“While people keep cribbing about global warming, Sivaraj,a 26-year-old entrepreneur chose to make a change.”

  1. How was the idea of creating free eco-friendly cabs conceived and what is the business plan to sustain the same?

I am basically a ‘go green’ person and love to invent new things. When I was back in India after several years of studies, I happened to see so much pollution. So this is my initiative to do something for my country – I have come out with an vehicle ( Eco Free Cab) which purely runs on solar or mechanical energy. The pedal version is available in Chennai and people can use it to travel from 2 to 4km point to point without any charges. My expenses and driver’s cost are covered by sponsors who advertise in our vehicle.

  1. Your other ventures – advertising in cars and hangers are innovative ideas, how has the market accepted it?

The idea of mobile advertisement has been going around for years but it is only at this point that people are becoming aware of the current impact of this mode of advertisement. The whole concept brings forth many opportunities to car owners who wish to earn money while driving and you can, in fact tap into this opportunity by letting agencies advertise on your car. Because of the nature and the flexibility of this concept as an extra income generation for both car owners and car advertisers, this has proven to be quite a hit among many people.

So how does one earn money while driving one’s own car? You can have a high probability in getting the job if you have following requirements: being atleast 18 years of age (thus, legal to drive); owning a valid driver’s license; being a resident of the required place; and clean driving records without violations. If you drive in heavily trafficked places then you are more likely to get the job because you get to expose the advertising materials to many people to generate attention from potential customers. If you feel that you fulfil the following requirements then you are ready to go.

A lot of car owners, however, are likely to struggle with second thoughts whether to pursue this kind of opportunity or not.

The truth is, they are worried about what the outcome will be if their car is wrapped with the advertising material. Little do they know that the advertising material is going to printed in a specialized vinyl wrap sheet – a vibrant and striking mixture of colours and graphics.

Then again, you may end up sporting a totally awesome car in the streets that will woo everyone to your direction. But this is ultimately the main goal of mobile advertisement, and you can benefit from it only if you let certified and genuine advertising agencies advertise on your car.

Hangvertising is another direct marketing tool. It is done in 100% recycled and recyclable card board.

The designed hanger serves as general clothes hanger for suits, shirts, trousers, sarees and salwars. A strong branding is given by the high visibility of your advertising messages. As of now, hangers are given free of cost to laundry and dry cleaning services within the city. It can also be distributed based on the client’s requirement.

Time and again, people are looking at innovative ways of marketing their products. I seek to explore this avenue further and am sure the market is pretty huge for our kind of products.

  1. What are the challenges you face in marketing such creative ventures?

In the initial stages when I came up with the concept of eco-friendly free cabs, people thought I was mad but now, they have realised that I have a practical dream. I strongly believe that criticism should only motivate you further.

  1. Tell us more about your plans to launch cheap eco-friendly cabs?

I am working on two streams: Sale of eco- friendly cab : This will be a motorised version and will be cost effective, the cost of the vehicle would be between Rs.35,000 to Rs. 40,000. There is no need for petrol or diesel or for maintenance. All you need to do is just check on the tyres. I am also talking to few electronic companies to try and fit in television to entertain passengers.

Free to Public: This ‘free cab’ concept will be introduced across India. As of now, in Chennai, people walking from Tiruvanmiyur railway station to Tidel Park, from Anna Nagar arch to Roundana, corporation school children, Anna University students and the disabled can avail these free cab services to travel short distances. Eco free cab is basically a modified cycle rickshaw which will help people travel distances up to 2 km. The main source of revenue for the vehicle will be advertisements. Advertisers can use the space behind the vehicle to display their ads.

We are also in the process of introducing the world’s cheapest car at the cost of Rs.50,000 which runs on solar energy cum battery.

  1. Electric scooters and cars have never been appreciated much by the public, how do you think yours will make a difference?

I have already made a difference by coming up with a free public vehicle. As for my other projects, our main advantage is the price factor. No battery operated car is as cheap and effective as ours.

