By Gauri Kohli Hindustan Times, New Delhi.
A green innovator for rural homemakers
She gave up a lucrative job offer after graduating from the Faculty of Management Studies, Delhi, to follow her passion.
After spending two years with a renewable energy and environment markets start-up, Neha Juneja decided to start her own 'green' venture.
Co-founder and CEO of Geenway Grameen Infra, Juneja has combined her love for the environment with her product design skills to bring about monumental change to rural households. Along with her partner Ankit Mathur, who is also a young entrepreneur, Juneja has made lives easier for women in at least few thousand households in rural India.
Elaborating on the activities of her start-up, Juneja says: "We focus on design and distribution of appliances for middle-income Indian customers. Our first product is Greenway Smart Stove, a biomass burning cookstove that replaces open fires and mud stoves in rural and semi-urban areas.
The venture started in 2011 with an initial capital of Rs. 1 lakh. As we started working with our first production partner, we were able to get Rs. 20 lakh as seed funding from an angel investor."
The venture started with the vision of being a design and engineering firm offering appropriate product offerings for middle-income customers. "We believe that there is a dearth of well-designed products suited for middle-income consumers around the world and particularly in India. While incomes are increasing due to overall economic growth, the regular offerings are either not suited for or out of reach for most of our target consumers. Greenway Smart Stove, our flagship product, employs a patent pending air regulation technology that decreases the amount of wood that customers have to use for cooking. It also greatly reduces the smoke emissions and has a significant environmental and health impact," says Juneja.
While working in rural areas for energy access projects, she realised the need for improved cookstoves. Juneja believes that while there have been a number of advances in rural life, the kitchen still seems stuck with decades old practice of cooking on an open fire or a makeshift mud chulha. The stove gives rural and peri-urban women a modern device that does not change any other cooking habits.
Sharing her experience of bringing out the product, Juneja says, "During the design and prototyping process for our first product, I was surprised to observe how well-informed our women customers were of the precise needs that the product had to fulfill. They were ready to compromise on efficiency for an ergonomic and easy-to-use product. By taking prototypes and testing them on the field, we were able to cut down our development time to a fraction of what it takes in a lab. It taught me to constantly stay in touch with the customers and not make assumptions about what's best for them."
IIM Ahmedabad's Centre For Innovation, Incubation and entrepreneurship (CIIE) supported her efforts. She was inducted as an incubatee in 2012 by CIIE and received funding and mentorship from the team there.
As an entrepreneur the most important thing is to persevere, adds Juneja. "There have been moments when the going got really tough but we hung on to get great results. I have also learnt that building a team is very important. We started with just three people and are on our way to becoming 100 this year, with great team members joining us at various places and positions.
The biggest hurdle we faced early on was the lack of prototyping and design support. We overcame this by reaching out to many people and figuring out roundabout ways of making what we wanted. We have now bought a 3D printer and also work with a number of prototyping experts and industrial designers to be able to validate new product designs," she says.
In 2014, Greenway Smart Stove became India's largest selling cookstove and Greenway Grameen Infra was a recipient of the Ashden Award, recognising the work they have done in the field of household cooking energy. Juneja's goal is now to increase the company's cumulative reach to a million households over the next one year to demonstrate that design and distribution of products for middle-income customers is a sustainable business.
My start-up, my journey in a nutshell
Start-up and objective: Greenway Grameen Infra was started with the idea of being a design and engineering firm offering appropriate product offerings for middle-income customers
You are passionate about: Working for a green cause and using product design skills to bring a monumental change to rural households
Achievements: In 2014, Greenway Smart Stove became India's largest selling cookstove