5 LEAST ATTRACTIVE VENTURES
All ventures are created equal, but some are ‘more equal’ than others. All ideas are good, and are even better if you execute them. However, there are a few ideas that don’t sound that great. But if executed right, they can be ‘more equal’ than most.
Acting Smart with Smart Urja
Text by: Sweta Manandhar
How Smart Urja is managing waste and turning it into renewable resources
From vegetable waste from Kalimati’s tarkaari bazaar to flowers from Pashupati’s temples, an overwhelming amount of waste piles up in Kathmandu on a daily basis. Could this be good news to anyone? Smart Urja, a part of One Planet Solution, is an energy brand looking into environmental products and services; the waste is fuel for them, literally and metaphorically. It has three main products:
1. Biomass Pellet: Also known as Smart Urja Stove or Smart Chulo, forest residues are used to produce this environment friendly pellet. The main target behind introducing this product is to replace LPG in places where it is used excessively.
2. Institutional Biogas: Live stock waste is converted into a form of energy to produce this biogas and is also used for electrification.
3. Solar Optimizer: Normal solar systems don’t usually have much facility but adding solar optimizers to such systems, one can easily gain huge facilities even from a small device.
How it came to be
The company first started out with the project Smart Paani, which now functions as a separate company. The project involved filtering rain water to make it drinkable and using wasted water to create energy for bio gas plant. The bio gas plant has been a tremendous success story in Nepal, with many other countries replicating the model for themselves. Under the parent company, they have now introduced Smart Urja and Smart Chulo.
“The reason why we chose to be in this sector is because we saw that there were no concerted private companies working on it,” says Suman Shakya, the Managing Director of One Planet Solution. Poultry farming has been around for a long time and the company felt they could bring in new technology to bring about change in this sector. Poultry is a growing business and there are more than 15000 poultry farms in Nepal. Seeing the kind of waste being produced from chickens, they felt the need to bring in new technology to replace the traditional method of waste management. “Whereas others are seeing it as waste, we’re trying to find solutions for it,” says Mr. Shakya.
One Planet Solution entered into a competition, organized earlier in 2013, and proved that it was an idea others agreed with it too by wining the first prize. Since then, company has gotten its fair share of recognition. The government and the World Bank has helped them put things together too. The company has come to a stage where it’s moving forward to start projects that when succeed are being replicated by many others.
Waste management however, is not a conventional sector where one can easily be accepted. The company wanted to talk to private company owners and ask them whether or not they wanted to do something in this line of work. But they noticed a general reluctance in people investing their own money, even though they understood that it could be beneficial. The mechanism has to work and so it takes a long time. Smart Urja is a new brand, a new initiative that many people don’t know about. Smart Urja was started not just to bring changes in the sector but to convince people that waste can be a positive thing.
Making a Difference
When people talk about waste, they usually have a negative connotation that nothing good can come out of it. Where people have problems disposing waste, Smart Urja is offering them a solution to convert this waste into something useful. The company is working on a project with a combination of three poultry farms, with 200,000 birds in total. Each bird produces about 100 grams of waste a day; 20,000 kg of waste everyday takes up a lot of space, smells bad and is hazardous to the environment. If two farms work together, they alone can produce 1.25 MW of electricity and Smart Urja is basically trying to bring in an aggregation model which not only convert waste into biogas but also generates electricity and high quality fertilizers out of it. Generators that are normally used burn diesel that costs Rs 40 per unit but the electricity produced using poultry waste can be easily available for Rs 20 per unit.
“Possibly some years down the line people will value waste and like other household services, they will manage it more,” says Mr. Shakya.
A Brave, New, Sexy Nepal
Text by: Sujan G. Amatya
How Sweet Secret is exploring the unchartered territory of an online sex shop?
Most Nepalis still find it awkward to buy condoms at the pharmacy. But the idea of opening a sex shop in the heart of the capital city sounds like an exciting adventure, right? Except, it’s not. A sex shop is not sexy in Nepal – where people are ashamed of buying condoms.
“The mentality definitely needs to change,” begins Manjit Paudel, owner of Sweet Secret, Nepal’s first sex shop.“People have not understood the true potential of sex toys. If they did, they would come in masses” says Paudel, and this statement rings very true with reality. Such toys, though may seem very vulgar and immature on first sight, can actually prevent unwanted pregnancy, spread of STDs, mental and sexual harassment, and provide relief for lonely, aged couples, women who have hit menopause, and individuals with mental disorders.
