Fourteen universities. One long semester of grueling discussions and field visits. Twenty business plans. Several hours of web presentations. Sector experts, VCs, government executives, industry leaders and social entrepreneurs as judges. And we have finally boiled down to 8 teams. Yes, the day has arrived. The competition is fierce. Only two will make it to the Summer Institute. Which teams will get the opportunity to visit the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota and undergo a rigorous training to launch their business! To find that out, watch the Acara Challenge finals live here, tomorrow evening 6.30 IST.

Before we watch the finals tomorrow, I am honored to introduce the ideas of the eight final teams who will be presenting their business plans:

  • BioServe : Indoor smoke from solid fuels kills millions in Indians in rural areas every year. Inspired by the success of BioGas in generating power, Team BioServe from IIT Roorkee and University of Minnesota, plans to revive all non-functional biogas plants in India. Starting from village Charba in Uttarakhand, they plan to  expand across India, refurbishing old plants and providing repair and maintenance services to village families through trained technicians. Clean burning gas from the plants will bring new and safer cooking practices and high-quality fertilizer, generated as a by-product, will be used for increasing crop yield. The team has already spoken to government authorities who have promised subsidies for technician training and service maintenance.
  • Food For Thought : Yes, we all love food. Who wouldn’t feel more satisfied after a meal, which is using clean gas for cooking? Meet the Green Tiffing Company guys from TERI University and Yale.  They plan to use cow-dung to run a biogas plant which generates clean gas for cooking. This food is for thousands of young professionals based in Delhi. Yes, these guys are our Delhi Dabbawalas.  Team ‘Food for Thought’ wants to provide consistently hygienic food, reliable service delivery and variety, all at a competitive price. They care a lot about their venture’s economic, social and ecological impact and are planning to provide training services in cooking and use their profit to fund community projects.
  • JAL : This team from UIC and VIT wants to provide economical high-quality drinking water using a low-pressure solar distillation technology and hassle-free distribution system. Data says that 1 in 8 people worldwide, does not have access to clean water and Team JAL plans to tackle this issue. Their target community is the Ranipet area of Tamil Nadu state in South India. Compared to polluted ground water in the open water bodies, impure underground water from the government taps and unaffordable (and often impure) water from the current water distributors, JAL plans to clean water at affordable prices.
  • Mango Solar : Think of a hybrid cook stove which capitalizes on solar radiation (during the day when sun is there) and can be used as a biomass stove, when more heat is required and on cloudy days and at night! Team ‘Mango Solar’ presents an environment friendly and affordable product with health and environmental benefits, cost savings and free repair and maintenance. Using education and awareness, village representatives, affordable pricing and village-level demos and events,  this team from IIT Delhi and Duke University plans to eradicate competition completely.
  • my Rain : One solution to solve the problems of poverty, malnutrition, irrigation and water table depletion in Charba village of Uttarakhand! And it is called Drip Irrigation. As compared to Groundwater Recharge, which can only be done during monsoons,  and Flood Irrigation, which causes water wastage and ineffective delivery,  Drip Irrigation is gravity fed and delivers directly to the root system. The crop yield increase is as high as 140% in case of beans, 57% for wheat, 46% for potato and 33% for sugarcane. This technology ensures lower strain on the water table, less money spent on irrigation and higher yield. This team from IIT Roorkee and University of Minnesota, plans to partner with IDEI (International Development Enterprises, India) for manufacturing and distribution and handle Sales and Marketing by themselves. Expansion plans are to spread across 600,000 villages like Charba in India.
  • Suryopahar : This team from K.J. SIMSR in Mumbai plans to provide clean cooking solution to villages, schools and hostels. Opinion leaders will be brought in to educate communities about the benefits of solar cooking, villagers will gain employment by assembling the cookers and banks/financial institutions will brought in to provide small loans to prospective consumers. Though the plan is feasible,  the team could face heavy competition as the technology can easily replicated. However, cost savings, health and environmental benefits, livelihood generation and low maintenance costs will give this plan an edge.
  • rEVOLVE Sanitation : Providing a sustainable solution to water sanitation and water scarcity through decentralized waste facilities, using Rotating Biological Contractors is what this team from ASU and TERI University plans to do. The team plans to target Grey Water users (golf courses, gardens, resorts and industrial users) and farmers and horticulturists as their customers. Their aim is to address health and sanitation problems in the community that affect quality of life.
  • VellHart Solutions : The tannery industry in India is worth $4 billion and employs over 80,000 people. Effluent discharge from tanneries in the Vellore district of Tamil Nadu has caused severe damage to health and daily lives of people and agricultural activities.  Water scarcity, disposal of contaminated hides and chromium contamination present an interesting business opportunity. Using a well established chromium recovery and reuse mechanism,  this team from VIT and U of Hartford plans to target about 120 tanneries in the Vellore region that do not have a chrome recovery system. The incentive for the tanneries is cost savings, with little or no risk and the benefits of moving to an environmental friendly operation mode.

With all these thought-provoking ideas emerging from university students, who want to change the world, I feel excited about being part of Acara and helping build this community of changemakers. For all of you who want to hear these teams present their plans on May 16th, Monday, do watch the live telecast. We will keep you updated with the results. Stay tuned!

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