Now that the Cisco Global Problem Solver Challenge 2020 winners have been officially announced, you’ll want to learn more about each winning team and the story behind each innovation. In its fourth year, this online competition awards cash prizes to early-stage startups to develop a solution that drives economic development or solves a social or environmental problem.
We are excited for you to learn more about the 2020 winning teams addressing some of the biggest challenges we face through technology-based solutions.
Hydrotec Solutions was co-founded in 2014 by Rituparna Das, Navin Gupta, and Jyotsna Trivedi. They were inspired to create a device that uses embedded technology to clean and dispense drinking water automatically, utilizing a system that is both accessible and sustainable. Arosia is a kiosk that allows people to have access to clean water, where systems may not be readily available to purify water. We recently sat down with Navin and Rituparna to learn more about what it was like to be awarded an India Impact Runner-Up prize of $10,000 USD.
What problem is your technology solution trying to solve?
Navin: Access to clean drinking water is a global problem. In India, we have issues with drinking water scarcity, which leads to water-borne diseases. Clean drinking water is a fundamental human right, and I think everyone should have access to it. I am a water treatment engineer, and I first became aware of this issue when I set up a community drinking water project in a rural village. I saw how people still don’t have access to clean drinking water, and they would go long distances to collect water, even from sources that didn’t go through a purification process. I knew this is not good for their health, and I decided we can do better to help prevent people from falling sick. We were young and decided to do something, so we combined my knowledge of water treatment technology with Rituparna’s experience working as a software engineer in the IoT field. We also have Jyotsna on our team, who has experience working on the ground level with various villages, education, and other sectors. We created a fully automatic machine that has sensors to measure water quality parameters. Arosia creates more access to clean drinking water and will help to reduce disease.
Can you explain how the solution works?
Navin: We added a solar power system to Arosia, so even if there is no electricity or the electricity goes out, the device still works. We also have a revenue system, where people can pay a minimum monthly fee. There is a subscription model, depending on how much water you may need. Users can purchase a card, similar to how you would buy minutes for a phone, and use it to access water from our kiosk whenever needed. The revenue we generate is also used to maintain the machines. Non-government organizations (NGOs) are working with us on the ground level, and we are providing the solution.
What inspired you to develop this solution?
Navin: The first inspiration was the village I worked in as a water engineer, in 2014. I was assigned to set up a drinking water project in India’s most remote village. That was the first time I interacted with people who didn’t have access to clean drinking water – which I learned is the case for many rural villages in India. Despite their struggles, the villagers showed me so much kindness, like providing transportation from the site to my hotel. That experience is what inspired me to pursue starting Hydrotec Solutions. Once the villagers heard about our plans to offer automated machines that would dispense clean drinking water, they were excited and eagerly awaited them. Clean water is something that we take for granted in cities where we have abundant drinking water. We also waste a lot of water, but there are places where having clean drinking water is a luxury. These machines are sustainable and low cost, and we can set up as many machines as possible to supply clean drinking water to these villages.
How will winning a prize in the Cisco Global Problem Solver Challenge help you advance your business?
Navin: Last week, I was negotiating with an NGO, and they work in various villages. They said they needed help setting up at least three drinking water projects in a district in India because they don’t have a drinking water solution in their villages. With the global pandemic, we thought we did not have the funds to commit to investing in this project, but now we will be able to – and we are excited to collaborate and make a difference.
Do you know what you will use the prize money for specifically?
Navin: We will be using some of the money for IoT development work, which includes buying some sensors. And we will also be recruiting some interns that will work on the development of the sensors. We also need to have more robust software. So, we’ll be using a part of it in that particular work, and investing in drinking water projects with the NGO.
How has the global pandemic impacted your work?
Rituparna: You can dispense clean drinking water without touching the kiosk, and there is more demand for anything touchless. People in the present situation are very much concerned about their health. So, there is more interest in the water kiosk now since people want to verify the water quality, and they want a touchless system to dispense it. We expect the need for this type of water kiosk to go up in the next six months.
Why did you decide to start your own social enterprise versus going to work for a company?
Rituparna: All three founders worked for different companies, so we have knowledge from three different fields. When we learned more from Navin about the scarcity of clean drinking water in rural parts of India, we began to understand the severity of the problem and how much of an impact it would have if we could provide a solution. We realized that instead of buying bottled water – which can be very expensive – they could pay a little bit of money for the same quality of drinking water if it was dispensed through a kiosk. We knew that by starting this social enterprise, we could solve a fundamental problem for humanity.
What is the best piece of advice you received about starting your social enterprise?
Navin: I got some advice from one of my mentors. Many innovations seem simple, and there can be some criticism. Whatever you are doing, it’s essential to keep your passion for your work. That will be your ray of hope during difficult times.
Rituparna: We should always look at the impact that a solution can make if we want to pursue innovation. The first thing that you need to concentrate on is helping people. Bringing clean drinking water to a whole nation, and possibly worldwide, is the best type of impact that we can make with our product.
Do you have any advice for next year’s applicants?
Rituparna: You should always try. If you fail, it is okay – you end up learning a lot along the way. The entrepreneurship journey shows you how to build up things, how a single idea can make an impact, and how we can inspire people. There is a lot of learning in the whole process, and it is always worth trying.
Navin: All the participants who were semi-finalists were all so good, it is inspiring. It must have been difficult for the judges. I used to visit the Global Problem Solver challenge website [to] see all the amazing work. If you choose to use technology for good, I think it is the best thing you can do for humankind.
What job would you be doing if you didn’t do this?
Navin: Since I started this work, I cannot see myself doing anything else. I would probably still be working as a water treatment engineer, so my work could still impact some people. But without my social enterprise, I would be giving up something that gives so much happiness and satisfaction – and I am helping a lot of people right now.
Rituparna: I would be helping other entrepreneurs on the journey because I find the whole journey so exciting. And I would like to help them grow their social enterprises and make an impact. Things are different now, and now I love to be in this world.
What is your favorite book and why?
Rituparna: The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho because of the message I received from it, I feel like turning back to it again and again. Whenever I feel low or discouraged, I like to read it. The meaning is whatever we want to be, and whatever we desire, the whole universe gives it back to us. If we can be consistent with our positivity, because our journeys are full of ups and downs, we can have the faith and courage to see through the hardships.
What is your favorite activity when you are not working?
Navin: When I am not working, I try to spend time with my family. When I’m working, we hardly have time together, so that is one thing I make sure to do.
Rituparna: When I am off from work, I make sure to play with my daughter. When I am working from home, she is always around and is excited and interested to make stuff together. She seems to enjoy what I do for work, and she seems to be interested in the same things.
Stay tuned for more articles in our blog series, featuring interviews with every Cisco Global Problem Solver Challenge 2020 winning team!