Amidst larger questions of energy and water crisis troubling the world, a young and dynamic group of five students from IIT Kharagpur have built a new technology which has tremendous scope in solving the water and power crisis. As part of our mission, Acara Institute aims to create sustainable businesses for social change and in keeping with that, I recently interviewed Manoj Mandelia, an undergraduate student, pursuing a course in biotechnology and biochemical engineering, who led the LOCUS team to win several accolades.

Q. Tell us something about LOCUS.

“LOCUS or ‘Localized Operation of bio-Cells Using Sewage’ was the term we had coined in the Inter-Hall Product Design Competition in the year 2008. I had done some work in my internship on renewable and alternate energy, and was able to take this idea to a product. We won the Bronze medal and since then, we have been working on the idea.

Q. How did you come up with the idea of creating a business?

When I got introduced to the science behind the concept, I found it very interesting. The challenge of treating sewage water and the importance of water and energy was impressed upon me at each conversation, I had, with my grandfather or any other person who would watch the news daily. I studied the technology we had worked on, in the Product Design competition and came to know that the real potential of it lay in wastewater treatment whereas electricity just served as a by-product. During the semester course of Engineering Entrepreneurship, I converted this idea to a business plan, for which I got support from Mr Mohan Yama, who is doing his PhD. in this discipline, in the Fermentation Engineering Lab at the Department of Biotechnology of IIT Kharagpur.

Q. Your team won the BEST competition. How was that experience?

We had created a business plan for our idea and I would say that good luck led me to a poster which said that ABLE (Association of Biotechnology Led Enterprises) and Department of Biotechnology (DBT), Govt. of India are jointly organizing an all India Business Plan competition called BEST (Biotechnology Entrepreneurship Students Team). The task that lay before me now was to form a five member team who can share the same vision and carry the passion forward. I wanted to keep the team diverse and accordingly approached some of my close friends which led to the final five– Shobhit Singhal from Electrical Engineering, Prateek Kumar Jain from Agricultural and Food Engg., Pulkit Anand from Energy Engineering and Mohan Yama from Biotechnology. The team then briefly revised the concept which we submitted at BEST and got shortlisted in the top 20.

Stepping into the shoes of an entrepreneur from an engineer was a big leap, a task which required us to be encouraged, mentored and guided. The journey at BEST started in much the same way. The workshops were planned nicely and the course started with the basics. The course work was designed to develop business skills such as finance and funding, IP protection and management, soft skills and HR management, and making business plans. For my team, most of whom did not belong to the Biotechnology arena, this was a pleasant surprise. We enjoyed the learning process and the course made us realize the vast gap that exists between a good technology and the commercialization of the same. ‘Technology forms less than 5% of any business plan’, still rings a bell in my ears and reminds me of the enormous work that lies ahead of us to actualize our dream.

Q. Your team also won another competition recently. Tell us something about that.

We entered ‘The Al Gore Sustainable Technology Venture Competition, India and beat some of the teams from IIMs to win the 2nd prize for our work. The networking helped invite some investors whom we are currently talking to and have opened a phase where we are in direct touch with the best in the industry. The welcome and encouragement we have received from the most productive minds in this sector has been our driving force so far. At this stage, we are looking for funds from Angel Investor in the range of 15 lakhs to build scaled up prototypes of the lab model and test in the actual conditions. Once we cross this stage we hope to incubate this as a company.

Q. Moving from lab research to entrepreneurship must have been a very different experience for you and the team. How does it feel?

The tough part about being an entrepreneur is standing tall when things don’t work out, making the team believe in the dream that you see daily and hoping that they will join you with the same passion and effort some day. Having said that a lot of effort from friends and family is needed even to enter such competitions and I am indebted to so many who have helped out in many ways to make sure we came this far. I just wish more people will take the initiative and see entrepreneurship as a career option. I just wish to tell them through my experience there are many to help you if you are ready to go out there and execute ideas.