  1. What is your advice to other young entrepreneurs?

It’s time for youngsters to take up things and if you are desperate about achieving something, put your 200% effort on it and you will surely achieve it at one point of time. Never give up and never compromise

  1. Future Plans

Talks are on with a German company which has come forward to invest 50 crores to set up an manufacturing plant in Chennai for ecofriendly cabs and major stake will be held by me. We will officially announce once the deal is signed off.


 

“When Kushant Uppal, CEO, Intelizon Energy, came up with the idea of utilising solar power for lighting solutions, he had just stepped on a road less travelled. Sharada from The Business Enterprise traces his challenging journey.”

‘Let there be light’, goes the adage. In a country like India, where darkness plagues villages, the most basic requirement such as electricity is almost non-existent. The majority of our population still live in villages. Lack of power has not only affected the business of many villagers but also stalled many a student from studying.

There was a need to develop and bring in a product that could give solutions or alternatives to power problems in rural and semi-urban areas. And the Hyderabad-based company Intelizon Energy Private Limited did just that. It designed solar-based energy-efficient products specifically to cater to the energy needs of rural India.

Kushant Uppal, the CEO of Intelizon Energy, remembers the time when he was working in the Silicon Valley, US. He reminisces, “Back in December 2005 over Christmas holidays, I had a discussion with some friends in California on the potential of solar energy. It prompted me to think about ways to commercialise it in India and I started discussing it with Dr Ashok Jhunjhunwala.”

Dr Jhunjhunwala, who spearheads Tenet (Telecommunications and Computer Networks group) at IIT Chennai, has helped incubate many companies in rural areas and has also developed world class telecom and banking products for rural markets.

It was also important to develop such products keeping the target users in mind. Uppal says, “Dr Jhunjhunwala pointed me towards the rural market, and we discussed ways to create solar products that could replace kerosene and diesel with a short return on investment for the user.”

In June 2006, Uppal quit his job in the US. After multiple trips to India for market and technical research, he came up with a solid business plan to produce and launch these products.

Intelizon Energy got its first financial support from Rajesh Jain, and this was soon followed by a commitment from Venture East Tenet Fund, a Chennai-based Venture capital fund which had invested in many social innovation projects.

Intelizon Energy’s idea of developing solar products for electricity began somewhere in early 2007; however, the real planning and designing of the product began in May/June 2007. “This was the time when we hired our first technical professional after setting up Intelizon Energy in Hyderabad. We set up a full- fledged office then,” he says.

Setting up Intelizon Energy and working on this concept did pose colossal challenges for Uppal. “The challenge was to come up with a reliable and quality design at low cost. We had to quickly learn the way things work in India in terms of commitments and performances, as these were very different from what one observes in the Silicon Valley,” he shares.

Coupled with the challenge of operating in India came another challenge of setting up the human resource for the organisation. With many professionals making a beeline towards hefty pay packages and perks, luring smart people into the start-up, which gave stock options, was a stumbling block for the company.

When Intelizon Energy went to conduct market research for the product, there were two kinds of products in solar that were available. Says Uppal, “Such products were of low quality and low cost. Also, the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) approved solar lanterns that were driven by subsidy but were too expensive to commercialise.”

Along with the launch of this product came the apprehensions. Although numerous tests and customer surveys were done on the ground about the viability of this product, Uppal was still nervous about how the product would do on the field.

When it was finally made, many distributors were appointed in Maharashtra to promote and educate people about this product in villages and small towns. Intelizon Energy’s first product was Zon. Uppal says, “We put our energy behind product design to use the latest electronics, LED and battery technology to create Zonlight – our first innovative multitasking light.”

The challenges of marketing this product were immense as well. Says Uppal, “When one is dealing with a non-branded product which has high upfront cost and no visibility, it is tough.”

Having used existing market retail channels, Intelizon Energy quickly expanded to trying out direct sales and the microfinance route. Adds Uppal, “We had to experiment a lot with the marketing strategy on the basis of ground knowledge, and it took us almost two years to have the clear-cut plan that is in execution today.”

