Episode 10 ( Part-1 ) Emerging Leaders

It’s good to be back with a new series of our podcast, Fintech X “Emerging Leaders”, where we bring you the inspiring stories of India’s leading entrepreneurs and their journey to the top. I am Astha Raut and today we are in conversation with our very special guests, Nikita and Nishita Baliarsingh, the dynamic duo and the ultimate sustainability enthusiasts who came up with rechargeable and bio-organic batteries for electric vehicles. Well, they have been recipients of multiple awards and recognitions such as Forbes 30 under 30, Best SME: Sustainable Engineering, and have also spoken about their contribution to making a greener planet at TEDx.

Astha: I welcome you both to our podcast and thank you for giving us your precious time. So before we begin, tell us about your childhood, education, aspirations. And basically Nikita and Nishita, minus the entrepreneur in them.

Nishita: For both, especially for me, I have been very, very passionate about aircraft, machines, vehicles. The passiona always remained there. All through my childhood, schooling, this love of machines, and that’s where I think things have grown from there. And eventually we progressed. And we’ve seen,how the story begins, things began from a business passion for machines and engines and typically that stuff and eventually progressing in our life towards picking a career goal.

And we come from a family business background. We’ve seen business happening, the family since our birth. So that’s where the inclination towards entrepreneurship actually grows and eventually also the schools that we belong to SAI international, the founder, Dr Bijaya K Sahoo, he was a very profound entrepreneur. He always wanted to promote entrepreneurship and it was his goal to create global entrepreneurs. So that’s how somewhere this got mixed up and the journey has gone towards entrepreneurship through technology.

Astha: So basically, since childhood you had that inside you that I have to do something which actually involves machines?

Nishita: Yeah. I mean, not like I do something which includes machines. My calling is in machines. I mean, I often end up dismantling things to find out what they are inside, how, you know, the machine is set up, how the mechanism works. She eventually turned into my interest in machines. So for example, if I’m reading about something, it’s more of a technology thing that I’m reading. So that’s how automatically things grow that way.

Astha: Okay, so tell me, when was the day when you actually decided to be an entrepreneur like your big AHA moment happened? And how did the idea of having this inclination towards the environment and making the lithium-ion battery, all those things come into your mind? How did you actually form that idea?

Nishita: I will tell you that there was no eureka moment. It’s not like it was going to happen. It happened over time. For me and Nikita, we’ve been into a lot of terrace conversations. So we keep discussing, keep talking during the lockdown. On one of these terrace conversations, we just happened to discuss about the late 90s sometime, we were just discussing that, you know, since 2011, a lot of vehicles have been in talks but they have not really been on the road.

We are talking about something to be worked upon there. And that’s how the idea when she started framing. So it’s not like one eureka moment where you know you have the entire idea ready. It’s over time that we eventually realise and more than the EVs, the batteries that are basically the brain, heart of the EVs are concerned. They need to be answered. Then when you look at different problems, the issue is that lithium-ion batteries are not batteries which are sustainable in nature or, you know, they are not. I mean, they have more harmful effects than the benefits and eventually you kind of build upon your story we’re like, OK, so let me work in this space. In a very parallel space, there were a lot of these new reports coming up during winter in 2020 . The Air Quality Index of Delhi and the neighbouring States was terrible and the reason was that the farmers across the neighbouring cities and neighbouring States were burning the remaining stable after they were harvesting their crops. So that was creating a lot of pollution. Me and Nikita were discussing how to find a possible way to not burn it and try and build the batteries from it if that works. So that was very just a thought. And that one time because we realised, with discussion & research that Lithium-ion batteries was something alternate and in a very old book we came across the protein battery concept which could potentially be game changing disruptive technology.

Then when we came across these new headlines in EQ, and thought why not use the crop to build batteries. That’s the best possible marriage that you can have. And that’s how realised that these crops in the Northern plains are technically, be it nice stuff like that and they are all protein rich. So there is a possibility that we can actually not burn that and use it.

