This woman entrepreneur started up at 50 with a chemical formula stored in her father’s vault
From branding and marketing to chemical manufacturing is a big leap indeed. Add to that, being on the shop floor, supervising production, and you will most probably not imagine a 50-year-old woman at the helm of affairs.
Bengaluru (based) Sunitha Srinivasan took a leap of faith when she left her corporate job in 2016 to start EIBS Cleaning Solutions, that manufactures industrial grade chemicals to scrub floors and table tops.
Chemical formula for success
Sunitha’s is also the story of banking on a profitable idea that she had left to join a retail startup. Interestingly, 30 years ago, the entrepreneur was working for a large company that manufactured industrial flooring and imported Italian marble flooring slabs. She headed its operations for South India, and had also established its product range.
The products worked in synergy - the industrial flooring was used for the shop floors, while the marble was used for the customer facing areas and the residences of the senior management.
However, as sales of Italian marble started increasing, she started getting feedback from customers, that it was extremely difficult to maintain -marble isas it is one of the softest natural stones and extremely porous. As a result, most of the cleaners available at the time were damaging the floor in the cleaning process.
To address this issue, the senior management of her previous company, sought the advice of a chemical engineer, who developed the formula for an extremely effective cleaning product. It was gentle on marble and all other flooring substances. It was also safe for the user.
Since the product was economical, and very efficient for removing grease and grime, it also found a market with my industrial flooring customers. Sales were booming and times were good. In the early nineties90s, the Cchemist who had developed the formula, and was continuing to manufacture it, approached Sunitha to buy it and receive right of manufacture.
"This was a golden opportunity, except for the fact that his asking price was way more than I could afford. Don’t forget that these were long before the days of Investors and crowd funding! Even bank loans were hard to come by," Sunitha recalls.
Fortunately, her father recognised the potential of the product, and With her father's help she started a manufacturing company in the early nineties, and demand for the product reached an all-time high.
Just when things were going really well, in 1998, Sunitha had an offer from one of the first retail chains in the country, to be a part of their start up team.
It was truly a once- in- a- lifetime opportunity, and yet one that was hard to grab, simply because it would mean stopping the manufacture of a highly successful product. It was an impossible choice, but her father insisted she accept the opportunity. He would fulfil all the existing contracts and his reasoning was that since they owned the formula, they could restart using it at any time.
Bio-degradable and eco-friendly
After three decades of corporate life, Sunitha restarted her journey with the chemical formula stored safely in the vault and started IEBS Cleaning Solutions.
"I restarted the business three years ago after upgrading the technology to make the product biodegradable, and therefore eco-friendly," says Sunitha.
Her company EIBS Cleaning Solutions is creating biodegradable product to clean marble floors. She says, typically cleaning products have an acid component in them. This ensures that the surface is cleaned thoroughly.
However, acid also creates microscopic pores on the surface-especially in soft materials such as marble. This causes dirt to be trapped in the floor. The dirt looks like a black patch on the floor. To remove this, more acid based products are used, and the cycle repeats itself.
According to Sunitha, EIBS products are completely non-acid based. They do not harm either the surface or the user. They are biodegradable, and can be customised based on specific user requirements.
The number of cleaning products available in the Indian market today are humongous. They vary widely in terms of both price and quality. They are manufactured by multi- nationals, medium sized companies, and extremely small players. According to Invest India the size of the chemical manufacturing business in India is $163 billion.
EIBS products can be used for daily mopping, scrubbing of floors, cleaning of toilets, carpets and upholstery, including car upholstery. The beauty and fitness industries use them for cleaning of gym mats and spa beds. They are also used for cleaning stainless steel and rubber by heavy industry and hospitality.
"One of our most interesting products has been developed for retail. It is a sign board cleaner. Retail sign boards are typically hard to access and clean on a regular basis. Our product can be sprayed on them using an ordinary nursery sprayer, and then hosed off with water. It cleans without damaging paint, ink or vinyl," adds Sunitha.
She initially invest Rs 30 lakh in the business.
Presently, EIBs supplies to over 200 companies and has a small team of 10 members. While Sunitha did not disclose the revenues, she says she plans to create a 5x growth in capacity and customers. She also believes it is never too late to startup and succeed.
“Every bit of the EIBS offering has been thought through and planned with an eye to saving the planet. For instance, they try to minimise the plastic we use, by making the product super concentrated. Therefore 5 litres of their product yields 100 litres of usable material, and we they only one can for packing instead of 20,” she says.
It is not often that a woman single-handedly sets up a manufacturing unit, and manages it with a hands-on approach.
Starting up after 50 and in manufacturing takes some guts. Sunitha has proven that anyone can have ideas if they can execute them right. In the immediate future, she plans to take the product global.
If age is just a number for starting up, then the sky’s certainly the limit.
(Edited by Rekha Balakrishnan)