Subodh Raheja is an inspiration to be with. When I met him a few weeks ago I just got taken in by his outlook towards life and surroundings. He is an inventor and innovator at heart and in deed too. If someone says, “It is impossible,” he gets challenged and cannot wait till he finds a solution to the problem being faced.
I was very keen that all young entrepreneurial leaders at IWSB campus should experience him and his way of looking at the world. Subodh, in his journey of over two decades as an inno-preneur has contributed remarkably for the society by his innovations in the space of power and lighting – inverters, solar and wind power.
This evening Subodh was at IWSB campus to interact with the youngsters and share his journey and also to challenge them. Here I typed his interaction as it happened, and you will see the narration in the first person.
Education is all about broadening horizons and excelling. Today I will share my 32 years of experience as how I kept discovering myself.
It is not about that you started in science, commerce or arts and continued to be in the same space. If you are a keen learner, you can find huge possibilities. I know of a person who started as a graduate in humanities, but went on to do medicine and excel as a doctor.
My principal in school, Mr Kapoor always said and also made us feel that, “if you really want to, you can.” When I reached the middle school, I was moved to a section that had toppers, and I performed badly. Mr Kapoor came to me and said, “what stops you from being a topper”. That small interaction made such a difference to me. It became the guiding principle for my life.
My family does not have any business background. He came from West-Pakistan, though fore-fathers had printing business. My grandfather was a teacher, he went on to do social services, serving people and educating masses. After partition, he came to India and due to his academic excellence he was called into planning commission.
After my schooling, I was in quite a fix – whether to go into medicine or something else. I did cleared pre-medical test. But, father was not keen, as he felt it takes longer time to establish my career. So, I decided to move away. I was not clear what to do. I applied for various courses. Finally took Physics honours… then did my post-grad, then MTech. Worked for about 9 years… Then finally thought of taking plunge into business, why my father was about to retire.
During my education, there were a couple of learning curves and inflections. While in the post-graduation, I was made the secretary of the students club and I used to interact with eminent scientists like Dr. Raja Ramanna. I anchored a trip to Kota atomic power plant of our class. It was an eye-opener. It helped us to think, work and leave a mark. For the first time we moved out of the university. When we are onto something, and we jump headlong, then we realize the challenges – like here, getting permissions, logistics, reservations, food, stay etc. These things trigger thoughts and realizations about our capabilities. So it always helps to be in the thick of activities while studying and push ones boundaries.
I got opportunities to travel and meet scientists nationally and internationally. Today, Internet is helping us to reduce gaps, but it depends on how we make use of it. In our days nothing of these sorts was there. We needed to go through challenges – importing would cost us duties of 200-300% etc.
Once I got an opportunity to interact with Science and defense laboratories in India, and abroad too, I found huge gaps internationally and also with in India too. Once I did my Management from DU, I realized that we could build capabilities and capacities within India. We can bridge the gap. That is when I was seriously contemplating about “Should I start something on my own.”
Power was a challenge in those days, so power stabilization and management was the thought that struck me. I thought of an inverter. People laughed at my idea. It was in 1985-86. I thought of MOS-FET technologies, as I was reading literature. We came out with inverter based on MOSFET. That kept me busy for a couple of years.
While I was going through this product, a lot of commercialization had to be done. I inducted a few into the distribution network. About 10 of them were spread across. I used to train and send them to different offices.
During the process of supplying invertors to SONY India limited, SONY had a plan to come and set up a factory in India. They were designing their factory in India. The consultants locally were taking them on a royal ride. I told them how it could be done in an interaction. I was asked to scribble on board my thought and idea and explain. It was extempore. They just saved it and faxed to their headquarters in Japan. After a wait of a couple of hours, they immediately asked me to be their consultant on their setting up project.
In five months, I had to deliver and with complete involvement, I delivered the solution within the stipulated time. Many more farmhouses happened after this project.
While I was away on these projects, my personal production set up went through a lot of turmoil and losses mounted, as the team that was handling the operations mis-managed the business and I had close it down. It was a big set back.
Since I had interest in product creation, I used that as a business model. Creating new contraptions gave me a thrill. I started focusing on it. So, Voltage stabilizer + Inverter 90v to 300v for those coming from hinterland. I was coming out with solutions for challenges people have been facing in the power space.
Since 1994, defense has been seeking solutions. All the junked sources of power was repaired. Army VSAT systems in the remote parts of the country was powered by my solutions. Eg. –
– Earth quake in Bhuj is a case
o Army commander called me, and said ‘yours was the only supply that stood the shocks all others including from the big MNCs failed!!
o I was told to supply for Siachin, Arunachal etc…
– In Arunachal, where you will have to go for days walking to reach the spots. We created sturdy ones that are still in use
Marketing has been my weakest link. Different people have been coming to me with their requirements and I have been solving their problems. But never have been able to scale this up, as I was not interested much in doing so.
Then maintaining UPS across Government came my way. But there are many ‘Undertaking’ and ‘overtaking’ happening!! It was a struggle.
There was another period of struggle during 2003-2006 when father was ill, when I could not devote much time for business and it was ebbing. This gave my a great lesson, “You should not lose heart, one should be strong enough to face the challenge”. For paying the fees of children, I had to take loan. I sailed through the challenges.
While I was developing and doing business here, I got an opportunity to work with a US firm called HEART INTERFACE. They were working with inverters for solar systems. That was the breakthrough I got in Solar space. This was in 1994. All those who were in Solar companies used to buy circuits from me. I started handling their business in India. This company went on to buy many companies. I used supply to BEL, Central electronics etc.
All these companies are world class. Anyone who had to set up anything would have to go to any of these companies, and these companies would come to me. We did work in Zaire, Morocco, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka.. They used to come to me for the design, while they handled the installation.