That’s what we did. So it’s not like you know, you’re very sure from the first day that this is what I’m going to do. It just eventually came to us and we took it the way it came to us and that’s how the entire structure came out to be the way it is today.

Astha: Right. So this game changing idea that we are talking about right now, who did you share it with for the first time? 

Nishita: I think for the first time. It maybe I don’t really remember clearly Mom and dad also with Mama (Uncle). And I think that that is where the initial actions happened, where mom and dad were obviously supportive, they were happy to know. They definitely gave us a green signal. They wanted us to go ahead. Mama gave us the critical side to be a thing where you kind of analyse the positive side and the negative and then build your conviction as to how it can actually suit us. So he gave us the market scenario, the possible radio, how things can change and how the market is in, what the target market tends to be, when we started up we were not really very clear on which is the target market for us? It could be anything.

So narrowing down to Evs was with all of these discussions helped us come down. So I think there were the first people we discussed with in the family, couple friends, discussions like and not like reviews from them, just letting them know that, you know, this is what we are now working on. That’s how, yeah.

Astha: There’s, like, nothing more important than having supportive people and, like, positivity around you. So I can really figure out it would have been not much of a battle for you anyway. But then there have to be some major challenges. And how did you guys overcome that? Like, what did you do to execute your plan? The idea was already formed in your mind. So how do you execute that?

Nishita: Oh, see. Yeah. Definitely one major thing of the entire structure of the execution of a plan that is already not taken ship. So in terms of challenges that we face, I think both me and her have different sets of challenges that we come across. While I would have had a challenge more specific towards the management side, Nikita can tell you about the technology side, challenges that we have to face. But I’ll go first. I’ll tell you a couple of management side challenges, probably come across maybe first, as in you start with the company.

With the company, you’re obviously analysing as to what exactly the structure the company is going to be, whether you wanted to just continue under no name, proprietorship partnership kind of thing, or you wanted more structured like a private limited company and stuff so that they are decision making points where you want to structure as how it has to be. Then we realise that for having a startup India, startup Odisha, and all those definitions, it has to be a private limited company or a direct entity kind of thing. So that’s where we move into doing private limited thing. Then eventually you have your documents and have to get in place. So when you’re looking for investments with investors and you want to grow so that’s more like a growth part of the company your investors have. So there are a lot of documents that they will need. So if it is not there from the first day itself, you would be in a fix when you have to publish those documents for them, for verification, for diligence, whatever. 

So the documentation is on major part that we have to look into everything that you do from the beginning. In wherever we are today, eventually documentation is not a smaller process like you’re building a small concept kind of structure that offers we documented any paper design, documented HR policy, SOPs is everything. Everything. Everything has to be documented. So those are a couple of challenges that I fear we come across and we built that for ourselves now, right now, that part is pretty strong. Everything is documented for us, and any paperwork, anything is all in place.

And that’s also one thing I talk to anybody, any sort of company. I tell this to them. First and foremost, you maintain your documentation, keep your paperwork very clear and the financials. So the next challenge would be the financials from the very beginning. If you’re a Private limited company, as a founder, you definitely have to take care of all the dates, all the deadlines, all the forms that you have to fill up with MCA, IOC guidelines, all the documents that have to be uploaded, your auditors, everything.

So all of this part is very important to any company that you start today. It might be small tomorrow. If you’re looking at growth, you have to take care of this line. So these are challenges which I thought on the management side are very core, and that’s maybe a part of the journey that we’ve covered so far. The technical side Nikita will tell you. 

Astha: Yeah.We’d love to listen from Nikita. What were the technical side challenges you guys had to overcome?

Nikita: Hi. First of all, good afternoon. And I’m too sorry for joining a little late. I was tied up with something. So technical side, it’s a conversation in which we discover these challenges with time. So it was not that when we decided we want to get into this, we were sure that there will be certain challenges that we would face. So I think the initial experiment that we did was very confident. And there was more multiple challenge, apart from the fact that it was a Pandemic, we were all locked in our homes, and we had to do it from our house.