Though SS generates revenue of 3-4 lakh rupees per month dealing a variety of condoms, lubricants and sex toys, whose price ranges from Rs 5 to Rs 14500, they still haven’t breached the core population. They are visited by everyone from teenagers (though they refuse to sell to minors), and even elderlies in their 70s. “We have sustainable profits, but we could be so much more. The market is going where we want, but at a snail’s pace. If we were based somewhere in the West, we would be thriving,” says Paudel. This is evident with the local population ignoring them, and foreigners searching for them, and purchasing items in bulk. While international sex shops are blooming, adding a variety of products to their line-up, and being featured in numerous national and international publications, it’s all hush-hush in Nepal.
Even being located in New Road did not hasten their path to success. “We chose New Road because, well, imagine this shop at Gongabu bus park. This scenario is much more pleasant. It’s also cozy to protect privacy,” but it seems even though people are aware of it, they choose to ignore it.
“People need sex. For pleasure, more than reproductive purposes. Most husbands, and even wives, travel abroad for work leaving a lot of lonely partners at home. Sex is a natural, basic need. There is no peace without it,” he says, and this double standard is unmistakably observable. A taboo is attached to the peripherals of sex. Most people are not aware of the usefulness of lubricants and other variety of products that SS sells. These untapped opportunities could definitely open up a whole new world of benefits for SS, and the Nepali populace.
Furthermore, even the government hasn’t given them much of a problem. SS did their homework and registered legally without any hassle. There has been no problem with the police or activists. It was also evident in their promotional strategies, where they have engaged print and online media, but no billboards. They are also not willing to put up stalls at exhibitions. “There were even misconceptions that toys were bigger than the average human height. We explain all their queries calmly. We know this idea is new and hard to digest, and we’re patient. We even explain the advantages of sex and toys health-wise, bust various sexual myths, talk about “immature” orgasms, and even masturbation. People are slowly coming to realize its important. We’re creating a lot of awareness, and are more involved in HIV affiliated campaigns,” and NGOs and INGOs dealing with STDs and even poverty could benefit a lot with an SS partnership to spread more awareness. But as of now, none have approached them so far, except for the Blue Diamond Society who are major advocates of safe sex.
However, SS, who have inaugurated branches in Butwal, Pokhara, and Itahari, are still optimistic. “We can see the trend changing,” says Paudel, “A few years back, we received most of our orders online, and only a few clients came to the shop. Now it’s the exact opposite. Currently, 60% of our sales are from our outlets. There is an appreciation and amusement. We thought people would be extremely scared and ashamed to step inside our store, but we see women walking in confidently, while men were shy and waited outside. We have had couples and partners who spend long evenings with us at the stores chatting with us and drinking tea. Even our families were extremely supportive.”
The Nepalese definitely need to be as adventurous as the venture itself. “We want sex toys to be as common as condoms. We are coming with our own line of condoms and this is where the government needs to step in. People need courage and guts, and the government needs to back them up.”
Mastering the Mess
Text: Wolf Price
In a matter of months a new kind of cleaning service has pioneered a new standard of sanitation and corporate social responsibility.
If necessity is the mother of invention, it’s no wonder that “Shine Cleaning” has been so successful. They discovered a niche with a perpetually expanding customer base, most requiring recurring services throughout the year. They are especially grateful to already have contracts to regularly service top commercial and government buildings in Kathmandu. Founded only 5 months ago, they have found such success by providing a level of service that was previously unavailable in Nepal.
While travelling abroad, Shine Cleaning’s founder, Bina Shrestha, observed the complex sanitation standards and practices of European countries. While reflecting on the urgent demand of deep cleaning reform in Nepal, she set out to become the best cleaning solution available in Nepal.
Providing international standard cleaning for office buildings, homes and more, Bina’s mission clearly states:
“Shine cleaning replaces manual cleaning with efficient machine cleaning services. By working with modern technology we can make each cleaner’s work worth 10 times manual labor thus enabling us to provide good salary and education for their children.”
