A Journey toward Social Entrepreneurship

A mechanical engineer left the pursuit of a well-paying job after graduating from college to launch a social innovation startup, as he strongly believed that technology can be the biggest facilitator to overcoming the society’s biggest challenges. Arpit Dhupar, an IIT-Delhi alumnus and the CTO and co-founder of Chakr, has always been passionate about giving back to the society. The Delhi-based startup has built Chakr shield, a device that uses soot emitted from diesel generators to fight air pollution that won numerous accolades, including the ASME iSHOW India 2016.

Dhupar recently spoke at the social innovation session held during E-Fest Asia Pac and shared his journey with the young engineers attending the event. 

Q: Can you tell us more about your innovation?
AD: Delhi has been suffering from particulate matter for quite some time and the major source of this particulate matter are diesel engines. Our technology captures over 90% of the particulate matter emissions from the exhaust of diesel generators without causing any adverse impact on the diesel engine. We not only capture the particulate matter but also reprocess it into inks and paints.

Q: How did you pick the name of your company?
AD: “Chakr” in Hindi means a cycle. We named our company so because we are completing the cycle of carbon. We are capturing something that was a waste and then converting it into something beautiful, inks and paints, which can be used as a way to express yourself. Our mission is that whatever we create has to sustainable at scale and follows the concept of a circular economy, so that we don’t generate waste.

Q: How has having an engineering bent of mind influenced your innovation?
AD: One thing we learn in engineering is that we start to value the small things we observe in nature. It’s the process of questioning why in everything. That’s how we have been able to observe a lot of things and come up with better solutions. That sets us apart, as rather than following the conventional norms of the industry we tend to find innovative ways that help us save the cost and reduce waste.

Q: What are some of the challenges hardware startups in the social innovation space face?
AD: One of the biggest challenges that we faced and most of the hardware startups face is the lack of funds and speed. We are compared to software startups and it’s very difficult to match their pace as they can roll out their product overnight and push it forward to their user base. That’s almost impossible to do for a hardware startup. Our production cycle is longer and our burn rate is higher, as we use much more capital. No matter how much we raise, we are short of funds. It’s spending these funds innovatively that has kept us going for so long.

Q: Do you have any advice for young engineers wanting to build their own hardware startups?
AD: One thing I have learned so far is that we as engineers budding to be entrepreneurs overestimate the value of idea and underestimate the value of team. It’s actually the opposite. The execution matters more than the idea. You need to have a very strong team and keep them together. The advice I will give is focus a lot on team building and hustling through the process.

Q: How do engineering competitions help foster innovative young minds?
AD: In all countries there exists a hierarchy of colleges–Ivy league, second or third tier etc. What happens is that in the second and third tier colleges the young minds have fewer opportunities. Events like E-Fests give them a direction and bring like-minded and proactive people together. That’s where team building happens and the magic happens. You never know when a certain team gets together and solves a problem.

Chitra Sethi is managing editor at Mechanical Engineering magazine.

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