So we have to look for things which were available at home at that point of time. And then we had to kind of assemble those components together and make our first battery cell. But Interestingly, we made our first battery cell in the lockdown during 2020, and we made it out of chickpeas and kidney beans because that was the most available protein source for us.And after that, we did realise that this cannot be a very home base production system.

You have to step out and you have to have labs and you have to work in a more professional, more commercialised way. So that’s where I think we were lucky that we got an entire lab support from KIIT and also this little bit of grants that we managed to get from the government of India under the Department of Science and Technology. So that facilitated a lot of this professional development of the sale. But eventually, when we started working on the technology side, we started also realising the fact that you need a lot of more elements.

We need a bigger team, obviously, because it was difficult to manage doing it with just two of us. There are stages two or three of us in the beginning. So that’s why I think we began working on structuring a team looking for different minds, different specialisations when we talk about engineering. So ideally, it sounds very convenient that if you’re an engineer, you can build anything. But every engineer has their own specialisation, and they are so different from the others that you cannot really have one person managing it all.

So we have to figure out what kinds of people we will need for better technology. And then we had to fit in the right people into the team. So these are huge challenges that we had to overcome on a daily basis. Apart from that, you are sourcing raw materials and working with occupants and machines, certain things that we deal with every day. So that just keeps going on and adding on eventually. And then we also overcome as and when we keep experimenting with it. 

Astha: Right. Okay. So now let’s talk about Nexus Power. What exactly your company is about and a few of them already know about it and the rest of them like, why don’t you give a broader idea about what exactly your company does?

Nikita: Well, I would say in one line, Nexus Power makes biodegradable electric vehicle batteries from crop residue. And that’s really something that I think everybody knows now. But to give it a broader perspective. We basically work on the chemistry of the battery cell and we are working on an innovation which is patent table technology, and we are not just assembling batteries and we are not just importing the technology. We are actually building it ourselves. We are doing the R&D behind the entire product and we are making it in India or the Indian audience on the global audience as well.

Astha: Correct. So as I said that you guys actually did a lot of work during the lockdown. How was the strategy to keep the balance between your cost, input and output? Like how did it influence the production and the finished goods?

Nishita: You know, lockdown anywhere was impacting a lot of things across the globe, specifically for people in the hardware segment. So when you’re into software or IT based thing, it’s still more convenient to kind of work from home and, you know, work on coding and all happens online. But somehow your hardware based structures, it may be anything. It was infrastructure, telecom, all of them are really affected.As far as Nexus goes, a lot of advancement for us happened in the lockdown no doubt, but that is more like a Homebase thing. 

So me and Nikita, we did it together in the house because we were together, was still convenient. But post that when you have to look at a structure where you have to be more synchronised with the team, you have to have more professional machines to build the same thing. That is where the lab was required and the lab access would have happened to us basically in another Institute where we were utilising the labs first. So that was one space where we really lacked time because we could not have access during the entire lockdown to a lab space.

We never had access to a lab. So during that space we could not really do physical R&D. What maximum we could do was any normal people getting up like any other person was being was get up on your laptop and theoretically look at how things can be building. But in terms of practical and research, it’s not very possible. I remember having online calls, these workshop tools with the team, and at one point discussing and discussing and discussing. So at one point the answer is very obvious that they spoke was isko karke dekhta padega! So that would obviously happen once the lockdown o\is over. So that kind of is a space where it does happen.

Astha: So you had to do it practically!.

Nishita: For us to build a battery, it has to be more practical. It cannot be very theoretical. Most of these, you could come very close to what you want, theoretically, but you have to do it practically to have the cell ready at the end of the day. It is a hardware. It is not a software which would be virtually built. So that was one during COVID, one major thing that I think we lost time on. Apart from that, we actually try to utilise that space in building our connection as a company as a brand.

