“To create innovation, one needs first to dare to step out of the box, and then the rest will follow,” says this Indian entrepreneur, who has revolutionised the market for e-vehicles in India, transforming them to tools of empowerment.
Her name is Hemalatha Annamalai, and she is one of the most prominent female entrepreneurs in the automotive industry.
The founder and CEO of Ampere Vehicles Pvt. Ltd (AMPVL), Annamalai has emerged as one of the few women entrepreneurs who made their mark in an industry which has been traditionally considered a male bastion. With 40 per cent of its employees being women, Ampere is setting standards for other companies to emulate.
“It’s important to break the conventions that confine specific genders to specific professions. Our company is largely gender agnostic; however, we are also trying to encourage and bring more women into the manufacturing industry,” she said while speaking to The Better India (TBI).
It all began back in June 2007, when Annamalai was a budding entrepreneur craving to create something socially impactful. She received a call from Japan, and her life changed forever.
The call was from her husband, Bala Pachyappa, who had been attending a conference in Japan where a unit head of automotive mogul Toyota delivered a speech about the “end of the era for internal combustion engines.” Charged up, he called Annamalai to discuss all about it, thus creating the spark of innovation in her.
“At that point, I wasn’t very sure about what he was saying, but I knew it had potential. I was tired of writing codes or selling software, and wanted to do something substantial. So, after the conversation, I began to research. A trip to the International Mobility Conference in Geneva in December 2007, cleared my vision for building electric vehicles for the masses. I finally realised the need to leverage the technology and innovation acumen of India instead of just replicating existing technology or simply form partnerships with MNCs,” says the 50-year-old erstwhile computer science engineer.
Having worked in Singapore for 18 years, she was finally ready to move back to Coimbatore. In 2008, she started Ampere, a company that manufactures electric scooters, cycles, tricycles, and waste carriers.
Her objective was to create an affordable model for the e-bike industry that would not only revolutionise mobility on Indian roads but also become a platform of empowerment for rural women. According to Annamalai, high-end technology should be accessible to all, and so the vision is to take advanced and sustainable transportation to rural and semi-urban areas.
“Our focus was not on just creating the vehicle but on the content of the vehicle. It is that which will help us in creating more jobs and encourage engineering graduates to innovate and think out of the box. Why should graduates from tier 2 cities have to migrate to metros like Bengaluru, Chennai, Delhi or Mumbai? Setting this company in Coimbatore was hence a conscious decision, as we wanted to tap into the talent hidden in the rural and semi-urban areas,” said Annamalai.
The entrepreneur and her team are further planning expansion on the innovation front. “We are expanding on our R&D capabilities and concentrating on creating an integrated battery vehicle management system,” said Annamalai. AMPVL has already applied for 16 patents of which three are already registered.
Currently, with two facilities in Coimbatore, the company manufactures 60,000 vehicles in a year.
With its eyes fixed on social innovations, AMPVL has developed low-cost and no-smoke three wheelers for industrial use.
Mitra is a waste carrier with two variants, a 250 kg and 450 kg capacity vehicle. The company collaborated with panchayats around Tamil Nadu to make Mitra accessible to garbage collectors. Where traditional hand-pulled waste carriers had a 100 kg capacity and required manual labour, the e-vehicle could carry more than twice the load.
Under the system, Ampere has been working toward individual entrepreneurship by empowering the garbage collectors to segregate, recycle and resell the waste collected. Its major success caught the attention of the District Rural Development Agency which is planning to adopt the e-vehicles for all the blocks across the State.
Similarly, Trisul was designed keeping in mind spinning mills.
The aim of the three-wheeler is to enhance safety and improve employee productivity by making commuting within the mill easier and time-saving.
The thrust on social enterprise stems from Annamalai’s strong principles. “I don’t want the company to become any run-of-the-mill firm with its major focus on wealth accumulation, where social impact is confined within the boundaries of Corporate Social Responsibility. Ampere is the opposite of that, as every step is decided based on its social impact,” she added.
This inspiring woman has a powerful vision of technological and social transformation.
With her efforts, she wants to set a positive precedent for Indian women. “Dreams and ideas don’t have genders. And, I hope we would soon realise that thus paving a way for a smarter tomorrow,” she concluded.
(Edited By Saiqua Sultan)