Start-ups participating in the Nexus Incubator create compelling solutions to protect the environment.
The Nexus Incubator start-up hub at the American Center New Delhi, a collaboration with the IC2 Institute of The University of Texas at Austin, does more than support Indian entrepreneurs. It helps lay the groundwork for innovations that can benefit the environment in India, the United States and around the world.
Nexus start-ups work on a variety of environmental issues, including energy consumption and sustainable agriculture, water pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Here are three of the many incubator-grown innovations that are making a positive impact.
Agpulse Organics, New Delhi
This start-up uses organic and low-impact botanical Ayurvedic ingredients to help farmers thrive, without hurting the environment. Their products include environment-friendly pesticides and supplements, neem manure and plant growth promoters.
Agpulse’s herb-based pesticides, in particular, “help grow organic food without residues and toxicity, as the pesticides are organic and biodiversity-friendly,” says Rajeev Ranjan, co-founder of Agpulse Organics.
“Healthy food and nutrition security are key factors in sustainable development goals, which are crucial for [preserving] flora, fauna, underground water, aquatics, livestock and human health,” he continues. Ranjan expects that his company’s innovations would help reduce the greenhouse gases created regularly due to the mass production of synthetic pesticides.
Ranjan first learned about the Nexus Incubator while attending an event at the American Center New Delhi. The results of the collaboration have been tremendous. Ranjan describes Agpulse as benefiting from the financial education, customized one-on-one mentorship, access to product showcases and free office space offered by the incubator.
“Agpulse has done a great job of combining traditional essences and herbs into natural, organic products that work well for a variety of farming purposes,” says Erik Azulay, director of Nexus. “They have done testing and gathered data that have shown their products to be effective. Right now, they’re talking to companies in Germany and Africa about partnerships, and have already sold several hundred liters of organic pesticides in India.”
Rays Enserv, Punjab
Poisoning animals, clogging rivers and polluting oceans, plastic waste presents a formidable environmental challenge—one that Rays Enserv is working hard to solve.
“Rays Enserv takes end-of-life plastics—the plastics that can’t be recycled anymore—and creates diesel fuel with them,” says Azulay. Although the technology of turning discarded plastic into oil isn’t really new, he continues, nobody has yet made it work on a scale that makes sense, both financially and ecologically. And that may be about to change.
“Rays Enserv is about to launch their first industrial plant here in India, which is very exciting,” says Azulay. “They’ve found a steady, constant supply of suitable plastic industrial waste from the North, which could really have a huge environmental, social and economic impact.”
Ashok Bijalwan, who co-founded Rays Enserv with his colleagues Yash Jain, Ashok Suyal, Sanjeev Sharma and Ishan Jain, is proud of the impact his company is poised to make. He sees the technology helping lessen greenhouse gas emissions associated with dumping of plastic in landfills, reducing toxic gases created by burning plastic waste and creating a cleaner and greener alternative to standard fossil fuels. “A recent research paper by the Argonne National Lab [in Illinois] showed that synthetic fuel [like the diesel created by Rays Enserv] reduces greenhouse gas emissions by up to 14 percent, water consumption by up to 58 percent and traditional energy use by up to 96 percent when compared to fossil fuels,” says Bijalwan.
He credits Nexus with making a huge contribution to his start-up’s growth, helping the company prioritize, focus and understand the nuances of starting a new business. The program also helped “provide a window into the world of opportunities with potential investors, collaborators and partners in the U.S.,” says Bijalwan.
“Rays Enserv has got some great traction so far. And when the commercial plant is up and running, that’s when the rubber hits the road,” says Azulay. “We’re very excited to see what they do next.”
Saral Usna, Jharkhand
Rice parboiling is a traditional practice followed in the eastern, central and southern parts of India. “Though the parboiling practice has immense advantages in terms of extra shelf life and nutrition-enriched food, it consumes lots of fuelwood in the post-harvest process and creates stress on the forests close to the villages,” says Krishna Kant of Saral Usna.
This is precisely the challenge that Kant and his colleagues address with their technology: a new type of parboiler, made from reused steel barrels, which dramatically saves resources, time and energy.
“Saral Usna’s rice parboiling technology reduces fuelwood consumption by 40 percent and it can be further reduced by the use of leaf litter,” says Kant. “With 330 units introduced in the market so far, Saral Usna has saved 110 tons of fuelwood, which is equivalent to [over a hectare] of forest. With a modest target of 5,000 units per year, we can save [more than 140 hectares] of forests within a five-year period. The use of leaf litter collected from the nearby forests also reduces the risk of forest fire.”
Kant points out that Saral Usna also protects rice grain from breakage during the parboiling process, reducing the amount of damaged rice by more than 50 percent. The company’s 330 units have already saved about 12 tons of rice which would have otherwise been discarded as food waste, he says.
Saral Usna began as a pilot program under the Abhivyakti Foundation, a nonprofit organization founded by Kant, and focused on prototyping the parboiler technology on a limited scale. “Though we were sure about its effectiveness and potential, we had never thought about any enterprise to scale it up,” he says. “The Nexus Incubator not only helped me realize the real potential of scaling up this technology for the ‘bottom-of-the-pyramid’ population, but also equipped me with the basic skills to work out my business plan and pitch up with ease.”
“Rural women love the Saral Usna product,” says Azulay. “It saves them hours of time and labor, and lets them parboil their rice more efficiently. At the same time, it’s a great technology for helping save wood and reduce deforestation.”
Michael Gallant is the founder and chief executive officer of Gallant Music. He lives in New York City.