The IIT-Startup working to end manual scavenging in India wins big on Shark Tank
- The Chennai-based startup provides robotic solutions for the sanitation industry, such as robots for cleaning septic tank cleaning and pipeline detection.
- Incubated at
IIT Madras, the startup won the award for the Best on Campus category at ET Startups Awards 2022.
- The founders walked away with an investment of ₹90 lakh for 3% equity from sharks Anupam Mittal and Peyush Bansal.
AdvertisementThe harsh reality of
The sharks on the reality show fought to become investors in the Chennai-based startup that is an end-to-end water sanitation management company. One of the sharks - boAt co-founder Aman Gupta – had this to say as he bowed out of the fight:
“The shit is (a) hit (referring to the shark fight). Your purpose and cause are good. You have mentors and funds, what else do you need? I’m out but I’m glad they’ve made offers.”
Septic tank-cleaning robot that requires no manual intervention
Founded in 2018, Solinas manufactures three products (which it has also designed): HomoSEP- a septic tank cleaning robot, Endobot - a pipeline crawler (or inspection robot), and iGlobus - an inline inspection robot designed for long-distance leak and pilferage detection.
Between 2017-2021, 330 people lost their lives due to "hazardous cleaning of sewer and septic tanks" in India, as per the data presented in Lok Sabha in August 2022. The government, which has introduced several measures to prohibit manual scavenging and rehabilitate those involved, does not consider septic cleaning as manual scavenging, despite the National Human Rights Commission’s (NHRC) recommendation to expand the definition of manual scavengers.
Solinas claims that HomoSEP is the first-ever septic tank cleaning robot in India that requires no manual intervention. Traditionally, smaller suction machines (priced at ₹15-₹20 lakh) remove the top layer of waste in the septic tanks. But the hard sludge at the bottom of septic tanks is cleaned by manual scavengers, who step into a manhole with little to no protective gear.
Compared to global solutions like super-sucker machines with a starting price of ₹3-₹4 crore, HomoSEP is more affordably priced between ₹15-₹25 lakh, stated the founders. While super-sucker machines traditionally use a high-vacuum suction system, HomoSEP is equipped with a patented multiple-blade cutter that can mix the deepest and hardest sludge at the bottom, and a suction pump that can store and transfer the sludge through a pipe into a tank.
Meanwhile, Endobot includes a range of robots. These are pipeline crawlers that can inspect underground pipelines to identify leaks, contamination, and other critical defects. Endobots offer live visual inspection and instant leakage and blockage detection. Endobots operate as a service-based business model.
iGlobus is a spherical robot developed for long-range inspection of pressurised water pipelines that are 10 inches or larger. In just a single deployment, it provides long-distance inspections for up to 24 hours and carries highly sensitive acoustic sensors and odometry sensors for leak detection and localisation respectively.
Converting a college project into a business
Incubated at IIT Madras, Solinas currently has six founders - four of whom appeared on Shark Tank India. However, the man behind the idea was Divanshu Kumar. Originally hailing from Bihar, Kumar was studying at IIT Madras when he came up with the idea of developing a robot to clean septic tanks for his final year project. But it wasn’t until he actually talked to sanitation workers that he decided to turn this project into an impactful product.
“For the first 3 months, I just wanted to be done with the project. (But) when we presented the project to sanitation workers, they laughed at our solution. They said, “have you ever seen a septic tank? Look at our nails, our skin - they’re peeling and affected. Because we have to step inside a septic tank.” When I saw them I decided, I have to take a chance - develop something worthwhile,” shared Kumar.
The other three co-founders who appeared on the show are Bhavesh Narayani, Moinak Banerjee and Linda Jasline. Narayani, hailing from Gwalior, is also an alumnus of IIT Madras. He joined the company in 2019 and is the head of product development. Banerjee, from West Bengal, and Jasline, from Chennai, joined the company later.
“This is amazing. Bodh Gaya (Bihar), Durgapur (West Bengal), Gwalior and Chennai - it appears to be a national integration project,” said shark Namita Thapar, executive director at Emcure Pharmaceuticals, about the founders.
AdvertisementInterestingly, Narayani actually got married by employing the services of shark Anupam Mittal’s business venture, Shaadi.com.
The founding team of Solinas also includes two IIT professors with whom Kumar worked with to develop the products. Solinas was also the winner in the Best on Campus category at ET Startups Awards 2022. The founders shared on the show that Solinas has applied for 4 patents, 2 of which have been granted.
Solinas launched its products in 2020 and has already partnered with different municipalities and organisations. Its client base includes Pfizer, Kerala Water Authority, Mahindra World City (Chennai), and Voyants, to name a few. It generated sales to the tune of ₹1.2 crore in FY22. The founders stated that the annual recurring revenue (ARR) for FY23 was ₹5 crore, of which ₹3 crore is the expected revenue from HomeSEP machine and ₹2 crore from Endobot services.
Sharks fight for a front-row seat to the ‘shit’ show
All the sharks were floored by the founders’ vision and cause. Thapar made the first offer, jointly, with Amit Jain, co-founder of CarDekho.com, – ₹52 lakh for 2% equity, with ₹38 lakh debt at 10% interest. This valued the startup at ₹26 crore, equivalent to the last valuation of the startup – the founders stated that they had raised ₹4.2 crore, valuing the company at ₹26 crore, 3 months before the show.
AdvertisementShaadi.com founder Anupam Mittal and Lenskart founder Peyush Bansal followed with a joint offer of ₹90 lakh for 3.35% equity, valuing the startup at ₹26.9 crore.
“You'll have to make partners in your business. Look at the transport industry in India. When employment was created, whether it was food delivery or ride-sharing, everything worked. The solution to some of the biggest problems in India is to make micro-entrepreneurs,” remarked Bansal when making the offer.
The founders responded to both offers by requesting a revised valuation without debt, keeping in mind the current crop of investors who also came at a valuation of ₹26 crore. Consequently, Bansal and Mittal revised their offer to ₹90 lakh for 3% equity, raising the company’s valuation by approximately ₹4 crore to ₹30 crore. However, Thapar and Jain, who were willing to revise their debt-equity deal, backed out as they believed the founders wanted to go with Bansal and Mittal.
Ultimately, the founders agreed to a deal with Bansal and Mittal, walking away with an investment of ₹90 lakh for 3% equity.
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