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The IIT-Startup working to end manual scavenging in India wins big on Shark Tank

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  • The Chennai-based startup offers robotic solutions for the sanitation sector, such as robots for cleaning septic tanks and detecting pipelines.
  • Incubated at IIT Madrasthe startup won the Best on Campus category at ET Startups Awards 2022.
  • The founders walked away with an investment of ₹90 lakh for 3% equity of sharks Anupam Mittal and Peyush Bansal.

The harsh reality of clean up manually and its impact on people’s lives and health cannot be ignored. Solinas Integritythe latest startup to appear on the second edition of Shark cage Indiaaims to put an end to the problem of manual scavenging in India by developing robot solutions for the sanitary sector.

The sharks in the reality show fought to become investors in the Chennai-based startup, an end-to-end water treatment management company. One of the sharks — the boat’s 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 aim and purpose are good. You have mentors and funds, what else do you need? I’m out, but I’m glad they made offers.”

Septic tank cleaning robot that requires no manual intervention

Founded in 2018, Solinas produces three products (which it 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 theft detection .

Between 2017-2021, 330 people lost their lives due to “dangerous cleaning of sewers and septic tanks” in India, according to the data presented in Lok Sabha in August 2022. The government, which has taken several steps to ban manual scavenging and rehabilitate those involved, does not consider septic cleaning to be manual scavenging, despite the recommendation of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to expand the definition of scavengers.

Solinas claims that HomoSEP is India’s first-ever septic tank cleaning robot 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 up by manual scavengers, who step into a manhole with little to no protective equipment.

Compared to global solutions like super-sucker machines with a starting price of ₹3-₹4 crore, HomoSEP is cheaper priced between ₹15-₹25 lakh, according to the founders. While super-sucker machines traditionally use a high-vacuum suction system, HomoSEP is equipped with a patented multi-blade cutter that can mix the deepest and hardest sludge on the bottom, and a suction pump that can store the sludge and transport it through a pipe into a tank.

Meanwhile, Endobot contains a series of robots. These are pipeline crawlers that can inspect underground pipelines to identify leaks, contamination and other critical defects. Endobots provide live visual inspection and instant detection of leaks and blockages. Endobots operate as a service-oriented business model.

iGlobus is a spherical robot designed for long-distance inspection of pressurized water pipelines that are 10 inches or larger. In just a single deployment, it provides long range inspections of up to 24 hours and is equipped with highly sensitive acoustic sensors and odometric sensors for leak detection and localization respectively.

Turning a university project into a business

Solinas originated from IIT Madras and currently has six founding members, four of whom have appeared Shark Tank India. However, the man behind the idea was Divanshu Kumar. Originally 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 graduation 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 finish the project. (But) when we presented the project to the cleaners, they laughed at our solution. They said, “Have you ever seen a septic tank? Look at our nails, our skin – they shed and are affected. Because we have to step into a septic tank.” When I saw them, I decided: I have to take a chance – develop something worthwhile,” Kumar said.

The other three co-founders who appeared on the show are Bhavesh Narayani, Moinak Banerjee and Linda Jasline. Narayani, who hails from Gwalior, is also an alumnus of IIT Madras. He joined the company in 2019 and is head of product development. Banerjee, from West Bengal, and Jasline, from Chennai, later joined the company.

“This is great. Bodh Gaya (Bihar), Durgapur (West Bengal), Gwalior and Chennai – it seems to be a national integration project,” said Shark Namita Thapar, Executive Director of Emcure Pharmaceuticals, of the founders.

Interestingly, Narayani actually got married by using the services of Shark Anupam Mittal’s business venture, Shaadi.com.

Solinas’ founding team also includes two IIT professors who 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 4 patents pending, 2 of which have been granted.

Solinas launched its products in 2020 and is already working with various municipalities and organizations. Its client base includes Pfizer, Kerala Water Authority, Mahindra World City (Chennai) and Voyants, just to name a few. It generated revenue 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 projected revenue from HomeSEP machine and ₹2 crore from Endobot services.

Sharks fight for a front row seat at the ‘shit’ show

All sharks were floored by the vision and purpose of the founders. Thapar made the first offer, along 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, matching the latest valuation of the startup – the founders stated that they raised ₹4.2 crore, valuing the company at ₹26 crore 3 months before the show.

Shaadi.com founder Anupam Mittal and Lenskart founder Peyush Bansal followed suit with a joint bid of ₹90 lakh for 3.35% equity, valuing the startup at ₹26.9 crore.

“You will have to make partners in your business. Look at the transport industry in India. When employment opportunities were created, whether it was food delivery or ride sharing, everything worked. The solution to some of India’s biggest problems is to create micro-entrepreneurs,” Bansal noted when he made the offer.

The founders responded to both offers by requesting a revised no-debt valuation taking into account the current crop of investors who also landed on a valuation of ₹26 crore. Consequently, Bansal and Mittal have revised their offer to ₹90 lakh for 3% equity, raising the valuation of the company by about ₹4 crore to ₹30 crore. However, Thapar and Jain, willing to review their debt and equity deal, backed out, thinking the founders wanted to go with Bansal and Mittal.

In the end, 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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