This woman entrepreneur’s unique building operation system is disrupting the real estate industry
It took Garima Bharadwaj two startup stints and five years to finally decide to plunge into entrepreneurship.
Now the co-founder of Enlite Research, which claims to build the world’s first touchless building operation system designed with occupants in mind, joined a large corporate organisation after completing her MBA at Great Lakes Management Institute.
Soon, she was disillusioned – she had become “another cog in the wheel”. An opportunity with OYO Rooms came up, one that went on to change the entire course of her professional life.
Startup life to starting up
She recalls, “My years at OYO taught me more than what any college would and put me on a breakneck growth trajectory from which there was no looking back. I joined another high growth D2C brand Moms Co and helped set up the company right from scratch. I had learnt a lot from my founders at the two companies and how they filled the gap. But, soon I felt I needed to something that aligned with my passion for sustainability.”
It was at OYO that Garima met Gaurav Bali, who is now her co-founder. An alum of Harvard, Gaurav was heading an outsourcing firm at the time, and the two stayed in touch and would often discuss the next big growth frontier in innovation and what would they do if they were to be a part of it.
What began as discussions around energy saving and management finally culminated into Enlite Research, which was launched in Mumbai in 2018.
Explaining the idea behind Enlite, Garima says, “Since decades, building integration tech or Building Management System (BMS) has existed for the large CRE (Schneider, Honeywell, Siemens, Johnson Controls), But the small and mid-sized segments have struggled to find a singular, unified BMS solution. Due to sky-high costs and complexity of deployment and operations, they end up using multiple point solutions which wastes resources: natural and manpower.”
A “smart” building management system
Enlite aims to solve this problem by what it claims to be the world’s first unified wireless building management system, targeted specifically at small and medium-sized buildings. It is called the BIOS or building intelligence operating system.
“We have a lean hardware product line that’s is enabled by deep-tech wireless solutions and an AI-driven software platform. Applications go beyond a traditional BMS in the areas of real-time monitoring and controlling HVAC, lights, access control and attendance, asset management, visitor management, fire safety, water consumption, meeting room management, space utilisation/analytics, CCTV surveillance, emergency response, etc.,” she adds.
This is done by spreading Enlite’s wireless mesh enabled hardware for sensing various parameters and controlling equipment with devices like Smart Thermostat, Smart Drivers, Wireless Access Controls, etc.
Garima says that BIOS is non-invasive, cost-effective, and user-friendly and the setup requires little or no specialist expertise. It enables all functionalities of the building to run as per schedules, occupant comfort, ambience and is well suited for maximum efficiency without any human intervention.
“All this comes at one-fifth of the cost of the current competition in the market. Also, unlike a traditional BMS (Building Management System), which is specific only to a single large building that it is deployed in and has consoles that only provide monitoring related to that particular building, BIOS has the capability of bringing all the portfolio of small and medium-sized commercial buildings to a common dashboard for real-time monitoring and control mechanisms,” she adds.
Sustainability is key
The biggest impact that BIOS has is sustainability. “With our offering have been able to save on some tangible and intangible resources. We have saved tonnes of GHG emissions using our energy optimisation module of BIOS, with the air quality module we have been able to monitor and maintain healthy indoor air levels for the occupants inside the office. We have been able to save on manpower as well by compliance tracking services that can be flexed to enable agile working practices,” says Garima.
For the first two years, Enlite remained a bootstrapped organisation and raised some amount from friends and family ($700,000) to give it a decent runway. For product market fitment, the founders did umpteen pilots, POC’s, umpteen customer meets and calls, and even wrote cold emails to the smartest people in IoT industry to get their time to speak with them.
In 2020, the duo applied to a Hong Kong-based hardware accelerator programme Brinc. Getting accepted into it not only validated the company’s product-market fit but also provided an infusion of funds.
Despite being a challenging year for real estate (PropTiger.com data show housing sales in India’s eight major cities declined by 66 percent in the period between July-September 2020)the startup has clocked around Rs 20 lakh so far this year. The co-founder says that by March 2021, Enlite is looking to clock an additional revenue of Rs 50 lakh.
Garima says that the first breakthrough for the company and the founder-duo was meeting Krithi Ramamritham, HoD of Computer Science and Engineering, IIT Bombay. He was working on a similar solution using AI and helped the team in technically developing and thinking through the solution.
“The next major mentorship breakthrough was being a part of QWEIN (Qualcomm Women Entrepreneurs India Network). My mentor was the VP of Engineering and I was having weekly hour-long calls with him and doing technical brainstorming for our solutions — what, why, and how we should develop. There have been global partnerships that we are exploring through our connection with the QWEIN platform, which is a huge deal with a nascent start-up like ours,” she adds.
The founders have worked with the likes of TATA, CBRE, Wipro, ISS, to name a few.
Lockdown and after
In March, Enlite was in the midst of launching a building automation solution (a BMS for small and medium-sized CRE), COVID-19 happened and brought the industry to a halt. With offices closed and employees working from home, the automation solution for commercial real estate was not on anyone’s primary agenda.
“The supply side for us took the hit as well, we make our hardware, which requires component procurement from global partners (the US, Taiwan), and COVID-19 broke the entire supply chain and our hardware development and manufacturing,” Garima says.
However, she also believes it was a good cooling-off period to redefine the organisation’s priorities so as to how to sail through these times.
“We took almost a week to just think about what next, post which the entire team had a brainstorming session and what followed was a plan to launch some products, which would help people to make their workspaces safer once they get back to offices. So, we did months of R&D, used our houses as testbeds for products, soldered components at home, wrote codes, collaborated online and once the life started restoring to some normalcy – voila! We had products ready to be manufactured and commercially sold,” she adds.
At present, the startup is selling its solution only in India. However, it plans to expand into the APAC market by next year.
Life as a woman entrepreneur is not easy, says Garima, adding, “A woman has to work 10 times harder to be seen in the same light as a fellow peer of the opposite gender. Most of the times the society: personal and professional alike do not even take a woman and her passion and grit seriously. The more ambitious a woman you are the easier it is to be misinterpreted in your own ecosystem. Belief in yourself and resilience in what you are doing is the key.”
Edited by Saheli Sen Gupta