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Believing in giving 100% to her work, Namita Banka of Banka BioLoo puts in all her effort to start the business of promoting and developing innovative environmental friendly products and services for human waste management system
Banka BioLoo Pvt Ltd is a proprietary firm started by Namita Banka in 2008, which she incorporated in 2012. A glance at the company’s website paints a frightening picture of India’s poor sanitation. It says, India accounts for 58% of the world’s population of open defecators. What a shame! Ms Banka is determined to change these numbers. A science graduate from Delhi University, with a post graduate degree in Metal Designing, she also worked at jewelry designing and manufacturing for eight years at Surat, in Gujarat. After working for eight years in this profession, she gained the skill to look at things very minutely. But jewelry design was not her destiny. The turning point came in her life when she shifted to Hyderabad and set up Banka BioLoo. Always interested in working for the environment, she participated in several voluntary activities. To follow her passion, she did a course in NGO Management in 2009. After completing her course, she was attracted to the concept of social entrepreneurship and decided to work towards betterment of the society and environment. Being a woman, she understood issues related to sanitation and that is when she chose to do something about this. She initially associated with the Indian Railways to understand where and why there is a need for improvement in sanitation. She started monitoring and attending to the schedules of maintaining toilets in railway coaches on a frequent basis. This sanitation systems, is to be installed at places where conventional toilets facility cannot be made available. Banka BioLoo built, promote, manufacture and supply ELOO – The BioDigester toilets. This helped Namita in improving the state of CDTS (controlled discharge toilet system) and also won supply and service contracts.
Indian Railways, Shapoorji Pallonji, L&T, Wockhardt Foundation, International Paper, AP Education & Welfare Infrastructure Development Corporation, are some of the important clients of Banka BioLoo. The company has won many awards, including the prestigious Sankalp 2013 Healthcare, Water and Sanitation Award. Unfortunately, like many women entrepreneurs and especially social entrepreneurs, she is unwilling to discuss financial numbers but her works is extremely valuable to society.
Read the excerpt of her interview with Hitisha Jain of Moneylife:
Hitisha Jain (ML): What is the Banka BioLoo?
Namita Banka (NB): Banka BioLoo provides environmentally friendly and sustainable solutions for sanitation. Sanitation facilities in India are alarmingly poor with over 600 million people having no access to toilets. People are forced to defecate in the open. This practice poses health hazards, raises environmental concerns and leads to water contamination. We not only provide a toilet but also the “on-site” waste treatment facility. This ensures that the household is not dependent on external infrastructure for waste transportation and treatment.
Banka BioLoo specialises in human waste management. It uses Bio-digester technology, which decomposes human waste. The technology used for this is licensed by Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO). The Bio-toilet system developed by Banka BioLoo treats waste generated in toilets. The treatment occurs in the bio-tanks beneath the toilets.
The tank is fitted with bio-digesters, which decomposes 99% of waste in short time compared with conventional toilets. We also work towards converting tradition septic tanks into bio-tanks. It has proved to become a cost effective toilet and sanitation facility. It lessens environmental degeneration and it also creates better health conditions.
BioLoo for villagers Source: Banka BioLoo
Banka BioLoo uses the bio-digester technology and its various applications to provide eco-friendly sanitation systems and solutions across India, and notably to the Indian Railways to transform the night soil laden rail tracks to waste matter free tracks. The company’s offerings include bio-toilets (or bioloos) for families, public and community bio-toilets and bio-toilets for schools and institutions, bio-tanks for Indian Railways, bio-digesters (the bacterial culture) and bio-tanks, and upgrade of septic tanks to bio-tanks. We also service bio-toilets, and have entered into annual maintenance and operations contracts with different Railway zones. We have a bio-tank manufacturing plant and a bio-digester inoculation facility.
ML: Given your academic background and work, what led you to start Banka Bioloo?
NB: I was aware of the difficult situation, more so that we women face in term of sanitation in the society. When I came in contact with the Railways and they offered to associate with me on improving toilet technologies in trains, I saw a strong opportunity, in terms of business and otherwise, to raise the sanitation standards. Later, I began using the same for society, at large.
ML: What is the secret to your ability to run a successful business?