What we are today, is totally a different platform from where we started. We started with inverter and UPS. Now it has become the second line of business while Solar has become the first.
Solar is an alternate source of energy. You can generate energy from roof-top. Since the components were costlier they were not being used as often. But it is now economical. We can create hybrid Solar + Wind + Electricity supplied + DG set,
in that order of usage. We can create design wherein DG set can also get started automatically.
Let me give you a brief about Products that we make –
- Solar charge controllers
- Through Central Electronics, Moser Bier etc
- Idea came from customer
- One should not go beyond 40V DC, if any human comes in touch it, it can be fatal.
- High voltage charge controllers can give charge for storing for 8 hours
- BHEL uses extensively, at the top, is our inverter
- Railways uses our Charge controller extensively
- Second series is home lighting. Especially started from Bangladesh
- Small home light at 3000Rs can give sufficient light
- If some one is keen on taking it as an entrepreneurial, you can take it
- Similarly solar torches and lanterns
- Solar pumps – surface pumps, booster pumps up to 30 HP. Only company in the world
- One petrol pump needs for dispensing – 1.5 HP pump
- With 300v solar power, by replacing 1.5HP, installing small invertors, connecting to the battery and solar panel
- They wanted me to prove it and sent me to a place called Mahavir ji, PAHADI
i. I never saw so many stars there
ii. I used batteries of cars
iii. Absolutely no electricity in the village
iv. We could work only till 11am and start at 4pm again as the afternoons are very hot at 50+degree
v. That petrol pump is still using our solution
vi. Some how since we have done only for government, it did not go beyond
4. Solar air-conditioners – 1KV – 1-1.5 tonne – for telecom towers
- They have now selected this product from African markets
- This is something which we would like to take more places in India too
- Thisswas my next project
- Water purification is the next project. Our principals have developed a portable solar panel array. This can be taken to anywhere – pump in the river or raw water. That gives 99% pure water. River waters can be of value especially when there are disasters
- Trozen battery is another product, we have just introduced. This has the capability of deep discharges. It has a life of 80 years. It is used in UPS / Invertor market. Presently 98% of electric vehicles use Trozan batteries.
Q. In a day, for how many hours a solar panel can charge effectively?
1. Since the sun’s intensity is different during the day… the wattage varies from 0-12 at various times. It is absorption of light that gives energy. For full wattage it gives five hours of output
2. It is the capacity of the panel and battery that drives the duration
3. Bulbs are not manufactured in India, though now a few or available in India. Solid state. Diode – Direct power. If diode characteristics changed – light emitting diode we can use many ways. A few diodes can go on for 50K years
Q. What are the other exciting innovations?
· Streetlight – Heat dissipation has to be taken care of. The light is very strong and you cannot see it with naked eye.
· Solar cooler – with only 20watts of power
· Name plate – Imagine CAR nameplates glowing during the nights. How much it can reduce the challenges of Police
· Solar switch…. Usually we see wastage of electricity during the day. Solar switch created to switch on and off as per the brightness. It has been bought by Moradabad electricity for streetlights, then Delhi government bought it. Sensor will sense and switch on and off
· Sound triggered light, especially at night when there is some sound it will glow. You can use it the moment you wake up by making a sound.
· Public toilets and bathrooms – sensing lights and fans that can save energy wastage
· Fans – Sold at about 1000Rs in the market; Extensively used by pavement vendors.
· Solution to mosquito menace.
· Right now working on a solution for Coke. Invertors for freezers in the Rural space..
The moment some one comes and say, this is not possible. I get interested in it.
1. created Motor pump – at 300 watts when the gentleman challenged me to make one for anything less than 500 watts…
2. Billboard lighting….
3. Lighting homes in the remote areas…
Doing job is fine, but you are at others disposal. But, if you really love something, just jump and do. You need to know about everything in the business – laws, finances, and so much more that you need to know.
When I left job, first few months were difficult – finalizing the product, marketing it. The moment the inverter took off, I never looked back. I have done so many things… We were the first to introduce paging, traffic lights in Delhi – police department said you can make money (but never that happened), solar booths at traffic signals – Moolchand, Ashram, Bhikaji Cama place..
We came out with many products and ideas –
· Telecom towers – MPPT controller that gives 30% extra power in the worst environmental conditions. It is very rugged. It is the heart of the equipment…
Q.Water purifier – how is it better than any one else? It is the same unit but how do you charge and help the charge to be retained in harsh conditions so that it can continue to purify.
Q. Marketing problems – What are the ones you are facing?
· We do have skeletal marketing team.
· We do special types of projects
· We are looking for creating networks. The trozan battery is unmatchable. Cyclic batteries that are the demand of telecom companies or international operators
· They have application everywhere – in invertors and electric vehicles
Q. Any thing for Automobiles?
· Dippers sense light from on-coming traffic, it dips whenever oncoming traffic is spotted. This helps a better driving.
Q. In Punjab most of the towers use DG. Do you have any solutions.
· We have the solution but many of them do not use it. Why? We need to ask them..
· We are anyways moving from capex model to Opex model in the towers…
Q. Cost of photo-voltaic systems are costly. In India in central and eastern India we need a lot of electricity. Is there some way that we can get economical solution?
· For a starter, think small and think about mass
· My focus is on electronics
· We have suppliers like BTW to set up mega plants
The discussions moved on to demonstration of his inventions and innovations.
At the end of the session, the challenge of working and creating the sales and marketing strategy and its execution for the company Manak Engineering was thrown at the young entrepreneurs. I am waiting for a few to take it up.
It was an inspiring session and I felt charged to take the challenge.
I had more time interacting with Subodh and his family while I drove with them all the way back. I will treasure this evening for lifetime.