Considering that the customers are from rural areas, the pricing aspect had to be planned carefully as well. “We priced it at Rs. 799, which would be a 6- to 12-month return on investment depending on the user’s existing expenditure on lighting needs,” he says.

Harsha Langhya Lendi, a farmer from Ranshet village in Maharashtra, uses Zonlight for more than eight hours a day at home and farm and saves Rs. 6 per day on kerosene usage. He expects to pay off for his product in four months.

The solar light has changed the business of many villagers. Shridhar Rahate from Velvi village, Dapoli district in Ratnagiri, has been using ZonHome in his shop since September 2009. Prior to this product, he was using candles and torches. That, however, failed to attract many customers. He spent Rs. 10 a day on candles, but it was of no use. Since he started using ZonHome, he saved almost Rs. 1,000 and earned almost Rs. 3,000–5,000 per month from his shop. There are scores of villagers across the country who have benefited from this product.

The company is expected to break even this year. It has two partners, Emergic Capital and Venture East, who are investors in this company.

The company has raised close to $1 million so far.

Intelizon Energy has also stepped into the African market. Uppal explains the reason for venturing into the African markets, “We have a partner in Africa Comafrique. We had gifted the Managing Director Mr Manmohan one of our products. After six months of keeping the product unused and idle, he suddenly turned the light on one day and it worked. He was taken by surprise. It was then that he got in touch with us, and we have been working together for the last three years.”

Uppal also feels that there is tremendous potential for the product in the market, which is dominated by poor-quality, low-cost and no-warranty Chinese products.

With its wings spreading to Africa, Intelizon Energy has managed to get 20% of its revenue last year from the African market.

If one looks at the vast spectrum of uses the products have, the potential is immense. There are numerous examples of the impact and how this product is used in the daily life of people living in rural and semi-urban areas. The product is used by farmers and housewives for regular chores. Sometimes, people even use these white lights to identify snakes. Children use the light while studying. Also, weavers, blacksmiths, fisherfolk and shopkeepers use these lights for income-generating activities.

Uppal adds, “We have also installed ZonHome (solar roomlight) in medical centres and schools which had grid with tube light but no backup.”

With this, people are saving on electricity bills and getting back-up with these reliable lights. Uppal even mentions cases where people have disconnected their main grid as it proved to be unreliable. This also made sure they saved on the monthly connection bill and they could completely rely on Zon lights to support their energy needs.

Intelizon Energy has moved from a business-to-consumer to a business-to-business partnership model to tap into existing channels and scale rapidly. Uppal says, “We are currently focused primarily in India and plan to expand overseas in a big way in the next 2–3 years. We now have a good understanding of consumer needs in terms of products and prices and are modifying our product portfolio to meet these requirements.”

In the year 2010, Intelizon Energy was one of the finalists for the prestigious Red Herring 100 Asia Award. Intelizon Energy has surely created a change with respect to providing electricity to those areas that really need them. There is a hope that electricity will now be within the reach of the common man in the hinterlands.

 

 


“Corporates, until recently, had a tough time taking out the wheat from the chaff. With AMCAT, finding the right candidate for the right job is not a challenge anymore.”

If the focus in present times is on quality education, then the reason for this has to be the increase in the need for a talented workforce. It is one thing to graduate with flying colours and another to be able to deliver on a job. Two youngsters who realised the need to bridge this employability gap launched a company which focuses primarily on measuring employability. Meet Himanshu Aggarwal and Varun Aggarwal, the founders of Aspiring Minds.