So we build the structure of how Nexus is going to formulate and how the entire structure is going to be. The Nexus logo had to come in the entire structure, the vision, the mission, whatever we call it the branding side of the entire structure. So that is what we worked upon. Structurising each and every part of the company and at the same time also to prior research as much as possible. So that once we the lockdown kind of eases out, we have the access to the lab, you could immediately get into the labs and at least try out what we’ve been able to thetically hunt down for.

Astha: Yes. Correct. You just talked about the Nexus logo. Is there a specific idea behind the logo? Is a very pretty logo ofNexus Power that we already see.

Nishita: What we kind of really thought about the battery is the different connection of cells coming together. So that’s why Nexus as a brand name and the logo is like different connections of all directions. They come together to build one element. So that’s where you have the four different arrows coming out to make that one connection in front. If you notice three in green, one and a slight blue shade just to highlight, which is kind of a fast start charging enabling features. And if I think it’s like normally you use a blue or dark blue kind of shade where you talk about lightning and rain, so it is like a lightning fast charging stop. That thing comes together to make Nexus a character.

Astha: So now that we are already past, I can’t say past COVID, but probably a little bit past COVID. So how do you guys plan/ have strategies to commercialise your idea right now?

Nishita: We have fully our timelines that are very clearly drafted and structured. We would like to hopefully go on the timeline as far as possible. So in terms of our timelines, we are looking at a mass production stage somewhere around 2024, so that by then we have our entire structure recorded rate perfectly ready, like the final product, which one has to go into the market. And until then, so like you say, almost like two years before we go commercial. So in these two years, as we are looking at doing a lot of market trials where EV manufacturers across India and also do large scale paid pilots with them.

So our plan is to actually show the product to the company manufacturers and make sure that they understand the features and they understand how it is better than a lithium-ion battery, how it is cost-effective and how it could impact the performance of their vehicles and then eventually go commercial. And by the time we go commercial because we would have done market trials and paid pilots, we would definitely have contracts which could go ahead for long term sales. So that’s the plan for now in terms of our timelines and when you can actually see an excess in the market.

So our target market is a B2B market, business to business only for now. And we are targeting the EV manufacturers. So I believe the plan of starting off with market trials and then being paid pilots at a larger scale and then eventually go commercial is what definitely suits us the best.

Astha: Correct. That sounds like a plan. Yeah. Lastly, I’d like to ask you guys, what is your leadership mantra like that? You have achieved your level of success right now and knowing that there’s often a gender gap in your sector that you actually have, you know, especially when it comes to leadership. What are your thoughts on the leadership mantra that you follow?


Nishita: So as an entrepreneur, there is nothing like a typical mantra or there are no metrics that lets you keep pulling in people. It’s just that you get together every day and back yourself because there’s an entrepreneur, you have a sound space of ups and downs almost every day. So every day in entrepreneurs life would have a lot of ups and downs together. So it’s not about like one particular mantra, a magic, something that works. It’s just that you have to get up every morning, believe in your passion. Remember why you got into this entire space and just Keypoint and as far as how we, me and Nikita, complement each other and how it works with the team. So with the team, we are more like very approachable as people. So it’s not like you have a proper hierarchy that you have to maintain a proper code of conduct and stuff. For the initial, smaller teams, the RND teams, there’s nothing like a very huge CEO or term or something like that, we are very approachable. We discussed a lot in and out about technology, about other things. At the same time, I make sure that the code of conduct is never breached. So that’s how the structures for us work. And my motivation would always just be upping, that’s all. There’s a reason that you got into the space.

Nikita: So I was saying that for me. It has always been the fact that it’s important to have an emotional stand as an entrepreneur, as a founder for a startup because there are times when you actually expect something to happen and it doesn’t happen. And then there are times when you achieve too many things at once. So these highs and lows tend to deviate your focus in a particular journey. So I really believe that for an entrepreneur, it’s very important to be mostly very stable. You have to have a media graph of emotions all through your journey as a founder, and that really helps.

