Sulajja Motwani(HT PHOTO)
Sulajja Motwani(HT PHOTO)

Startup Saturday: (Wom)entrepreneurs, top of the game

This is the story of women who looked up, saw a glass ceiling, exited the building, and built their empire from the ground up
Hindustan Times, Pune | By Namita Shibad
UPDATED ON MAR 10, 2020 01:54 PM IST

PUNE At the WiDS (Women in Data Science) Pune conference last week, Sucheta Dhere, social entrepreneur and organiser said, “Women are still given a raw deal at their workplaces. There are several problems, right from getting into the workforce. I know of a young girl who was offered an on-campus job at Cummins by Google, but her farmer father refused to let he work. She had to get married.

“The next problem that women have to tackle is when they return to their careers after a break, most often, a maternity break. Corporates generally believe that after a break a woman’s productivity reduces; they’re not in touch with the industry and so, are offered lower pay scales and position.”

Entrepreneurship does not discriminate.

Any woman, or man, or human identifying as a non-binary gender, can set up a business.

This is the story of women who looked up, saw a glass ceiling, exited the building, and built their empire from the ground up.

Kinetic Green, founder, Sulajja Motwani

Launch: 2014

Investment - Rs 50 crore

2019-20 revenue - Rs 100 crore

Revenue forecast - Rs 400 crore, on the back of government push for e-vehicles.

Readying for fund-raising round of Rs 200 crore

Kinetic Green developed its own technology, filed patents and has set up its own manufacturing facility in Ahmednagar.

Sulajja Motwani comes from entrepreneurial blue blood. Daughter of Arun Firodia, she cut her teeth at Kinetic Motors.

Says she, “My grandfather taught me that a business must address an issue and the world was concerned about fossil fuel. It aligns with the needs of society to be successful.”

“Pollution has become a big problem and fossil fuel was a large contributor to it. Moreover, youth were clearly taken in more by electronics rather than mechanical engineering (for vehicles),” she says.

Responding to these changes in 2014, Motwani set up Kinetic Green.

“This is a pure startup within the Kinetic group that is founded, promoted and owned by me,” she says.

What is different when you set up a startup within a large group of companies? Isn’t access to funds, technology and manpower easier when you belong to a well-established business family?

Says Motwani, “The challenges are pretty much the same. The last six years have been spent becoming a pioneer in the auto sector and we have worked really hard to create our own IP and developed a government-certified EV (electric vehicle) R&D centre. “Like any other entrepreneur there have been challenges that I’ve encountered and overcome. I guess the only difference is that when you have some experience with running a company you are better prepared to handle varied situations and have greater persistence. Else, it would have been easy for me to put my hands up when the government changed in UP and our order for 25,000 e-rickshaws stalled.”

Jo dikhta hai, who bikta hai… unless...

In 2017, Sulajja Motwani understood: “jo dikhta hai, who bikta hai”.

“Our e-rickshaw Safar was very good, but people had reservations about the mileage, the batteries, maintenance and so on. We decided that we needed to get these vehicles on the road where people could see them run,” she says.

She approached the UP government and offered it as an alternative to cycle rickshaws.

“A battery operated rickshaw would help them earn more with much greater ease. The government placed an order for 27,000 e-rickshaws with us and we spent time training the rickshaw pullers on how to drive an e-rickshaw and we developed 300 charging stations in the state.

“We even delivered 8,000 e-rickshaws to the government. All went well till the ruling party lost the elections.” Kinetic Green went on the back burner.

“It meant we had huge inventory; we were facing losses early on. We looked at aggregators like Ola and sold such vehicles in the market.”

So far, Kinetic Green has sold 25,000 e-rickshaws.

Battery swapping

Motwani worked on setting up a battery swapping mechanism that will help a rickshaw driver to drive into any petrol pump and get his battery swapped with a fully charged one.

“We have tied up with BPCL where they will offer fully charged batteries to our rickshaws. We will sell these rickshaws without batteries at Rs 85,000, a huge win for users since a rickshaw with a battery will cost twice that amount. Plus, s/he will not have to spend any time charging it,” she says.

