To adequately manage groundwater, on 25 December 2019, PM Modi launched the Atal Bhujal Yojana (Atal Jal), which the World Bank describes as “the world’s largest community-led groundwater management programme”.
To support Atal Jal, the Technology Development Board (TDB), under the Department of Science and Technology, has offered Rs 3.29 crore in funding to Kritsnam Technologies Private Limited.
The startup’s product Dhaara Smart Flowmeter will track water distribution across uses like drinking water, groundwater extraction, industrial water use, and irrigation. The device is ISO certified and CGWA (Central Ground Water Authority) compliant, and automatically records water data usage using an online logbook, eliminating manual data errors.
“We give [customers] a lot of insights like the number of hours the pump was running, the flow rate fluctuation in that time, and more,” says 30-year-old Vinay Chataraju, co-founder of Kritsnam.
“Dhaara Smart Flow Metre can also help bulk water consumers budget their water usage and empower them to understand their patterns, points of inefficiencies and help them to build strong strategies for reducing water wastage,” said Union Minister of State (Independent Charge) Science & Technology Dr Jitendra Singh.
The urgency of India’s water crisis is laid out in the NITI Aayog’s 2019 report Composite Water Management Index (CWMI), which states that while India is home to 17 per cent of the world’s population, it only has 4 per cent of the world’s freshwater resources.
Around two lakh people die every year because of inadequate water, sanitation, and hygiene, it adds.
While Atal Jal is working toward better water management, the CWMI also states that one of the biggest challenges in India’s water crisis is “the lack of water data”. If a country is to offer reasonable solutions, it must first fully understand the problem it is facing. But limited and unreliable data about India’s water use is the main hindrance the country faces today.
Kritsnam identified this issue and went to the field to investigate. “We found that most of the instruments are there in the fields, but very few of them are active and running,” says Vinay.
Since these devices are installed in open spaces and round the clock security isn’t available, issues like vandalism and theft had rendered these devices nonfunctional. “That’s when we realise the need for a low cost, compact instrument which can get deployed in very large numbers across the country to collect water data,” he adds.
Today, Kritsnam, co-founded by K Sri Harsha, Prudhvi Sagar, Neeraj Rai, and Vinay, is deploying smart solutions to access water data across the country, with a vision to develop instruments that will “monitor every single drop of water and empower the country with data driven water resource management”.
“For this, we also have our incubators SIIC, Villgro, and Social Alpha to thank,” Vinay notes.
With a revenue of Rs 1.3 crore in the last financial year, they’ve now clocked in Rs 1.2 crore in the last quarter alone.
From thesis to business
Kritsnam grew out of K Sri’s master’s thesis at IIT Kanpur while he was working on a research project on the river Ganges.
“During my thesis and in my research, I fully realised that we have been abusing the precious natural resource for ages. If we do not act now, it may be too late and our actions may not yield results,” says K Sri.
“We realised the domain’s potential by adopting data-led intelligence on water preservation and consumption. To ensure the work is sustainable, we had to build a for-profit business in this domain,” he adds. In 2015, he founded Kritsnam with an initial investment of Rs 1 lakh, taken from personal funds.
K Sri’s research and fieldwork had led to the realisation that there’s a need for large-scale, automatic data collection. “That’s where our journey of product development began,” says Vinay, also an IIT Kanpur alum, who joined Kritsnam in 2019 to scale the business after spending a decade working with various startups.
Their first product was an automatic water level recorder for surface water, for which they received much support from the chief engineer of the Upper Ganga Basin Organisation (UGBO). After several iterations of the product and many rounds of feedback, their product was ready.
Today, around 100 devices have been deployed around the Ganges and other water bodies.
As a business however, Kritsnam soon realised that working solely with the government wasn’t viable. “The decision making process is quite slow in the government, since it is a large, system-drive structure,” says Vinay. “Though efforts are being taken in this direction, there is still a long way to go in reforming the procurement structure to adopt advanced technologies for governance purposes.” And with their water level recorder, the government was their main customer.
Challenges and satisfaction
For their next product, they thus focused on creating something that would create B2B opportunities for the business, founding the Dhaara Flowmeter. “Almost 90 per cent of our business comes from this particular product. We’ve really put effort into addressing the customer’s needs for all ground water abstraction,” explains Vinay.
In creating Dhaara, the team had to face unique tech challenges.
For one, there’s the power requirement. Smart energy metres or any type of energy auditing devices have easy access to a power source, or have energy built in to accommodate power requirements. But there’s no ready source of power with water. “How do we make the instrument low power consuming and still durable for a long period of time, at least three to five years?” questions Vinay.
— Kritsnam (@KritsnamTech) July 19, 2022
Their devices are also IoT-enabled (internet of things; any device connected to the internet which allows one to operate, control, or monitor something is an IOT device). But this consumes more power. While a mobile phone battery, which is also IoT-enabled, runs for a day or two at most, their challenge was figuring out a power system that would run for three years.
“That’s our USP (unique selling point) and it’s where our patent also lies,” says Vinay with a smile.
Another challenge Kritsnam is currently grappling with is creating a business route for themselves. While there’s no dearth of funds — they’ve raised over Rs 2.4 crore in grants over the years — the question they’re trying to answer is — Where’s the business? For this, they are looking at B2B to build a robust business model.
Over 80 per cent of India’s water is used in agriculture. “We did a lot of activity around the agricultural water usage, whether it’s crop water requirement, canal irrigation, or trying to identify equitable water distribution for crops between surface and groundwater,” says Vinay.
But individual projects aside, Kritsnam is trying to figure out how to build a sustainable business model that services the agri space.
Through their efforts, Kritsnam has had a heartening finding. “People are actively coming forward and saying ‘Please tell us what is required to improve our water efficiency’,” says Vinay.
He adds, “The price range of our devices is in the range of Rs 25,000 to Rs 75,000, based on the size of the flow meter. We intend to bring the advanced Ultrasonic technology to masses in India. Having built the complete product indigenously, we are able to achieve better manufacturing price and want to pass on price benefit to our users for large scale adoption.”
Meanwhile, several conglomerates, in response to customer demands and increasing awareness about climate change, have started setting green goals — a trend affecting much of the business world.
Earlier, a lack of data meant users weren’t conscious about their water use or sensitive to the fact that this is a finite resource. But as Kritsnam offers businesses data about their water habits, they’re noticing a change in consumption habits. “That’s a very satisfactory moment for us,” says Vinay.
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Edited by Divya Sethu
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