This woman entrepreneur is living the Make in India dream by bolstering EV adoption through a portable charger

Telangana-based B2B startup Cellerite Systems, founded by researcher-turned entrepreneur Srujana Raghupatruni Patnaik, supplies affordable portable chargers for electric vehicles priced between Rs 1,800 and Rs 10,000.

Global climate change has been wreaking havoc on the environment and livelihoods of people over the past few years.

When Srujana Raghupatruni Patnaik, visited her hometown Visakhapatnam in 2017, and stepped out to run errands, she was appalled by the increased pollution and traffic congestion that seemed strange for a Tier II city. 

“After spending nearly 20 years in Vishakapatnam, the sudden environmental change I saw made me wonder what was really causing the alarming pollution levels,” she recalls.

In 2016, the AP Pollution Control Board (APPCB) reported that the air quality of Visakhapatnam was worsening by the day, largely due to increased presence of diesel-fuelled motors in the city. 

A graduate from IIT-Delhi, Srujana, has been involved in research and development of power systems, specifically, energy storage, complex charging, and discharging of batteries. 

Having developed an electric vehicle (EV) as part of an experiment in 2012, Srujana believed that transitioning to EVs can reduce pollutants to a large extent without compromising on the need to commute. 

Srujana Raghupatruni Patnaik, Founder of Cellerite Systems

A push for electric mobility

Despite the advantages of switching to electric vehicles, and being aware of the pollution caused by diesel-run engines, mass adoption of EVs remained low in the country.

Srujana, (35), learned that users were hesitant of switching to electric vehicles due to difficulty in charging and thus started Cellerite Systems in April 2018. 

Based in Telangana, with a manufacturing factory in Visakhapatnam, the B2B startup manufactures and supplies portable chargers for two and three-wheeler EVs to five Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) clients in India. 

“The objective is to reduce charging duration. Most electric vehicles take an average of eight hours to charge fully and owners would have it charged overnight,” she says.

However, chargers manufactured by the Cellerite Systems has reduced the duration to under three-and-a-half hours. This can be done faster depending on the quality of battery used in the vehicle, Srujana says. 

An electric vehicle charger developed by Cellerite Systems

The startup supplies chargers with different voltage and current levels, customised to clients’ needs. Accordingly, its price ranges between Rs 1,800 and Rs 10,000 while a standard charger - of 48 volts and 15 ampere – cost Rs 3,200. 

Cellerite Systems is looking to manufacture and assemble battery packs and sell them in the future. 

The entrepreneur is also happy to implement her research work and its findings – the lack of which, served as an impetus to start up.  “Our research work was highly appreciated and covered in media, but it was not commercialised.”

One such published research that she applied to the startup’s chargers is enabling batteries of the EV to be used as an additional source of power at home during power shortages and emergency situations like cyclones. 

An effort to ‘Make in India’

The government of India has encouraged mainstream electric mobility by dedicating Rs 10,000 crore to boost EV usage under Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Hybrid and Electric Vehicles (FAME) II scheme and a five percent reduction of GST on electric vehicles. 

To avail these incentives, the scheme mandates makers of electric vehicles to have at least 50 percent of the components manufactured in India. 

Srujana says her startup supplying the portable charger as a component is a step closer to become self-reliant and prevent the detrimental impact that a successful transition to EV might bring. 

She explains, “India is the fourth largest automobile market with huge oil imports and we are able to manufacture most of the components for conventional vehicles. But if we plan on transitioning to EV and don't make the components in India, the expense on the oil import bill will be spent on importing the component. For such a large market, this may lead a huge loss of employment, and foreign exchange. And still, there is a lot we must manufacture to become self-reliant.”

Overcoming challenges 

Srujana banked on her expertise in electrical power systems but ventured into the startup ecosystem with little business knowhow. 

She learnt the ropes of entrepreneurship and received a fund of $10,000 through the POWERED accelerator as part of its first cohort of women entrepreneurs in 2018, the year she started up. 

However, she says, working in the manufacturing sector has proven to be challenging. “There were a lot of setbacks due to delay in getting the necessary components. Something that was promised for delivery in 15 days to 20 days would take six months,” Srujana adds. 

Srujana is extremely cautious of hiring and says finding the right people and talent has been difficult. She believes the electronic mobility sector is at a nascent stage in terms of the technology and skills people possess in India. 

To bridge the skills gap, the startup conducts workshops to train students and faculty members on developments in electric vehicles and power electronics at various colleges. 

Srujana was the only female student during her master’s in power systems classes at IIT-Delhi and the only woman among a group of electrical engineers at Shell. She was not taken seriously and appreciated as a woman entrepreneur in the manufacturing industry. 

However, she advises youngsters to do away with the mindset of ‘being a woman entrepreneur in a male-dominated space’. More importantly, they should believe in themselves and not underestimate their abilities”.

Edited by Rekha Balakrishnan