Shine Cleaning runs first and foremost on the principle of a social enterprise. They’re dedicated to hiring and training people who are facing hardships from a lack of resources and professional opportunities. The newly expanded 10-person team of cleaning technicians all get above average salaries and comprehensive insurance policies. Bina is so dedicated to social and environmental sustainability that she considers it the biggest challenge that the company will face. If a competitor were to copy her strategy and acquire the same tools they could easily leave out Shine Cleaning’s commitment and investment toward social impact. Her clients could be lured away by competitors who cut expenses and offer lower rates. A counterfeit version of Shine Cleaning could hoard profits, having chosen to disregard fair trade principals.
No matter what competition they face, Bina and Shine Cleaning want to continue to operate with the highest international standards. They are also creating an example of their vision and higher purpose: empowering women, creating alternatives to migrant work, fair trade, and educating the children of cleaners. Because of this passion for social good and customer satisfaction, Bina is rapidly progressing to be the champion of sanitation services in Nepal.
The most significant indicator of Shine Cleaning’s first–to-market advantage is stronger than predicted demand and an fast growing client portfolio. Shine Cleaning is proud to create life-changing impact for everyone involved from team members to customers.
By creating and providing premium sanitation services in Nepal, Bina represents the task of the current generation: innovating the infrastructure of society for the good of everyone. Shine Cleaning is working to improve the society, not just profit from it. We can all benefit from cleaner working/living environments and giving strength to woman and others at risk, while working to heal the epidemic of Nepali slavery in the Middle East. A company like this represents an encouraging trend for entrepreneurs in Nepal: by adopting international practices Nepali people can create companies that function like foreign investment while keeping management and the highest impact within Nepal. Do they really deserve so much praise? Just think what national socio-economic progress would look like if the new wave of Nepali startups adopted the principals that Shine Cleaning assures for all employees:
- A good salary (well above minimum wage and industry standard)
- Accidental and health insurance
- Loan facility which they can pay back in micro installments
- Paid maternity and paternity leave
- 8 hour working days
- 50% extra salary for overtime, 100% for night time work
- Sick leave
- Annual leave of 24 days
- A secure job with no discrimination regardless of caste, gender, religion or social status
- Educating one child per employee in a private school for their better future.
Fire Sans Smoke
Text By: Samyak Moktan
Limiting the use of the age-old tradition of burning firewood, briquette offers people the logical choice of saving their money and our environment.
An efficient and alternative solution to controlling the relentless use of burning firewood is to replace it with briquettes. Why? First, briquette is dense biomass made of sawdust, agro waste and forest waste which literally follows the principle of not letting the ‘waste’ go to waste. Second, in terms of firewood and other fossil fuels, briquette is less expensive and more importantly, environment friendly.
Nepal has quite a long history of using briquettes, with the first briquetting plant Nepal Bio- Extruder established in 1982 in Thapathali and others following suit. Some industries prospered while some succumbed to various challenges. Infrastructure – basic needs such as electricity, transportation and lack of government policies that support the renewable energy sector are major challenges that have attributed to the downfall of this promising industry.
Despite knowing about these myriad of challenges, Shubha Biomass Briquette Pvt. Ltd is producing biomass briquettes and is the only company in Nepal that produces briquettes for industrial use. The company’s goal is “We believe that the best way to stop deforestation and dependency on fossil fuels is with an eco-friendly fuel that is more efficient. Our goal is to save Nepal’s forests, prevent landslides and reduce CO2 emissions by selling bio-fuel briquettes.” I asked CEO and Founder of the company, Prachin Lal Shrestha, of the chances of his company surviving with such herculean goals to address, to which he said, “I am fully committed to this industry. People might think we are painting a rosy picture but we are strenuously trying to get the right product into the market that can help save money and the environment.”
Catering to Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) at the moment, the Chitwan-based company started in 2012 and is making brisk progress towards its goals. Enterprises such as soap-making, dairy and bakeries that profusely require heat energy are making productive use of the biomass briquettes. The company also sells their products to carpet dying enterprises in Kathmandu. Further, using a briquette should be a no-brainer because when compared to firewood, briquettes are 30 to 50 percent more efficient, easy to store and transport. They also produce less smoke and have a calorific value of 4900 kg/cal. With saw dust and ban mara being the raw material currently used to make briquettes, the company is giving its all to practice using forest, agricultural and solid waste, whose availability is limited.
