Designing playgrounds for special needs kids and greening terrace space: meet youngsters who want to change the world
From designing sensory play swings, helping people without access to online banking pay bills and growing organic vegetables atop city terraces, these youngsters have serious goals to accomplish
They are all in their late twenties but have one big goal - to transform urban societies and make them smart . A two-member start-up called Gudgudee that comprises classmates from National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, is coming up with playground ideas for special children. Another group of engineering graduates have floated a start-up called Pumpcharge that helps people in tier 2 cities with no access to online banking or credit or debit cards make regular bill payments or book bus tickets by using tablets installed in local grocery stores. Four friends from different backgrounds have come together to start a company called Khetify that aims to transform city terraces into vegetable gardens and bridge the agrarian disconnect between cities and rural areas.
Aditi Agarwal and Anjali Menon, both batchmates at NID gave up full time jobs at a design firm to start Gudgudee in 2014. Both are furniture design experts. While doing the course both were sent to the Blind People’s Association for conducting research to find out what kind of outdoor activities children from the school could engage in. The answer was simple: A very special playground.
“We design and build inclusive play spaces where children of all abilities can engage in sensory stimulating activities, learn and grow together. We think beyond the typical swing and slide, and endeavour to re-imagine and reinvent play space equipment. No play space is complete without natural elements. Therefore, plants are carefully chosen to enhance the sensory experience,” says Agarwal.
Working on the project, named Rang Maidan, the two have collaborated with Playground Ideas which is a global community of playground builders. “We are designing around 50 low cost playgrounds around the country as part of the project,” Agarwal says.
Her definition of a smart city is one that’s digitally enabled - which also lets citizens be a part of its development and gain from it. “Our solution while being fairly low on technology is something that re-imagines the public spaces into experiences that are inclusive (where people of all abilities can participate). While our interior spaces have become really advanced and creative, there is very little done for the public spaces,” she says.
Lalit Nagrani and his classmate from an engineering institute in Vadodara, Gujarat, Jay Varia, queued up several times to pay phone and other bills. Both observed the challenges faced by people from tier 2 cities, especially those who had no access to online banking nor any access to credit or debit cards, when paying bills on time. The two left their cushy jobs to start a company called Pumpcharge. Tablets were installed in local shops with application software that enabled shop owners to pay bills for customers who did not have access to online banking. “While the shop owner did not charge anything from customers for the service, he would get a commission from us to provide these services such as booking tickets, paying bills. Customers too did not have to travel far or stand in a queue,” says Nagrani.
“We have till date roped in around a 100 stores and our monthly transactions total around Rs 10 lakh. We have invested about Rs 2 lakh and received Rs 10 lakh of investment from Aim smart city accelerator. While we launched the website in March last year, Pumpcharge was incorporated in March 2016. We hope to touch 2000 stores by the end of this year and are looking at raising funding worth Rs 2 crore. We are also looking at a model wherein companies can install a e-wallet at the reception which can be used by employees to pay their bills at a discounted rate (1% discount for making the payment online) and not take leave for paying bills,” adds Nagrani.
Initial challenges included convincing local store owners to install the device but once a few of them were open to the ideas, others jumped into the fray - all by word of mouth. It was also difficult for Nagrani to convince his parents to leave a steady job and launch a startup.
Partners Saahil Parekh, Mayank Jain, Kaustubh Khare and Prabhat Kumar run a company called Khetify.
Two were IIT Kharagpur students of architecture and economics who lived in adjacent rooms for almost five years. “All four of us are from different backgrounds - urban designers working with the central government on the smart city project, a sustainable researcher at TERI, a medical device startup founder and part of a rural NGO that helps farmers in rural Gaya, Bihar,” explains Kaustubh Khare.
It was during a brainstorming session that the four of them got down to calculating the number of empty terrace space in Capital Delhi and the compost generated from organic waste. Interestingly, Delhi generates 9,000 tonnes of waste every day and while around 6500 tonnes of organic waste is composted, the rest goes into landfills. “We also found that school going children were disconnected from agriculture, could not even identify the vegetables they ate and had never seen a field in their life. It was then that we decided to do something to do something about the urban agrarian disconnect,” he says.
They first started work on a pilot project in 2015 in Gaya. “Under the mentorship of a professional seed scientist we decided to grow vegetables on a 10X10 terrace. In 2016, after a year of the pilot, we harvested 35 kilos of vegetables of 10 different varieties and decided to move the project out of Gaya and target urban centres. We applied for research grants so that the idea could be taken up at a larger level. We were incorporated as a company in May 2016 and started operations in June. We eventually managed to rope in 30 different households in Delhi, Gurgaon, Faridabad, Noida, Chanakyapuri into the fold. The idea was to grow different varieties atop terraces spread in these cities, grow vegetables that were chemical free in an organic way,” he adds.
Households are a low-risk environment. Now Khetify is targeting bigger terraces, corporates, universities and schools. A project will also be launched in April, with 25 schools backed by UN Habitat. The plan involves setting up modular farms in 25 schools, conducting workshops for students and also speak to resident welfare associations in Delhi and Gurgaon to implement this project at the community level.
This is a smart project primarily because if a city can produce as much as what it is consuming, it can be considered sustainable. Smart cities have access to nutritious and fresh fruits and vegetables grown in a smart and sustainable way. The startup uses IT applications such as soil sensors, drip irrigation wherein 80% of water is saved to grow vegetables , remotely monitor terrace farms and use Whatsapp-based interactive tools for providing after-sales services to customers.
Charges depend on the containers used (there are a variety of modular boxes that are used- from plastic, wood to cane boxes), on the area of the roof. “To transform a roof of about 300 sq ft, the cost for annual maintenance and hand holding is around Rs 35,000 per year. The contract can be renewed the second year for half the amount,” Khare adds.
All these projects are part of the AIM Smart City Accelerator Programme, an initiative by Ashoka University, that empowers startups working on smart cities’ solutions.