Startup Street: This Venture Says It Has A Single Fix For India’s Toxic Air, Bad Roads And Dirty Power

Here’s what went on this week on Startup Street. 

The MACLEC team. (Source: MACLEC)
The MACLEC team. (Source: MACLEC)

This week on Startup Street, we have a company that won a Startup India challenge; Chai Point teams up with Paytm to expand its vending machine business; and SoftBank’s Vision Fund is starting an operations office in India. Here’s what went on.

These Brothers Say They Have Tech To Harness Energy From Roads

MACLEC Technical Project Laboratory was recently announced as the winner of the Swachh Bharat Grand Program in the air management category.

The four-year-old startup said it has developed a super net of sorts, which when deployed on roads can absorb and compress the air around to generate power. If the MV-I technology is installed on a single lane road, it can purify around 156 crore liters of air in a day and generate around 20,000 units of electricity assuming minimum traffic, founders and brothers Narayan Bhardwaj and Balram Bhardwaj said in an interview with BloombergQuint.

This means, if all the roads of New Delhi were deployed with this technology (28,508 km including highways, as of 2017), it would produce four times Delhi’s peak electricity demand in an hour, according to MACLEC.

To be sure, technology to generate electricity from roads has not been deployed at scale anywhere in the world. Studies and tests have been reported in the U.S. and the U.K.

The California Energy Commission had decided to invest $2 million two years ago to study whether piezoelectric crystals—which create electric charge when mechanical stress is applied—can be used to generate power from roads, according to an AP report. The Science Daily reported in September last year that the Lancaster University was also studying similar materials.

MACLEC said their technology, which uses the mechanical energy of the road to compress air, goes beyond generating power. The compressed air passes through multiple filters before being released into the atmosphere, according to Bhardwaj brothers. “It even filters out the PM2.5 particles,” Narayan said.

Still, it hasn’t been tested beyond the prototype yet. MACLEC is looking forward to installing a 1-kilometre pilot project in Delhi before June 2019.

The national capital’s air quality fell to dangerous levels again this year as crop burning practices, vehicular pollution and fumes from Diwali firecrackers contribute to the heavy smog surrounding Delhi NCR. This was despite multiple efforts made by the government of neighboring states and the Supreme Court of India to limit such practices.

Apart from Delhi, India is the home to nine of the world’s cities with the worst air quality, according to a Bloomberg report.

Startup Street: This Venture Says It Has A Single Fix For India’s Toxic Air, Bad Roads And Dirty Power

Another advantage of deploying the super net, according to MACLEC, is that it maintains and protects roads against the natural elements of rain and sunlight. “The need for road maintenance will fall drastically,” Narayan said.

Availability of funds is a challenge, Narayan said. MACLEC was founded with their private savings and has been generating revenue from consulting, the brothers said. But deploying the tech on a larger scale would require funds.

The company hopes that the recognition of being among best green technology-based startups will open doors for loans from state-owned banks or the Startup India initiative, they said.

Chai Point Collaborates With Paytm For Tea In A Swipe

Chai Point has tied up with India’s largest online wallet services provider Paytm to sell its basic range of beverages to customers through vending machines.

This involves the integration of Chai Point’s technology platform with the Paytm’s payments system, through which customers will be able to choose their beverage and pay through Paytm by scanning a QR code.

“The move will allow Chai Point to sell freshly brewed beverages from every office pantry while enabling a bigger market footprint for ChaiPoint’s boxC business,” the startup said in a statement.

The vending machine—called boxC—is one of the fastest growing business channels for Chai Point, said Founder and Chief Executive Officer Amuleek Singh Bijral. The screen will also say if the beverage is fit enough for consumption, depending on its freshness.

Paytm, however, is only the first step. “We also plan to extend this kind of integration to other wallets,” Bijral said.

The startup currently has more than 105 stores across seven cities, 2,000 dispensers across eight cities, and makes more than 2 lakh deliveries per month.

SoftBank Sets Up Operations In India

 Billionaire Masayoshi Son, chairman and chief executive officer of SoftBank Group Corp. (Photographer: Kiyoshi Ota/Bloomberg)
Billionaire Masayoshi Son, chairman and chief executive officer of SoftBank Group Corp. (Photographer: Kiyoshi Ota/Bloomberg)

Masayoshi Son’s SoftBank is setting up an office of its $100-billion Vision Fund in India, the conglomerate announced this week, bringing a key investor closer to Indian startups.

SoftBank Investment Advisers, an arm of the Japanese Group which makes investments through the Vision Fund, will come to India under the leadership of Sumer Juneja who previously worked with Norwest Venture Partners, according to a report by PTI.

The Japanese investment giant has, on multiple occasions, spoken about seeing great value in India’s startup ecosystem. With 460 million internet users, India is the second largest online market globally and is now the fastest-growing ecommerce market in the world. Which means, it may hold huge potential for the Vision Fund's wider ecosystem, it said in a statement.

It already holds significant shareholding in a number of the country’s largest startups and unicorns such as Oyo, Flipkart, Paytm and PolicyBazaar. It exited Flipkart earlier this year when Walmart invested $16 billion in the online retailer. The SoftBank group also has investments in Ola, Hike and Grofers.

The move, according to SoftBank, will help it strengthen ties with the region’s rapidly growing technology ecosystem, PTI reported.