In India, few people take their garbage to the dumping bin. Fewer people believe in the concept of recycling. And no, this has nothing to do with the waste that you are thinking of! Infact, it is something that you would not call waste at all. Your old laptops, mobile phones and the rest comprise electronic waste that has run its due course and now sits idle on your shelf. No wonder, the Gupta brothers, Nitin and Rohan – sensed a business opportunity here. Attero Recycling was born in 2007 to provide a viable, yet, environmentally conscious solution to problem of disposing electronic waste (e-waste).
From an investor’s perspective, Dr. Kumar Shiralagi of NEA-IndoUS Ventures says: “Close to 1.5 lakh tonnes to 3 lakh tonnes of e-waste is being produced in India. And Attero has the ability to tap this growing market of accumulated e-waste.” When Shiralagi met the Gupta brothers they had only an excel sheet explaining their idea. “We had to bet on the markets, the people and their ability to transform an excel sheet into reality,” says Shiralagi.
It all began when Rohan wanted to dispose his old laptop and the dealers were unable to convince him about what happens to his old laptop. “I was curious to know more about the process of dealing with e-waste and called Nitin who was in the U.S. at that time. Together, we hit upon the idea of establishing an e-waste recyling facility in India which would not only help the environment but make business sense,” says Rohan, chief operating officer.
Talking about the process, Rohan says, “In the informal sector, improper methods such as open burning or acid ripping are used to separate the metals. We are extremely aware of the damage this causes to the land and water stream and look to be socially responsible in our methods,” adds Rohan. Attero set up an end-to-end integrated ‘e-cycling’ plant in Roorke that uses a metallurgical process to separate each metal from an electronic device. This plant spreads over one lakh square feet and processes WEEE (waste electrical and electronic equipment). Attero is registered with the Central Pollution Control Board, Ministry of Environment & Forests, Government of India and has also received an ISO 4001 certification. They conduct regular audits to ensure compliance with the Health Environment and Safety standards. These procedures are only a start to ensure that Attero’s vision of e-cycling in the cleanest possible manner is not compromised.
Finding their feet
Attero’s revenue model is sustained by the sale of each separated metal in the commodity markets. When asked if collection of e-waste from companies was a part of their paid services, Rohan answers in the negative. “In fact, there are times when we have had to pay certain companies to collect their e-waste,” he says. While the initial responses were slow as people remained largely unaware of this novel concept, Rohan is hopeful of breaking-even by the beginning of the next fiscal year. In this age of frequent data breaches, Attero assures data security by certifying the e-waste collected to be ‘clean’ from a data stand-point before the metal separation process takes place.
It is evident that the care taken by Attero to protect the interests of the environment and corporate India has changed the way many companies view waste. They have tie-ups with a range of companies cutting across multiple industries such as LG Electronics, GE Thermometrics India, Perot Systems, Pepsi, Wipro, The Leela, Visa India, Euronet Services India among others.
As is the case with all start-up ventures, the team at Attero faced its own set of challenges. “At every stage, there was a new challenge. It took us between six to eight months to identify the right investors. In the mechanical sections, even though we imported our technology from the U.S., setting it up in India was a hard task,” says Rohan. Clearly, the duo’s motivation to succeed struck a chord with venture capitalist firms, NEA-IndoUS Ventures and Draper Fisher Jurvetson of the U.S. They were successful in getting a series of funding worth $6.3 million (approximately Rs. 29 crore) from both these firms.
From an investor’s perspective, Dr. Kumar Shiralagi of NEA-IndoUS Ventures says: “Close to 1.5 lakh tonnes to 3 lakh tonnes of e-waste is being produced in India. And Attero has the ability to tap this growing market of accumulated e-waste.” When Shiralagi met the Gupta brothers they had only an Excel sheet explaining their idea. “We had to bet on the markets, the people and their ability to transform an Excel sheet into reality,” says Shiralagi. Given the novelty of this initiative, it took the investors longer than the average time of six months to see if Attero made their cut. When Shiralagi and his team were certain of Attero’s business potential, they toured e-waste facilities across the globe to get more comfortable with the concept and judge for themselves how it could be adapted to the Indian scenario.
The lack of awareness on e-waste disposal systems is something the company has to address. “Some companies that produce a lot of e-waste export it. They are conscious but they are yet to believe that there is a player in India who is willing to perform the same task. We are taking convincing business proposals to them to change their minds,” adds Shiralagi. He is of the opinion that when government regulations are in place, several companies will have no choice but to come around.
Despite the lack of regulatory bodies to support their cause, Shiralagi regards Attero as a venture that is ahead of its time in the Indian market. “In India, this industry is in its infancy. We have made a bet on the timing and when the market picks up, Attero will be in a position to accept lot of e-waste.” Attero has already invested in research and development that will aid them in making future breakthroughs in the process of e-cycling.
Fielding the right team
While the investors fell in place, Rohan admits that it was an uphill task to recruit the right team at Attero. “When you have just started out, it is tough to convince the right people that you are the right company,” he says. He also states that each of the employees at Attero were hand-picked by the duo and were chosen for showing great inclination towards making this venture successful. While processes are clearly established at Attero, the organizational hierarchy remains flat. Attero’s belief system is wholeheartedly shared by its workforce as each employee strives to be environmentally sensitised, even at home.
Attero is surely an example of how finding the right solution to a need can hold massive potential. And Attero, with its early entry advantage in the e-waste disposal industry, is only all set to capitalise on this market potential which it yet to unleash.