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A startup competition in the city at the Wharton India Economic Forum (WIEF) saw ideas from entrepreneurs from across the country. Around 10 startups made their pitches and here we look at a few ideas.

Cleaner Ganga, fragrant incense sticks

Cleaning the holy Ganges is no simple task and has been the objective of many activists, environmentalists and politicians, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Amid various attempts and campaigns, a startup in Kanpur is protecting the Ganga from becoming a ‘religious sewer’.

Help Us Green, founded by two 26-year-olds in 2015, collects floral waste from temples, mosques, gurudwaras along the Ganges and converts it into natural and chemical-free lifestyle products. Currently, the startup collects around 1.5 tonnes of floral waste from Kanpur and 8 tonnes from Varanasi.

The waste is composted and converted into plant fertilisers and incense sticks.

Not only does it keep the floral waste, often laden with chemical-induced pesticides, from ending up in the river, the startup has also generated employment opportunities for the local residents.

The flowers are dried up and rolled into incense sticks by women’s self-help groups. Men, who worked as manual scavengers earlier, have been assigned the dignified job of collecting floral waste from places of worship.

Established by Ankit Agarwal and Karan Rastogi, the two-year-old startup has many awards to its credit now. The two have not needed any funding yet and don’t foresee the need yet either. “We are a self-sufficient company so far,” said Rastogi.

However, both Agarwal and Rastogi had to wade through a fair share of resistance, including from their families. “It was only after we won a competition at IIT-Kanpur in August 2015 that people started to take us seriously,” said Rastogi. Many such awards followed, including the Tata Social Entrepreneurship Competition in 2016.

It was a game-changer for the startup when Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav offered recognition and land to set up more processing units. “Now we can move our operations from our backyard to a processing unit. We have been offered land at subsidised rates in Kannauj and Varanasi,” said Rastogi.

The duo’s winning streak continued at the startup competition at the Wharton India Economic Forum in Mumbai last week. Help Us Green won the people’s choice award and a prize money worth $6,000.

The company now plans to set up seven hubs along the Ganges by 2019. “Currently, we have two hubs. We plan to expand along the banks and collect 15 to 20 tonnes of floral waste by 2019,” said Rastogi.

QUICK TAKE

Startup: Help Us Green
Established: May 2015
Funding: None
Turnover: Rs 63 lakh in FY15-16. Expected to double in FY16-17