Startup Saturday: Vrooming start to engineer’s dream project
While the primary aim of business is to solve a need in society and then profit from it, there are a few startups who manage to create fascinating new products that bring greater value to society. They are the ones who imagine a world that is different, who think of all the what- ifs and then create products, services that make our lives infinitely better. These could be huge inventions like the telephone or electricity or small yet life alerting ones like sliced bread or photocopying. While countries like Israel and the US dominate the space of inventions and innovations, we bring to you big, small innovations by Pune’s startup community that hold great promise.
Small Spark Concepts is one such. And its founder is a young man of 27 years, Mayur Patil. While Mayur was doing his engineering in Pune, he bought a bike like all Punekars do. “It was a Yamaha RX100 and I found that it was giving me 20 to 25 kms per litre. I was confused why was my bike giving me such poor mileage?” he said.
So Mayur got thinking. He was a mechanical engineer and understood a fair bit of his bike. He started by reading up material on improving mileage on the net. “I knew that there are three things one has to work on that impact mileage. One was the fuel itself, the spark required for combustion, and the air. There was a lot of work done on the spark and fuel elements of the combustion of an engine. Then I read about an American scientist who worked on the air element.
“This guy used naturally occurring materials that emitted negative ions. But the problem was that these naturally occurring materials were rare and so expensive. I searched some more and found that there was a Japanese company that produced fabric with negative ions.
“Negative ions are known to reduce pollutants and give huge benefits to human health. I even bought their tee shirt that was charged with negative ions. And it improved my health tremendously. So I felt that if we could change the air that goes into the combustion of a vehicle to get negatively charged then this could impact its efficiency, thus giving better mileage. But how to charge the air in the combustion machine with negative ions was the question,” he said.
BACK TO SCHOOL
Mayur was then hit by a childhood game. “In the eight standard, I remember we would rub our rulers on our hair and then the ruler thus charged with negative ions pick up pieces on paper. So I needed to work on that concept and see if I could develop a material that could emit negative ions,” he said.
Mayur approached a centre for excellence in non-woven for help. “They had a lot of research done on non-woven fabrics and processed various fibres. But they would obviously not do my work for free, which was right,” he said.
HELP FROM CENTRE
So, he approached the ministry of textiles and got a grant of Rs 11 lakhs that would be diverted to this centre directly. “We processed many fibres but came across a new problem. How do we count the negative ions so generated. We did not have a negative ion counter,” he said, and worked on a solution.
“We developed our own testing kit made of a glass box inserted with gold leaves. This could measure the ions passing through,” he said.
Mayur realised that if he had to make an air filter with the full potential to create negative ions the cost to company would be around Rs 1,700 to Rs 1,800.
“An air filter in the market costs around Rs 200-Rs 300. Who would buy one that was Rs 1,700 or more? So I tweaked the materials a bit and made 100 air filters that had to be tested. It was fairly effective even though it was not as potent as the original one,” he said.
Pune’s Cummins College of Engineering that has computerised rigs for testing was where Mayur got his air filter tested. It worked! It gave an increased fuel efficiency of 35%!
Mayur began testing his filter further. “I interacted with groups of bikers who go on long rides. I figured out who the influencer was among them and offered him my air filter. I told him that he could use it and if it did not give him better mileage then he could return it with no cost. The biker took it and came back very happy. It increased the mileage of his 500 cc bike from 25kms/ltr to 33kms/ltr in the city. A 350 cc bike when tested on the highway by one of the customers showed an improvement from 37kmpl to 53 kmpl,” he said. In this way, Mayur approached different groups of bikers who gave him positive reports.
The benefits of patenting was known to Mayur. “When I was doing my engineering I had done a course on patenting. I knew the steps involved in getting a patent. So I filed for one. The problem with this is that though the government charges only Rs 7,000 as fees for patenting, the lawyers charge you anywhere between Rs 50,000 to Rs 70,000 for the job. But since it is important, I spent that money and have filed for my patent and am awaiting its final registration,” he said.
Mayur is taking his business one step at a time. “I realised that I had to expand my reach if I wanted to increase my sales. Simply touching friends and bikers would not give me the numbers. Hence, I approached Auto Nebula, an incubator and accelerator that is focused on the automobile industry. They made a pitch to Royal Enfield and currently we are in talks with them to test our filters in their facility,” he said. The manufacturing of air filters is currently outsourced by Mayur. “The fibres used to make the filter are done at DKT and assembling is done locally. When I get large orders then I will think of setting up my own manufacturing plant as economies of scale will make it possible,” he said.
At 27, this young man has got it right! What started with his bike giving poor mileage has resulted in better mileage for the world at large. “This air filter can be used not only in bikes, but also cars and trains. The major impact will be on the government transport services. The Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation (MSRTC) stands to save Rs 1,800 per 500 kms. And for the railways that consumes four litres of diesel per one km, the saving is expected to be Rs 7,200 per 100 kms,” he said.
But Mayur’s story does not end here. He is also working on finding ways to see how batteries on electric vehicles can be self-charged. Expect more from this young innovator!