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An interview with sanitation entrepreneur Mayank Midha.
As a child, Mayank Midha remembers how his mother and sister suffered during long distance journeys in India. They had to “hold themselves up” because there were hardly any decent public toilets on the way.
There is still a shortage of well-maintained public toilets in India, says Mayank. This affects women and girls most. Men can more easily urinate or defecate in the open.
On 7 September 2016, Mayank Midha won the Sanitation Innovation Accelerator 2016, a search for an inclusive and sustainable solution for rural sanitation in India. The judges praised Mayank for developing an indestructible smart toilet, which is much cheaper than comparable models without comprising on quality.
Mayank has been in the manufacturing business for the past seven years. As an engineer with a post-graduate degree in rural management, he is interested in technical solutions for the poorest people at the “Base of the Pyramid” (BoP). After completing a project to manufacture telecom enclosure panels, he saw three spare panels lying in the factory. Their structure made Mayank think, why not change some specifications and use them to construct Portable Smart Toilets?
After a year a prototype was ready in 2015 and in 2016 the stainless steel insulated GARV Toilet was born. Solar panels power LED lights and exhaust fans inside the toilet. Using stainless steel for the superstructure, toilet pans, and washbasins has multiple advantages: the units are vandal-proof, easy to clean and they don’t rust. This means a higher shelf-life with lower operating costs.
Some friends helped Mayank incorporate smart technologies such as sensors and radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags. LED lights and exhaust fans switch on automatically when users open the toilet door. When users exit, the same technology can automatically activate floor washing and toilet pan washing systems.
Mayank’s friends also helped design a prototype dashboard to track data on numbers of users and how many times they flushed and used the soap dispensers. This kind of data, he says, can help implementing agencies monitor their hygiene behaviour change plans.
After a first pilot in Faridabad, Haryana, a Delhi based government contractor contacted Mayank’s business to install these toilets at the base of all footover or pedestrian bridges across the city. While this initial order was for portable toilets without incorporated smart technology, Mayank has now been asked to deliver 348 toilets with solar panels, LED lights and exhaust fans.
GARV Toilets are available in six models. One in particular has caught the attention of government agencies: “Toilets for her”. This model includes a sanitary pad vending machine with sanitary pad incinerators. Another model, suited for areas without sewerage connections, is equipped with biodigesters, which process the faecal matter through bacterial action. The only output is an odourless, colourless liquid that can be used as a pesticide spray.
Using GARV Toilets is free. Experience shows that coin-operated public toilets don’t work well in India. For every denomination of coin there are different sizes in circulation.
GARV Toilets preferred business model is to set up public-private partnerships with municipal corporations for both installation and operation & maintenance of toilets. Extra revenue can be generated via advertising and business partnerships. This can involve partnering with mobile phone operators, who lease out WiFi hotspots and provide mobile phone recharging services and owners of small kiosks.
Above all, Mayank wants his products to be affordable and “ethically” priced.
Sanitation Innovation Accelerator
When asked how the Sanitation Innovation Accelerator (SIA) initiative has helped him, Mayank says it is an amazing platform for a startup company. He got access to a “huge set of experts and mentors”. The SIA initiators, Ennovent, IRC and TARU Leading Edge, send Mayank invitations to roundtables and sanitation dialogues. Ennovent is partnering with his company to jointly pitch to investors to scale-up sales of GARV Toilets.
At the SIA launch event on 23-25 May 2016, Mayank met the CEO of Samagra, Swapnil Chaturvedi aka “The Poop Guy”. Within one month, Samagra requested Mayank’s company to come up with an alternative solution for the public toilets they operate in Pune. Samagra was facing big problems: every 2-3 months they were spending US$ 200 per toilet unit to replace vandalised ceramic pans. In addition, every Samagra toilet unit had a different size. They wanted a customised, vandal-proof model with a stainless steel floor and toilet pan. In September 2016, GARV Toilets delivered 150 units to Samagra. Now both companies are discussing ways to collaborate and offer turnkey solutions to government bodies for installing and maintaining public toilets.
GARV Toilets are currently seeking corporate social responsibility (CSR) funds for further product development. Mayank says he would also like to develop waste management services. Government agencies have expressed interest in the biodigester tank option for areas unconnected to sewage lines.
Mayank has taken his startup company into new territory, venturing beyond India’s borders into Bhutan. He has just signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to install toilets in the capital Thimphu.
Mayank Midha has successfully linked his innovative approach with a sound business model. He represents a new breed of sanitation entrepreneurs who are much needed in India.
To learn about the Sanitation Innovation Accelerator go to: www.innovations4sanitation.com
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