People might turn a cold shoulder toward using briquettes because they might not know what briquettes are or how to use them. Additionally, people are more accustomed to using other fossil fuels. However, as Mr. Shrestha puts it, “Briquettes are definitely a safe bet because it contains no chemicals. If a proper heating system with a chimney is used then briquettes are safer than gas heaters, and cheaper too.” Briquettes could also have been used as an alternate to diesel, but sadly, industries in Nepal use expensive diesel boilers or loose rice husks as fuel which are labor intensive and inefficient.
A tryst with the devil called a ‘challenge’ is what every company has to face. For this innovative briquette-making company, the major challenge has always been load shedding and low voltage which has a direct impact on their production capacity. Moreover, briquette companies would definitely function well if the government implemented acts such as five-year income tax and sales tax break for biomass briquette plants. Such acts are actively functioning in India.
Shubha Biomass, although just a year old, has invested capital extensively in buying machines to make the process of making briquettes more automated. Nonetheless, the company is still driven by labor intensive work, especially while handling the raw materials. Since the initiation of the industry, people of Mangalpur VDC who were otherwise dependent on agricultural activities, now have an additionally option to earn a regular income. Ventures such as this heavily rely on the public consciousness; the public’s support is a good cause too. A cause that helps limit environmental degradation and offers people the choice of not relying on imports of fossil fuels.
Cleaning Cars on Dusty Roads
Text by: Ujeena Rana
Home Station has found a way to build car wash with little investment; and also a way to provide hassle free service to its customers.
It doesn’t take rocket science to see that Kathmandu is one of the most polluted cities in the world. Add the pollution from two-wheelers and four-wheelers to the present number of vehicles and you get an astounding figure. The valley is enveloped in a thick blanket of dust and pollution caused by fossil fuels. The problem doesn’t end here. Water shortage has made the lives of private vehicle owners unnecessarily difficult. The vehicles need to washing, but you can’t waste your precious water on cleaning.
There are more pressing things that require water at home. And if you take your car or jeep to a garage, it turns into quite an expensive wash. Add the time you use in cleaning that you could use to do more productive things. So, what do you do?
Home Station is a blessing in disguise. Established in 2011, the car washing stations are at all branches of Bhatbhateni Supermarket, and also at Civil Mall, City Center, and World Trade Center. Logic? By the time you are done with your shopping and eating out at the mall, your vehicle awaits your arrival, looking as good as new after a great wash.
Entrepreneurship is seeing opportunity in crisis and it just took two like minded people to start this business – Bibek Gyawali and Prem Pandey. Gyawali is in Dubai and visits Nepal periodically; Pandey, who is also occupied in other businesses, gets assistance from his wife Kamlesh to run their business. Because her husband was out of tows, Kamlesh volunteered to answer our queries. “Ours is the first in the Asia. We don’t event need to do a survey to gauge the problems faced by the people in the valley. We started an enterprise to shoo away problems regarding maintaining your vehicles and your time. Cars, jeeps, motorbikes, are washed at very nominal prices at our stations. We charge less than most garages,” says Kamlesh, who also runs her own air-hostess training center.
Its Rs 100 for the interior of a four-wheeler, Rs 200 for the exterior and Rs 300 for the entire vehicle. However, if you are a regular at the above malls and use the service regularly, there is a special provision where when you buy a package of five cards, that individually cost Rs 300, at just Rs. 100g.
Many fail to understand that the service is not compulsory for all visitors at the mall. The team at Home Station will offer to wash your vehicle only if you desire it. For the spaced they use, Home Station pays a certain percentage to the mall they are as. The number of employees are decided by the movement of vehicles at every station. Many have only one staff, while busier stations have two staff members. There is an equal number of male and female employees.
Because the nature of the job doesn’t require high educational qualifications, most employees have basic education or are students while most of the female employees are single women.
While the stations receive just a handful of cars in the monsoon, other seasons see at least 10-12 customers each day. “Once the road expansion task is over in theyValley, we will think of business expansion,” says Kamlesh. The occasional bandhs and strikes play villain for these entrepreneurs who are forced to slow down or shut down works. “When we started Home Station, business was slow and not many people were keen on trying our service because they were not informed about what we de. But slowly business has picked up – mostly due to word-of-mouth promotion,” states Kamlesh on the one-of-a-kind business venture.