Being an agricultural country, Nepal is dependent on fertilizers which can lead to good production of crops. However, in terms of chemical fertilizers, the research suggests that most fertilizers are imported from India and China.
A group of creative students studying Electronics and Communication Engineering from the Institute of Engineering in Pulchowk came together to brainstorm ideas in order to utilize waste as a part of their Hult prize in 2019. With the zeal to make a difference, they continued their research and discovered the benefit of using hair as a way to create chemical fertilizer. Now, they have formed an organization called InnovateX through which they aim to transform waste into wealth. The founders of the company are Mr. Jay Kishan Panjiyar, Ms. Anisha Adhikari, Mr. Sagar Shrestha, and Mr. Biplab Karki.
A few weeks back, we had a conversation with Mr. Biplab Karki, CEO and Co-Founder, to learn more about their upcoming product.
Tell me about your motivation to start your own enterprise?
I was working for different organizations during my first year of undergraduate education. During this experience, I got the opportunity to interact with entrepreneurs. This made me realize if they can do it, so could I. When the opportunity for the Hult prize came to our university, there wasn’t a clear idea in my mind, but the basic idea was always to reduce waste. There was a market gap in this industry. Hence, I would credit the hackathons and events which led us to form a team to research further on this concept and later, establish an enterprise.
How did this concept come about?
During the Hult Prize, we were focused on the core idea of managing waste. Through research, we discovered the chemical importance of each waste that comes from the human body such as nails and saliva. In the end, we found the details about hair and how no one was doing it in Nepal. This led to the initiation of our focus on hair waste.
Which phase of development is the product in?
We have completed 90% of our research. There have been positive results in terms of its benefits to crops and flowers. We are now focusing on equipment development that converts the waste to fertilizer. The grant has been provided to us by NAST to develop a smart agrochemical plant to produce chemical fertilizer from hair. The prototype development is almost done. We are also associated with Idea Studio Nepal to develop our market strategy. Our go-to-market strategy is to launch as garden fertilizer in the beginning.
How will the raw material be sourced?
Our concept can work for feathers as well as hair. But, we will initially target hair as raw material. We have planned to narrow down an area in Kathmandu and provide separate dustbins to the local barbers to collect the hair. We plan to pay a small amount in return. In addition, our research suggests one men’s salon can produce 500 grams of hair each day and the majority is wasted at the moment. So, there shouldn’t be any issue in collecting it.
What will the final product be like?
The end result after the processing will be a liquid fertilizer. With 1 kg of hair, we can produce around 20 liters of fertilizer. The process will take about an hour. The chemical benefits of the hair are also high which will be beneficial to plants. For an economy like Nepal, it will be great development as most chemical fertilizers are currently imported from India and China.
Who are your allies in running the business?
In terms of founders, we are four partners. However, there are other valuable team members who have supported and worked alongside us in this initiative. There are around 15 employees. We also want to credit the support of NAST for their grant, Idea Studio Nepal for their business-related support, and IOE for their vital support. Without these organizations, we couldn’t imagine bringing our products to the commercial market.
Who is your target market?
It is a multipurpose fertilizer that can cover around 80% of agriculture crops and plants. We are initially starting on a smaller scale through the flower and gardening market. Then, we plan to move towards the main farming industry.
What are the main challenges in starting this venture?
The major issue was related to chemical analysis and the lack of equipment in Nepal. There were limited avenues to conduct analysis as well as expertise towards chemical research. This wasn’t our core area being from an electronic engineering background. Even in the future, if someone wants to replicate our process, they need to do it from scratch because there is no place to document or proper agency to provide such support. The other issue was legal in terms of the challenges to open a company to produce fertilizers. There are several unclear rules and regulations governing this process.
How has this entrepreneurial journey been so far for you?
I was eager to become an entrepreneur because of the impact and the support. There will always be opposition and questions when doing something different. However, the support of the youths has been motivating. There may be delays and plans may not work but we have a team that believes in pushing to reach success. We don’t plan to give up on this initiative.
Is there any additional suggestion you would like to give to other emerging entrepreneurs?
You shouldn’t give up. There will always be ongoing issues and challenges, but perseverance and patience will be the key to success. Several people give up on the idea due to finances which were challenging to us too. However, there is always a way out. We formed other smaller initiatives which were easier to carry out and used the profits to invest in this main idea. I would also like to suggest institutes and colleges to encourage students to bring ideas forward. There wasn’t much encouragement from professors to turn projects into realities, but it needs to be done at the institutional level.
To learn more about the product launch and future innovation by InnovateX, follow the links below!