A social enterprise competition held at IIT Madras in India and organized by Genesis awarded approximately $5,000 to Aquaregia, a company that will provide purified drinking water at low cost through entrepreneurs in villages. The filter is both durable and portable and has capacity for 50, 100, or 150 litres. The product will be sold to entrepreneurs in villages, who can then sell filtered water to other villagers. The team hopes that the village entrepreneur will be able to access a micro loan to help purchase the product initially. Litres of filtered water are sold at approximately $.05 per litre.
Shobha Warrier in Chennai
It was an event for budding entrepreneurs to showcase their Innovative Socio-Business Projects at IIT Madras organised by Genesis, a joint initiative of the Siva group (a $3-billion global conglomerate) and C-Tides (Cell for Technology Innovation, Development and Entrepreneurship Support), IIT Madras.
With a total prize money of Rs 4 lakh (Rs 400,000) and a potential seed funding from angel investors, venture capitalists and entrepreneurs who will be judging the commercial feasibility of projects, it was an event that was widely participated in by young budding entrepreneurs.
The winners of Genesis last year was Team Amrita Healthcare, comprising students from Stanley Medical College Chennai and NITK Surathkal.
They have established a company NewDigm Healthcare Technologies Pvt. Ltd. with the motto of ‘Health for all’.
The winner of Genesis 2011 (Rs 240,000) is Aquaregia developed by the students of IIT Madras that can not only provide clean purified water at 25 paise per litre but also create entrepreneurs in every street in villages.
The winning Team from IIT Madras has five members — Vinay Sridhar, Lohit Vankina, Vishruth Srinath, Arun Chandran and Ananth Jain.
After attending a course on entrepreneurship at IIT Madras, Vinay — one of the three founders and who represented the team — said he was inspired to be an entrepreneur and not work for any company after his studies.
Vinay continued, “We met a lot of entrepreneurs while doing the course. The kind of impact their ventures had on people and society made me realise that I also wanted to be an entrepreneur. Entrepreneurship is about creating a change. Whether it is in rural India or urban India, it doesn’t matter. I want India to be a better place. Aquaregia is one way by which a change can be made, I feel.”
What is Aquaregia?
Aqua regia in Latin means royal water; so called because it is used to describe a mixture of nitric and hydrochloric acids that can dissolve gold and platinum.
Vinay adds, “We feel water is as precious as gold and platinum. When we realised that 60 per cent of rural India does not have good drinking water, we thought we had to tackle the problem.”
Three of them led by Vinay started their research on the project eight months ago. They also spoke to a range of people and found that the problem did not lie in the kind of purification devices that were there in the market.
“We found that it is the cost that is a deterrent in rural areas. Even if you bring down the cost from Rs 3,000 to Rs 1,500, rural India does not have that kind of money to buy purifiers.”
They then decided that the device they would develop should not run on electricity, and it should be durable and portable.
Aquaregia has two tanks one top of another and four purification bulbs in between. The unpurified water is poured into the top tank and it passes through the bulb which is a combination of sand, saw dust, nano silver particles, etc, and gets purified.
This has the capacity to purify water of all the impurities that you find in ground water. They plan to use the customised bulb made by Tata to purify water.
They have identified that in the first year of starting the venture, they may require Rs 10-20 lakh (Rs 1-2 million). They plan to use Rs 10 lakh for prototyping and another Rs 10 lakh for marketing.
“The first prototype may cost Rs 5,000. That is why we have kept aside Rs 10 lakh for prototyping. Then, we have to make the villagers understand that the water that they drink is not purified,” the team said.
Creating a change in a village
WHO says a person needs an average of 3 litres of water everyday. That is why they decided to have the product in three sizes of 50 litres, 100 litres and 150 litres capacity.
They plan to sell it not to every villager but to one person in a street. He in turn can sell water to the others in the street. In other words, he becomes the local entrepreneur. By this way, they plan not only to bring clean drinking water to rural India but also create entrepreneurs in every street of a village.
“We plan to encourage micro enterprises in the villages. So, we plan to have an entrepreneur in every street. We want to make use of the networks of NGOs to reach out to people. At present, the other two founders are in a village in Vellore district to study the exact requirements of the villagers,” Vinay explained.
Aquaregia also has plans to collaborate with banks and through micro financing, they want to help the village entrepreneur to take a loan to buy the product.
The three states they are looking at are Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka.
Dream as an entrepreneur
Vinay says the team has only realistic dreams. “We want each street in every village in south India to have our product so that they can get clean drinking water. That way, we can get rid of all the diseases that come with contaminated water. We are not looking at the financial gains as none of us dream of a lavish lifestyle in mansions. We want to be entrepreneurs who can make an impact in society.”