With the world battling one of the worst pandemics in history, we are bracing ourselves against another disaster if we don’t curb our reckless practices of exhausting and exploiting our resources. Energy is one of the lifelines, and we are working towards renewable and efficient usage methods, and transport is an arena where a considerable fraction of our energy resources are spent.
Transforming that sector with innovation and cutting edge technology is an entrepreneur, contributing to the mission of a better and cleaner planet. Trained by one of the finest technical institutes in the country, IIT Madras, and the world-renowned business school, INSEAD, he is on his journey of transforming the sector of water transport with his brainchild NavAlt, which focuses on eco-friendly zero-emission watercraft. In conversation with Sandith Thandasherry on his entrepreneurial journey.
Brief us about yourself, your previous jobs/ventures. What were you doing before this startup?
I completed my Bachelor of Technology in Naval Architecture from IIT Madras and an MBA in General Management from INSEAD, France. I started my career as a Naval Architect with Alcock Ashdown. I worked in a shipyard in Gujarat for two years, after which I went to South Korea and worked in various shipyards in the country. From South Korea, I gained experience in the shipbuilding industry.
After completing my MBA, I started my entrepreneurial journey with Navgathi, my first company to provide design and consultancy services to the Shipping Industry.
Could you tell us the story behind NavAlt? What motivated you to start it?
In 2010, Navgathi constructed the first solar boat, a ten-seater boat listed in Limca Book of Records as India’s fastest solar boat.
But soon, we realized that the most commercially viable sector is large passenger water transport boats. With the vision is to make marine transport more efficient and sustainable, it was decided to form a new company NavAlt which focuses on eco-friendly zero-emission watercraft.
Brief us about a few products and services that you deliver.
We aim to create a cleaner and commercially viable water transport system. In the current scenario, the conventional passenger boats powered by diesel engines cause air and water pollution.
NavAlt offers solar-powered electric boats that do not have any of these problems. Our ships are entirely eco-friendly with no fuel on board.
How do you ensure the quality of your products?
We ensure that each watercraft undergo through our state of the art built-in safety measures. Our boats are designed as a catamaran which provides more safety and stability. Our solar passenger ferries have classification society approval in all stages of design and construction. All Lifesaving and firefighting appliances are checked for quality and ability to handle emergency scenarios. All our boats are equipped with Efficient marine-grade lithium-iron-phosphate batteries, which are safer and more stable battery chemistry. Industry 4.0 features like remote monitoring and dashboard monitoring ensure safety.
Where is your venture based? Why did you choose the place?
NavAlt is headquartered in Kochi. The city was selected due to its strategic importance in the marine industry. Moreover, the Government is providing good support to startup infrastructure.
What were the challenges you faced in setting up your venture? Has it gotten easier over the years?
Initial days were not a smooth sail for NavAlt. There were naysayers from various quarters saying the idea of solar boats would fail given the conditions here. After the successful launch and operations of Aditya, the scenario had changed. Now all states where water transportation is prominent are planning to replicate the Aditya model.
Could you tell us about a few milestones you have crossed over the years with your venture?
Built by NavAlt, Aditya is selected as the Gustave Trouve Award winner for the “World’s Best Electric Ferry.” Solar Impulse Foundation also chooses NavAlt solar boats as technology innovation designed to combat climate change in a financially profitable way. Our solution will be presented at the upcoming COP26 Climate Summit in November 2021 in Glasgow.
We are also working on some prestigious projects in the Indian maritime sector. India’s first solar fishing boat and India’s fastest solar boat for the Ministry of defense are under construction. There are six solar boats of 75 and 100 passenger capacity on the anvil.
Who are your competitions and how are you better than them? What are your unique selling points?
Our competitors are conventional boats which are fuel guzzlers. Our solution, solar ferry, does not have any pollution problems (air or water), it has low noise and vibration and no smell of diesel. Most importantly, the daily operating cost is 1/40 of diesel ferry.
Have you raised funding? Could you brief us about it?
We have raised 1 million through our friends and families and planning to raise another 5 million by the end of the year.
Tell us about your team.
When we built the small cruise boats and realized the immense opportunity in ferry transportation, we looked for partners. Coincidentally Alt.En, one of France’s largest solar boat manufacturers, was also looking for a partner in India. So they reached us through email and later discussed the possibilities of forming a company. Thus in 2013, NavAlt was formed under the partnership of Navgathi & Alt. En
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