as affordable as the traditional counterparts, a strategy that paid off during the COVID-19 pandemic when industries such as paper and pulp struggled to source chemicals. 

“During COVID times, we launched a range of safe and green cleaning products made from bio-based materials. These products have anti-microbial and anti-viral properties. Unlike typical organic alternatives, our products are competitively priced with the popular products,” Sivaram says. 

Challenges and the road ahead

Proklean initially struggled to find customers in the leather and textile industry, given that both segments rely heavily on cheaper commercial chemicals. Potential users were hesitant to bet on Proklean’s products as organic alternatives are considered both expensive and difficult to use. 

However, once the initial few customers were convinced of the products’ performance, others also joined in. 

“Today, Proklean is well known for its green chemistry products in the industry. This also helped the team."

Vishwadeep Kuila is a classmate of Chandrasekhar and joined them for Sales and Marketing. The initial employees were also added by the founders through their network and were "mainly people aligned to the cause and who found the technology and products interesting".  

The team roped in Karthikeyan KS as CEO. He is a chemical engineer and MBA (Bharatidasan institute), and has 20+ years of experience in Sales & Marketing and Strategy in the specialty chemicals industry with companies like Reliance, Tata group, BASF, and McKinsey. 

Alok Goel, the COO, is a chartered accountant and MBA (ISB, Hyderabad), and has over 12 years of experience in Strategy and Finance. He has closely worked with founders to scale up funded startups like Opinio and Licious before Proklean. 

Proklean’s team strength is over 100 and includes industry veterans and professionals, who are all on "the mission to reduce pollution". 

“Based on a third party study on carbon footprint for some of the products, the team has found that our products have up to 80 percent lower carbon footprint than conventional products. So far, Proklean has helped save 6,500+ MT of CO2 release. These numbers are significant, given the comparatively small scale of the company’s operations in the initial years. As we scale up, we would have a significant impact on CO2 reduction,” says Sivaram. 

The market and future 

A Capgemini Research report has found that sustainability has risen up onthe customer agenda. Close to 79 percent of the consumers are changing their purchase preferences based on inclusiveness, social responsibility, or environmental impact.

Startups like Zwende, BrownLiving, BlessedBuy, and Tjori fall under both niche and sustainable ecommerce category. Others like Chuk Biodegradable, and Rubberfy are manufacturing sustainable products. 

Proklean is backed by The Chennai Angels, Infuse Ventures, and Siana Capital. Most of the tech is patent-pending. The team in FY 21 made revenue of Rs 15 crore, with an ARR (annual recurring revenue) of close to Rs 22 crore. and  is now aiming to double revenue every year for the next few years. 

“Our plan is to continue R&D to make more new products in the existing lines of business and also develop new applications. We focus on problem areas that lead to huge pollution/carbon emissions.

"We have initiated exports to countries like Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. We intend to become a multinational company in the next few years and have a global footprint,” says Sivaram.

Edited by Affirunisa Kankudti