Passion Vs Pandemic: Ashoka alumnus’ tale of triumphing during COVID times
Kunal Garg, a Young India Fellow, batch of 2018, built Virowave, a UV sterilisation device to disinfect all product surfaces by killing 99.99% of bacteria and viruses, including the coronavirus
Deepak Vamsi Rajavarapu15 February, 2021 | 10 min read
With the rolling out of COVID-19 vaccine, the country is now slowly moving back to normal. However, it wasn’t the case a few months ago. India was one of the worst-hit countries in the world. However, like every problem is an opportunity to explore new possibility, Kunal Garg, a Young India Fellow introduced a unique innovation – Virowave!
Virowave is a UV sterilisation device built under the aegis of Emuron which was founded in 2018 by Kunal alongwith his friend and business partner Vibhore Garg. Emuron is a product and services company providing Internet of Things (IoT) solutions for Industry 4.0 and electric mobility.
Kunal has always liked the idea and philosophy behind building great products.
He said, “Having worked in both startups and corporate, I realised that my inclination was more towards the culture fostered by startups. This led me to a quest for exploration, and I dabbled around various ideas from tech to fashion and realised that I had a knack for technology. At the time, I got good hands-on building products and after a few attempts on my own, I approached my distant relative Vibhore, who had 20 years of experience in both technology and management. He was also looking to start a new business, and together we started Emuron in 2018 with a simple proposition of building tech products.”
Slowly they started approaching major manufacturing companies to know more about their challenges, and after a pursuit of almost 6 months, they bagged their first project with Whirlpool to deploy technologies to increase efficiency in resolving shop-floor issues. The project led them to understand the nature of the manufacturing business, and with time they built an Industry 4.0 platform that helps in the digital transformation of manufacturing plants.
Kunal continued, “After gaining some initial momentum, we also started looking out for other avenues that are going to be a market disrupter in the upcoming years. One such field was electric mobility, which I believe is still where e-commerce was pre-Flipkart. We envision providing a suite of products that helps faster adoption of electric mobility. We knew that electric mobility is more of a hardware game and is a very asset-heavy business. We pitched this idea to Rupali and Vedant, who themselves were looking to venture into the space. They liked our idea and came on-board as full-time Director and Co-founder.” They brought with themselves manufacturing expertise in power systems and seed funding to fund our new initiative.
But during this time, Covid-19 happened. From the very onset of the pandemic, we knew that it was going to be a long haul, and we were up for a financial crisis as our clients would like to cut their costs and put our projects on-hold.” They needed a new strategy that could help them stay afloat during the crisis and this led to Virowave.
But what makes it more interesting is, Kunal is a first-generation entrepreneur!
He said, “Being a first-generation entrepreneur has its challenges. First of all, it was hard to convince my family to leave a lucrative corporate job to start on my own. Initially it was difficult but I found some good mentors along the way. I think it was just my passion for startups that got me started more than anything else.“
Kunal breaks down Virowave for the readers.
Virowave is a disinfecting chamber that looks exactly like a microwave but its goal is to kill 99.99% of bacteria and viruses, including the coronavirus from the surface of everyday objects. It can sanitise groceries, mobile phones, cash, masks, files – basically anything that fits inside, within minutes. The product is microbiologically tested for various families of bacteria and viruses. It comes in 5 variants – 28-litre, 54-litre, 180-litre, 330-litre and a UV Tower. The bigger capacity models are being used in malls, industries, and offices to sanitise clothes, food, delivery packages, files, etc. Currently, they are majorly exporting the product to Middle-East and South East Asia.
Consumer electronics is an industry where product designing and manufacturing are still run in traditional ways and not much digitisation and automation is in place. This combined with a strict lockdown made it exponentially more difficult for them in terms of coordinating the supply chain, building prototypes, and then testing. They took special permissions from the District Magistrate to keep operating. Despite the extreme conditions, they were able to bring the product from concept to the market within merely two months.
“I guess my passion to build products that create value for customers is something that drives me the most but I did have a fair share of challenges. I found meditation and being in the moment to handle one day at a time to be most helpful during these times.”
Kunal Garg is an alumni of the Young India Fellowship. After the Fellowship, he was also a part of the Centre for Entrepreneurship’s (CFE) Entrepreneurship in Residence (EiR) programme. Talking about the role Ashoka and CFE had played in his journey, he said, “Ashoka has an immense role in the journey. I think if it wouldn’t have been Ashoka, then I couldn’t have mustered up the courage to start.
The Fellowship gave me confidence, a wide perspective, and the most important skill of critical thinking that plays a key role in my day to day work. It taught me how to deal with my not knowing than anything that I know. I still remember a quote from the Visiting Professor Kenwyn K. Smith – ‘You have enough skills to go out and make a difference in this world.’ And of course, I made some great friends who have stood by me during all the difficulties. The EiR programme from CFE helped me connect with some great mentors and manage my finances during the initial days.”
It is never easy to start. There will always be challenges waiting your way. Sometimes you succeed and sometimes you fail. All you need is that passion to start and an idea you believe in.
Kunal’s journey is an example for all the budding entrepreneurs who are passionate about starting their own. Since his college days he worked on a lot of ideas, faced a lot of challenges, and failures. But giving up was never an option.
“Starting up is not a sprint, it is a marathon. As long as we are learning something new and creating value, everything is going to be fine.”