Going sustainable: Three entrepreneurs who are changing India

The Change Brigade

What makes some people give up their comfort zones, push their boundaries and decide they want to be the change they wish to see in the World? Meet three changemakers who gave up their cushy corporate jobs to take up planet-friendly ventures close to their hearts.

Yogesh Shinde: Banking on Bamboo

Four years ago, Yogesh Shinde, Assistant VP, Barclays Bank, decided his executive role was not fulfilling enough – he started searching for something that would enrich his life as well as that of the planet. After much research, he came upon the world’s tallest grass - bamboo! And Yogesh knew he had found his mission.

Known as the ‘Poor Man’s Timber’ in India, bamboo needed someone to change that perception. Yogesh came to the rescue. He met some farmers in the villages of Velhe, Bhor, Panshet and Mulshi, all adjacent to Pune in Maharashtra. He convinced them that manufacturing bamboo products could be the best entrepreneurial option for them.

On August 15, 2016, he along with his wife, Ashwini, founded Bamboo India - choosing India’s Independence Day deliberately so as, “to give freedom to my countrymen from plastic - not for the income, but for the outcome.”

Yogesh Shinde's bamboo bicycle
Yogesh Shinde's bamboo bicycle

He quit his job, gathered 10 farmers from the villages and set up a small manufacturing unit in his farmhouse. Initially, everything was a process of trial and error. Yogesh learned how to make the products and taught the farmers himself. He then slowly introduced these products to his family members, friends and acquaintances.

Today Bamboo India makes innovative products that are a replacement for plastic: Bamboo Toothbrush, Bamboo Earbuds, Bamboo Comb, Bamboo Straw, Bamboo Tongue cleaner and Bamboo Sound amplifier. In fact, he has even made a bicycle out of Bamboo!

Bamboo India's range of products, from a Sound Amplifier to toothbrushes
Bamboo India's range of products, from a Sound Amplifier to toothbrushes

Bamboo India products are available on e-commerce platforms, its own website and in local markets and retail stores at very reasonable prices. The company also exports its products to more than 18 countries including Europe and USA.

In the last 3.5 years, his company has saved 10 lakh kg of plastic waste and in future hopes to save a minimum 10 lakh kg of plastic waste every year.

“We want every Indian to understand the global warming situation and switch to Bamboo to avoid plastic waste,” says Yogesh.

Deepak Sabharwal: A farmer’s Earthy Tales

As ERP Leader - India Region for GE Power & Water, Deepak Sabharwal’s connection to farming was mainly his weekend visits to his family’s farms in Pushkar, Rajasthan. That was about five years ago, Today as co-founder and CEO of Earthy Tales, he recollects, “In my family farms we grow Amla (Indian gooseberry) and vegetables. The fragrance of the soil, the sprawling greens, and the open skies attracted me to start spending my weekends at the farm while I was still working with General Electric (GE). I would work 5 days a week in the GE office in Gurgaon and then travel 420 kms overnight to spend my weekends exploring farming.”

He did that for 3 long years.

Deepak Sabharwal quit his job with General Electric to take up organic farming
Deepak Sabharwal quit his job with General Electric to take up organic farming

Then one day he saw his farm supervisor using pesticide on the cauliflower crop, though the packing clearly mentioned that it was poisonous and that it needed to be kept away from livestock and used with precaution. This troubled him no end. “The fact that my own farm was feeding something poisonous to the society didn’t go well with my conscience. I travelled back to the farm, this time in the middle of the week to look for alternate answers. The first thing I did was to raze the entire standing cauliflower crop as I didn’t want that to be consumed by anyone!” he shared. That was the trigger for starting Earthy Tales.

Earthy Tales offers a wide range of vegetables, jams, pickles, baby foods, health snacks, all produced organically with zero use of chemicals. They even have an app (Android) for orders.

Deepak observes that ironically, organic farming isn’t new to India but has lost its followers due to the promise of higher yields in conventional farming which is based heavily on use of chemical fertilisers and hybrid/GMO seeds.

His vision is to build India’s first Direct to Consumer (D2C) Organic Food brand, nestled on a tech driven, backward integrated supply chain.

“As we look to expand, the aim is to create 15 to 20 Organic Agri Clusters across different parts of India and link them to our future demand fulfilment centres in different cities. We will enable organic farmers to access our farm advisories using our AI based platform that we are developing, the first for the organic farming community,” he shares.

Earthy Tales has a wide range of chemical free products
Earthy Tales has a wide range of chemical free products

Earthy Tales also plans to introduce value added products like ready to eat snacks, Superfood based products focussing on specific nutrition needs which will help procure more and diverse crops from the organic farmer community that the company is building.

“Eventually, the bigger dream is to connect the organic farmer to the end consumer using the D2C model and keep our farms and kitchens free from chemicals,” sums up Deepak.

Anamika Sengupta: My Sustainable Baby

Driven by a passion to seek the most natural way of living for her son and deeply impacted by the discriminatory policies of the MNC she was working with, Anamika Sengupta co-founded Almitra Sustainables, a lifestyle brand that she started with her husband, with the aim to provide eco-friendly alternatives for daily living.

Anamika reminisces, “The vision and inspiration for setting up Almitra Sustainables, is my son Neo. As parents, we wanted to give him a greener world to grow up in. We owe it to the coming generation, to offer them a more pure, clean, and green world to breathe and grow. As for the name, Almitra is the protagonist in Khalil Gibran’s The Prophet, a book and author I ardently admire!”

Anamika Sengupta feels we owe it to the coming generation, to offer them a more pure, clean, and green world to breathe and grow
Anamika Sengupta feels we owe it to the coming generation, to offer them a more pure, clean, and green world to breathe and grow

Speaking on the challenges faced in the initial years, especially being a woman, she says, “I have experienced first-hand, the sexist corporate policies that are still very much in force, even in MNCs. When I resumed my management role with a leading MNC after my maternity leave, I was asked to leave abruptly, under the presumption that my productivity as a new mother would be diminished. This was one of the biggest discriminatory setbacks I faced because of being a woman and a mother! And it impacted me deeply!”

In fact, that made her realise the need of a more inclusive working space and the motivation to create it herself! Today her workspace is an inclusive and diversity friendly space that supports breastfeeding, new mothers and young parents, as well as pet parents who can bring in their pets to work.

Almitra Sustainables works with artisans across India and leases out work units for production. Also, being a homegrown business, all of its products are first used by Anamika and her family at home to see the effectiveness, before they are sold to customers.

Almitra's self care range
Almitra's self care range

Almitra Sustainables offers a whole range of earth friendly lifestyle products that provide easy alternatives to everyday plastic products - from bamboo toothbrushes, to reusable straws and a complete range of innovative and revolutionary scrubbing and cleaning products made entirely out of coconut coir and even Neem combs and colour Seed pencils! The products come with requisite certification, especially the re-useable metal straws, which are food grade and certified. They also have Conscious Gifting hampers for corporate gifting.

Anamika adds, “Almitra Sustainables has adopted a very sustainable work culture, including packaging - it uses cardboard and paper wherever applicable and individual products are encased in cloth pouches. Most of the artisans are locals and play a significant role in the production and distribution of the products.”

Almitra Sustainables exports to Europe, USA and Puerto Rico.