Of all the resources at our disposal, perhaps water is the most crucial one, as our survival is heavily dependent on it.
Over the last few years, several reports have covered India’s water scarcity, and how it has affected millions of people, its ecosystem and agriculture. Additionally, the NITI Aayog, the Indian government’s policy think-tank, released a report in 2018, which states that if we go by current trends, 40% of India’s population will have no access to drinking water by 2030.
Alarming, isn’t it?
In this scenario, innovative inventions are key to dealing with such challenges and OCEO, a Bengaluru-based startup is attempting to do just that, by manufacturing water purifiers to improve access to clean drinking water.
“We saw that the need for clean drinking water was increasing everywhere, but most households are unable to buy water purifiers because of the initial costs in addition to yearly maintenance costs. Also, it is a time-consuming exercise to stand outside water kiosks and collect water,” says Vikram Gulecha, one of the four co-founders of the startup.
OCEO installs its purification systems, with the a water quality monitor attached to the filter, for zero upfront cost. The user pays only Re 1 per litre of water used as opposed to paying anywhere between Rs 40 to Rs 100 for a 20-litre water can, where you cannot even monitor the water quality.
Interestingly, all OCEO water purifiers have two filtration methods: Ultrafiltration (UF) and Reverse Osmosis (RO). In case the water supply one gets is not very contaminated, meaning the total dissolved solids (TDS) is less than 500 ppm (parts per million), one can easily opt for the UF technique. Vikram claims that this has close to zero water waste as opposed to RO, where 25% is purified, and 75% of water is wasted.
Until now, the startup has now installed 10,000+ purifiers out of which 10 per cent are in offices, while others in households in Bengaluru and Chennai. This has led to them ensuring at least 35,000+ people get clean drinking water at the lowest possible costs.
“The OCEO water purifiers are IoT enabled and provide a low-cost, efficient solution to ensure safety in every drop. At OCEO, we believe water quality is not a privilege, it’s a human right,” asserts Vikram.
How it all began
Other than Vikram, the other core members and co-founders of the startup include Mahendra Dantewadiya, Hashmukh Gulecha, Rajeev Krishna.
“I would say that we are primarily a family business as Mahendra is my aunt’s husband. Hashmukh is my younger brother, and Rajeev is the son of a family friend,” informs Vikram.
While Vikram is a business graduate, Mahendra, 42, is a commerce graduate. His brother Hashmukh is a PG Diploma holder in business management and Rajiv is a Computer Engineer with an MBA degree.
The co-founders, however, are not first-time entrepreneurs. Before the idea for OCEO was conceptualised, Vikram was running a social enterprise called SPACES India, which involved providing skill training to young individuals in the management sector.
Vikram’s family also has a real estate business and runs a theme park in Bengaluru, where Hashmukh was previously managing all the operations. Mahendra, on the other hand, was handling a family business in the packaging industry, while Rajeev was a business analyst at a company manufacturing industrial storage racks.
When they started working on building a product based on the water needs of the population, they found that people were not willing to spend a lot of money to own a water purifier. This is why they developed the business model accordingly (which is to just charge for the water purified and used).
Additionally, the cost of water had to be cheaper than options available in the market. That was the only way they could get customers on board. So, it was decided to build a smart purifier powered by IoT as it would be easy to operate and maintenance wouldn’t be a problem.Rajeev is an electronics engineer, and was instrumental in contributing towards building the smart purifier powered by IoT.
OCEO was initially founded under the name ‘Pilmatis Innovations’ in 2017, but later, the founders realised that it was better if they kept the name of the startup and their innovation the same as it would be easy for customers to identify them.
So, they actually began their operations in June 2017.
Clean water is a human right
OCEO water purifiers allow the users to monitor water quality on the app, and one can buy ‘water credits’ on the same app itself.
This means, if I knew I were to use 100 litres of drinking water in a month, I would buy that through an online transaction of Rs 100. The OCEO water purifier would purify 100 litres of water after which I would be sent reminders to recharge again when the water credit on the machine is low.
The intelligent sensors in the device help in gathering all this information on quality and quantity for the user. On the service provider’s side, it ensures that the device is effectively functioning and they receive alerts if the device needs any maintenance.
Also, due to the presence of dual options for filtration, the customer can choose to filter water depending on its quality (which can be again monitored on the app). They can also make a choice depending on what purpose they are filtering the water for. For example, cooking, drinking etc.
People who have availed OCEO’s services like it because it is low-cost wastes less water and most importantly, there are zero upfront costs.
Take Bengaluru based Ujwal Khandelia for example. The 32-year-old manages the admin department at Campus Student’s Community Pvt Ltd, a company that runs student accommodation in Mumbai and Bengaluru.
“We have been using the OCEO filter in our office since March 2017. What we like about the purifier is that this is much cheaper than the water cans where we would pay a minimum of Rs 40 for 20 litres of water. There is no extra maintenance cost, and because we have the option to choose the filtration technique, there is very little wastage,” he says.
All the employees of this company have this device installed in their homes, and they plan on getting it installed in their 28 hostels where they cater to about 4500 students.
Overcoming challenges and moving ahead
Despite having received positive responses from customers who have used their services, Vikram says that getting people on board in the first place is challenging.
“People are very used to traditional ways of doing things bringing about a behaviour change and enabling them to adopt technology is difficult. However, we’ve done our market research, and that has helped us in leveraging the market by making everything easy to operate for the user,” he mentions.
Various platforms have recognised OCEO’s work. In 2018, it was recognised as one of the ‘Emerging 50 Companies’ by NASSCOM India. OCEO also won an award for ‘Innovation with Greatest Social Impact’ by the UK government’s International Tech Hub Network and the newly launched UK-India Tech Hub.
They also received an award at the India-Israel Innovation Challenge for Innovative and affordable solutions event organised last year in August.
So, what plans does OCEO have for the future?
Once the lockdown is over, and things get back to normal, Vikram informs that they hope to reach out to BBMP schools. They have already impacted 700+ students in five government schools sponsored by the Annapurna Foundation. Now, they also plan on expanding in five major cities and townships each.
“Our vision is to inspire the world with water, eliminate single-use filter membrane housing and plastic water bottles. All of this by providing people with access to clean drinking water anywhere they work, rest, or play,” says Vikram, signing off.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)