It helps tremendously well when it comes to looking at the operations and trying to focus on your work. So you don’t have to get to care about your achievements and don’t have to get too depressed about things that you lost. You just have to maintain your calm and be patient. And for severance is another key thing that I follow personally in the entire journey that I’ve had. But most importantly, yes, I would say it’s entrepreneurship is not just about having the right team or having a very innovative idea or maybe having enough funds to operate the business where it is more important to be very, very stable emotionally as founders.

Astha: Yeah. Correct. So I would like to end this on a very amazing and asking you one right question. I think that would be like your one advice for the generations to come. What would you actually suggest ? Looking at you, you are very conscious about the environment and everything else. So what would be your one advice?

Nishita: Well, my advice to all the young budding entrepreneurs or aspiring entrepreneurs that we say would be that it’s very important that you get into doing what you want to do, really want to do. If you want to be an entrepreneur, make sure that you actually want to be an entrepreneur. Not because you’re seeing your friends around into that space. And that’s very catchy and fascinating.

It’s very important that you understand why you’re an entrepreneur and why you want to be an entrepreneur. That’s one thing that I would analyse yourself, whether you would actually want to be one or you just ring it because it’s kind of a flat around you. First thing. Second, I would say as an entrepreneur once you’ve started off your journey as an entrepreneur and you’ve highlighted what area you want to work in, it’s very important. Like I mentioned, paperwork is very, very important. 

You got to make sure that, again depending on your scalability level, do you really want to scale or you want to be in a small SMB space, whatever your vision is, you got to have paperwork or documentation aligned to that. So if you’re looking at a growth perspective and all in operations kind of thing, something like a Paytm or maybe Zomato or thing like that, then you want to be sure that all paperwork is in place or documentation is in place, and that is not being messed up. In case if you mess up that somehow you will not be able to scale up the way you want to, because every step has to have proper backing. If one of them is hollow, you would maybe just fall down. So that’s how it is. And I think there will be two major things that I would say. And one of the most important, another advice that I would give is just that entrepreneurship is more like business and businesses technically supposed to be operations, revenue and profits. Right. So you got to go that way. I mean, for people who at times who want to get into entrepreneurship just because you can raise funds and you want to raise funds, and that’s how you scale up. That’s not how businesses happen. You got to be prepared for a model which is a non-funding model, which is a self sustainable model which is making money out of the profits or revenues of returning. Not just the fundraising. Fundraising is not like a milestone of your business. It’s more like a supporting space journey. So that’s more that I would maybe give out to people who want to lend entrepreneurship.

Astha: What about you, Nikita? 

Nikita: I have I guess again, two things to say. First, and most importantly, I believe it’s a very nice idea to go out and challenge yourself with different concepts that we have. I believe as children, we have a lot of ideas in school. We tend to work on a lot of innovative ideas. By the time we reached the phase of say our 20s, we kind of lose this attitude of experimenting with those ideas and trying to work on them. So I would say to people, you should try out and experiment with those ideas because only when you experiment, you will know whether it is successful or not or whether it can be something breakthrough in the market or not. So there is a very famous saying which is “A ship in the harbour is safe, but that is not what it is built for”. So keeping this in mind, it is important that people challenge themselves to challenge their limits and their ideas so that we can have a lot of innovation coming out of this part of the country. Second, as I mentioned earlier, it’s very important to be emotionally, very stable. So I think this is something that everybody should also keep a note of. But apart from everything that you do in the company, be very stable emotionally, as a founder, it really helps.

Astha: At the age where most of the youth try to figure out if they can put a +2 card over a +2 card in an UNO game, your success has been massive! I would like to congratulate both of you and want to thank you for sharing your inspiring story with us. It has been nothing but wonderful to have both of you on the show!

Nikita & Nishita: Thank you so much. It was a pleasure interacting with you.