The inspiration for Aspiring Minds

 The idea was triggered from a 2005 Nasscom survey that noted that only 25 per cent of India’s engineering graduates were employable. I studied B Tech in Computer Science and Engineering from IIT Delhi. Varun was at Massachusetts Institute of Technology doing his MS in Computer Science and read the findings of the survey with trepidation. We wanted to get deeper into the analysis of employability. He started a discussion on this at the MIT’s reading group. Thus was born Aspiring Minds, the start-up we founded in 2007. Varun and I moved from the United States. We kept nurturing the idea that employability should be assessable, and developed an assessment technology that would create employability standards. Such a technology could not only help determine who was employable for what role in the industry but also help students understand the areas of improvement to seek the right training to make themselves employable. Prof. Tarun Khanna, well-known Harvard University Professor, appreciated our ideas and agreed to be an advisor to Aspiring Minds. There has been no looking back, and we were glad to get a global endorsement of the idea in 2009, when Aspiring Minds became the only Indian company to figure in Business Week’s list of most intriguing start-ups globally.

Hunting for the right talent

 We are pioneers in creating employability standards in India for various industries and in creating a scalable labour inclusion platform. We conduct AMCAT – Aspiring Minds Computer Adaptive Assessment – which enables students to evaluate their employability and improve eligibility for employment. The same assessment helps corporates across the country to recruit talent in a standardized and scalable fashion. AMCAT is India’s largest employability assessment.

AMCAT is based on Aspiring Minds’ Proprietary technology in computer adaptive assessment with superior statistical benchmarking and job-matching algorithms

Assessing through the AMCAT test

 Defining employability has far-reaching benefits – candidates can be made better aware of why he or she is not employable for a job, what kind of jobs they fit well for and areas for improvement. Corporate use the same employability tool to ensure they have high quality, standardized and consistent hiring across the country. We call this tool AMCAT. Divided into several modules, AMCAT, a computer adaptive test, assesses students on functional area skills, aptitude skills and personality skills. Each assessed student receives AMCAT’s seven-stroke employability feedback – a detailed personalised report – that helps students understand their areas of strength and weakness and provides analysis on core skills and improvement areas to secure a good job. On the other hand, AMCAT deployed pan-India can be used to locate talent across the country giving corporate a platform to find talent easily. Now our corporate clients sitting in their office can know the exact size of the potential pool of employable candidates available in a particular part of the country.

Understanding employability

 AMCAT has reached over 350,000 candidates helping them understand their employability. We have assisted over 14,000 candidates get their first job in the last 15 months.

Aspiring Minds started as a two-people team at inception and is now 110-people strong. In early 2007, we were focused on the NCR region while today we have pan- India operations reaching as far and wide as Srinagar, the North-East, and so on. We had initially focused on engineers and MCAs, while today Aspiring Minds’ tools are used to assess engineers, MCAs, MBAs, graduates and diploma holders. We assess around 30,000 people every month, adding them to our preassessed database for our corporate customers to hire from. We have built relationships with over 1,200 colleges and 60 leading corporates. Therefore, we have been catalytic in building a sound mechanism of hiring via merit. Over 9,000 students across India were able to get employment by merit in 2010, which speaks volumes for the difference that we have been able to bring about in the recruitment space in India.

The path ahead

We are expanding in newer industry verticals like insurance, hospitality, healthcare, pharmaceuticals, and so on with the aim to not only provide these industry-relevant tools but also give candidates taking the AMCAT opportunity in a variety of industries.

On the other hand, Aspiring Minds’ backbone is our assessment technology and job-matching algorithms, we are continuously working to add sophisticated technology products to our portfolio and enhance the depth and detail of our knowledge of talent and job profiles.

Thirdly, we are continuously reaching out to more and more candidates around the country. While we started with engineers and MBAs, we are actively scaling AMCAT to help graduates, diplomas and other niche skill candidates get employability feedback and access to jobs.

Making a difference

Aspiring Minds has been working with multiple large corporate which hire over 10,000 people every year. Their need for scalability, efficiency and standardization has motivated us to build the right offerings in the space. Some of our niche clients include smaller organisations where the challenges are completely different. Owing to the shortage of a large and oiled HR team, these organisations are handicapped when accessing talent. These organisations look at AMCAT as a platform to give them access to pan-Indian talent. Being able to shortlist on the basis of specific cut-offs, some of our niche clients are able to hire 7 out of 10 candidates shortlisted post the AMCAT, saving precious interview time and effort.