Bright minds, brighter ideas: India’s smart start-up entrepreneurs - Firstpost

Bright minds, brighter ideas: India’s smart start-up entrepreneurs

Of the 10 finalists of the Wharton India Startup Competition held in Mumbai last week, three came out winners. The aim of the competition, which received more than 750 applications, was to provide new-age companies a platform to showcase their ideas. Some of them did not make the cut but their ideas can still be termed novel. Firstpost spoke to the people behind two such innovative ideas that have found traction with their target audiences.

Soul to Sole

Whoever thought of refurbishing worn-out shoes? We have all gone to the mochi or the local cobbler for that stitch that will hold up a much-loved slipper or shoe that will take us to our nearest destination. But worn-out shoes that can be refurbished and made into a venture? Well, that’s an idea which has not yet been executed by anyone except for two young men in India.

Shriyans Bhandari, 21, an athlete and a third-year management student at Jai Hind College Mumbai, and his fellow runner, Ramesh Dhami, 21, a national-level athelete, would sweat it out daily at Mumbai's Priyadarshini Park. Pounding the turf daily led to a familiarity that gradually turned into friendship.

Dhami and Bhandari had a common issue that was vexing them. They had to discard their expensive branded running shoes at least four times a year. The soles were in good condition but the sides tore within months. Unhappy to discard quality sports shoes, the duo wondered if they could find some use for the intact soles. “We wanted to see if we could make it into a slipper or a sandal that could be worn again,” remarks Bhandari. That led the duo to the idea of coming up with a venture that would refurbish shoes. It was named Greensole, as the process would have no emissions.

“We had heard of a place in Chembur in Mumbai where old footwear was mended and transformed to a wearable condition. Dhami and I went there and got a few prototypes,” says Bhandari, co-founder, Greensole. The old footwear was turned into trendy footwear, says Bhandari.

The next thing to do was to enter competitions to vet the innovative idea. In the IIT Mumbai Eureka competition - Asia’s largest B-plan competition, Greensole won the TSND (technology and sustainable development ) award and took home the prize money of Rs three lakh. The innovation was granted two patents for its design. A few months later, they entered the Ridea National B-plan and won an award and prize money of Rs two lakh.

With their idea having been tested at prestigious events with awards to back it, Bhandari and Dhami decided to get into refurbishing discarded shoes. With the award prize money, they rented a unit in Kurla, Mumbai and with the help of a shoe manufacturer began refurbishing old shoes.

Worldwide, more than 35,00,00,000 pairs of shoes are discarded each year, while according to a World Health Organisation report, 1.5 billion people are infected by diseases that could be prevented by wearing appropriate footwear.

Manufacturing a pair of shoes involves assembling as many as 65 discrete parts in 360 steps, which generates 30 pounds of emissions; equivalent to leaving a 100-watt bulb burning for a week.

The statistics for those forced to go without footwear in India are equally hurtful, literally and otherwise. In India, says Bhandari, 35 crore pairs of sports shoes are discarded every year.

Greensole scoured villages in Maharashtra where villagers could not afford footwear. They  donated sandals and slippers to the needy in these villages. By end of 2015, Greensole had donated 3,000 shoes to the needy and managed to save 45,000 pounds of carbon footprint, says a proud Bhandari. In 2016, Greensole plans to expand its scope and donate 20,000 pairs across the country.

Their idea has appealed to a few organisations. Goqii, the Tata Group, Just Dial and Cannon have urged their employees to donate their old shoes. For every such pair that Greensole collects, the corporate is charged $3.  “Sometimes, corporates pays us and ask us to donate brand new shoes and sandals,” says Bhandary.

Greensole's factory with a capacity to make 4,000 shoes is currently being under utilised with production of only 1,000 or 2,000 shoes a month. The company is now planning to come out with a revenue model. It plans to make eco-friendly shoes which will be sold in the range of Rs 500-Rs 1,000 online and also offline in some outlets.

The company's net income in 2015 was $13,000 which it expects to go up to $19,000 in 2016, and touch $100,000 in 2017. The company has a profit margin of 29.2 per cent, says Bhandari.

Plans are afoot to get leading, international shoe brands to donate their rejects to Greensole. “We can refurbish the rejected shoes and give it back to them or donate it to charity.” He also plans to refurbish shoes of well-known celebrities and auction them online. Bhandary is waiting to complete his studies which will be done with in a couple of months and then work in the company full-time. "The possibilities of this business is manifold," he says.

Peer to peer lending

His wife Ranjana wanted the family to go home to India from the US as she felt it would be better for their children’s future. So 36-year-old Sunil Kumar returned from the States where he had gone to pursue an MBA after finishing his engineering from IIT Bombay. He had worked for a few years there and was quite happy with himself, until his wife made a plea for the move.

As is the wont with most folks, Kumar met up with several old friends and associates on his return home. “My dad had retired by then. Some of his friends dropped home and one of them remarked how difficult it was to get loans from banks. I was surprised to hear that as they were not people with a bad credit history,” says the soft-spoken Kumar.

He decided to do a little bit of research to see why it was difficult to get bank loans and what he learnt surprised him. “There are about 15 lakh registered companies in India and banks give loans only to 15,000. If a company is five years old, it won’t get a loan. As a start-up or small and medium enterprise (SME), the chances of getting a loan are very slim,” says Kumar.

The difficulty of many who can't get bank loans presented a business opportunity. So Kumar and his friend, Ashutosh Srivatsava, teamed up and set up a company, Loanmeet - an online peer to peer lending marketplace  in 2015, which gives personal loans and business loans for SMEs.

In peer to peer lending, the borrower and lender are directly connected bypassing traditional banking channels. At Loanmeet, loans are given at rates ranging from 12 percent to 18 percent depending on the credit history of the borrower.

When you apply for a loan on Loanmeet , the company runs multiple checks on the borrower’s profile. The loan request is also vetted. “If there any red flags such as unusual spending patterns or incorrect answers to queries, the borrower is not listed on the site,” says Kumar. The company also runs background checks, home address validations, credit report study, and also asks the borrower to get a guarantor. “If you are not trustworthy, it is very difficult to get a guarantor. Most requests are rejected at this stage,” says Kumar. However, the key to get back the money, says Kumar, is to be persistent. If that does not work, speak to the employer of the borrower, he says. He should know. For Loanmeet has had no bad borrowers so far, he says.

The company has 1,500 borrowers and 330 lenders on its site. It has disbursed Rs 61 lakh until 2015. The company works in Tier 1 cities and by 2016, wants to take Loanmeet to Tier 2 cities.

What makes Kumar happy, he says, is that Loanmeet is solving a problem that affects a large section of the population. “There is nothing more happy than seeing the smile on a borrower’s face when he gets the much-needed loan,” he says.

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