“We have developed our own patented technology called HML (heavy, medium, light), where a driver can use the vehicle depending on the load the rickshaw has to carry thus saving precious battery time. If s/he is going uphill or fast, he can push the engine in heavy mode,” she says.

EMA Solutions, co-founder, Vidyulata Palle

Launch: 2019

Investment: Palle’s self-taught computing skills.

2019-20 revenue: Rs 30 lakh

For Vidyulata Palle, pregnancy led to discovery of her coding skills. That pushed her, with her husband’s help, to set up a company.

Vidyulata Palle (HT PHOTO)
Vidyulata Palle (HT PHOTO)

“As an English literature student, I always thought computers were something magical; that engineers did magic,” she says.

Then she began doing the “magic” herself.

“I had worked as a GRE/ Gmat trainer, but pregnancy put an end to it. At home I would solve all the Sudoku, and Kakuro puzzles day and night. After that, I got onto an app and learnt some coding, Python and so on,” she says.

Her husband, Victor Vanya, was working with an energy consulting firm helping power manufacturers gauge requirements and thus, production.

“If a company can produce say 100 MW of power a day and next day needs 80MW that is quite a big deal. Up to a point power companies can calibrate their production, but after a point it becomes unviable to keep changing production output. I worked on it day and night. Actually, nights; I would work when my children were asleep. And in 15 days I solved the problem his engineers were facing for the last six months,” she says.

Last year the couple set up EMA Solutions, that provided analytical services to the energy market.

Says Palle, “Every power manufacturer and even state governments, need to be able to predict the consumption of power every 15 minutes. If you look at any energy website of any state government, it will give information about energy consumed and produced every 15 minutes. I scrape these websites and with analytics can give a fairly accurate production of energy requirement of a particular consumer,” she says.

“Since Victor (husband) is in the industry, he has a great network. He gets the business and I do the computing. We have employed one business development executive. From 9pm to midnight and from 9am to 4pm I work EMA. Once my children are home, I completely switch off,” she says.

Binita Sen Weaves, founder, Binita Sen

For Binita Sen, who holds a degree in Marketing and Foreign Trade, starting a family meant making sacrifices.

Says she, “I did not want to take up a full-time job as I was expecting my first child.”

A chance encounter with a cooperative of weavers called Reaching The Unreached in Coimbatore, gave her an opportunity to utilise her skills.

“Their products were good, but they were not geared for contemporary homes. I offered to help them with design development and marketing, and they happily agreed,” says Sen.

Binita Sen (HT PHOTO)
Binita Sen (HT PHOTO)

What started as help to a weaver’s cooperative today, has become a full-fledged business for Sen .

“I work with 93 weavers pan India they weave my designs, mainly sarees, suits, dupattas and stoles. I work in silk linen and cotton, using traditional weave styles and creating contemporary, hand-woven products,” she says.

As a consultant Binita did not require funds, but as an entrepreneur she did. “I had saved up my consultant fees and invested it.” Today, she holds stock worth Rs 30 lakh.

“We have our own website and are working on our Instagram account. There has been some traction there,” she says.

Strands of Time founder, Shama Khan

Shama Khan is a trained fashion designer and was working for a fashion house till she got pregnant with her first child.

To keep up with the demands of a baby, Khan became a trader, who bought ready-made clothes and sold them at exhibitions.

“I saw that several other exhibitors were offering jewellery too. I thought, why not sell hand-made textile jewellery?”

Shama Khan (HT PHOTO)
Shama Khan (HT PHOTO)

She designed a necklace made with textile beads and showed it to family and friends.

“They loved it and that encouraged me to showcase them at various exhibitions,” she says.

“I last sold 500 pieces at the Kala Ghoda festival,” she says.

Scaling up means ramping up production.

“I got in touch with an NGO that helps housewives earn a living and I get them to make parts of the whole necklaces.” Khan is now working on setting up her website.

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