NB: One has to keep the spirits high, have a strong grit and determination to fight the odds – I too did the same. Hurdles, institutional or cultural, came my way but I marched on, and there was family support, which helped. I talked, discussed and expressed – that’s how issues would get highlighted and officers had to listen to us, and help resolve them.
ML: What makes you enjoy your work daily?
NB: I won’t say I have some magic wand and there is some mystery that exhorts me to work everyday. I do my duties towards society as a citizen. Concern and care for the cause of sanitation and the environment drive me and my work. I feel privileged to have been associated with such enterprising team, which in its small way wants to clean-up.
ML: How did you grow as a team? What helps in pushing your business forward?
NB: From a three member team we grew to over 80 at the end of 2013. We seek to keep the momentum going, building up the business. With various segments in place, we are working to provide cost-effective sanitation solutions. We have participated in events such as the Sankalp summit, Action for India and others that has helped understand the entrepreneurial aspects better.
ML: Why is it important to encourage entrepreneurship in India, especially among women?
NB: Socio-economic development of India is entrepreneurs-driven. Small enterprises play a key role in the growth: create jobs, provide goods and services at reasonable costs. Women provide the much needed diversity of thought and a spectrum. The problems faced by womenfolk could be better understood by a woman and she’ll be in a stronger position to seek and provide solutions. Consider the case of sanitation; we women are more vulnerable and susceptible in the absence of toilet facilities compared to men, and who better than I can understand. Taking the example of entrepreneur – we undertook the servicing of specialised toilets (CDTS) in certain train segments in 2012. The audit report of Railways, later, noted that the toilet’s functioning was over 95% after we took over the service contract.
ML: What was the main source of finance for your organisation while setting up the business?
NB: Ours is a private enterprise. Finances have been pooled internally by promoters and families. This has been complemented by bank credit and private debt financing. The Ministry of Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) promotes women entrepreneurship by providing some benefits of loans. Exposure to education is one of the major opportunities for women
ML: What were the biggest challenges you faced as a woman entrepreneur?
NB: I, as a women entrepreneur, feel and have experienced that it is difficult for people to understand the seriousness of the whole business and we have to prove ourselves at every stage and bear with some of the toughest mindsets of people.
Technology can be an enabler but the grit to improve our ecosystem is something that keeps us on the toes. We see business as business, and if the same can provide benefits to the society and the environment, it gives us further sense of satisfaction.
My mother-in-law, a woman of substance in her own way, is my role model. She has been my motivator, supporter, visionary and above all pacifier.
ML: Last words for our women readers?
NB: Clear Vision, 100% dedication and commitment, No shortcuts, No expectation of extra benefit and complete patience to succeed.
Laxmi Lobo the founder of Spring Blossoms, a popular Mumbai-based flower retailer with an online presence that gives her a national footprint says, one has to take many risks to grow the business and succeed. In her case, the risks seem to have paid off well in her journey from Air India to the wholesale flower business to a well-established retail enterprise
After a long stint in Air India, Laxmi Lobo has had an eventful transition to the wholesale flower business and later to Spring Blossoms, a retailer, with a national footprint and strong corporate clientele. Spring Blossoms is able to deliver flowers to all major towns and cities and her corporate clients include HDFC Bank, Cox & Kings and ITC. She works with a small team of 10 and is determined to retain the personal touch, which ensures each floral bouquet or arrangement is unique and perfectly delivered. Laxmi, who has previously trained under Sogetsu school of Ikebana (School of Flower Arrangement in Tokyo) and apprenticed with a florist in Singapore acquired the skills to turn this shop into a full-fledged business with an annual turnover of Rs70-80 lakh.
Excerpts from an interview with Moneylife:
Moneylife (ML): Tell us about your journey to become an entrepreneur?
Laxmi Lobo (LL): I worked in the in-flight services of Air India and enjoyed it. But there were multiple reasons for leaving the aviation industry at the end of 1996. My daughter was five years old and I was keen on spending more time with her. Marriage was not life-changing for me, but having a baby was – I wanted to have flexi-time to be able to be around her. I thought of switching to a ground job in Air India so that I was not out town for 10 days at a stretch. Then an opportunity came along, which allowed me to start my wholesale business of selling export-rejected fresh roses in the local markets.
I weighed my options, Air India had started faltering badly by then, and there were talks of a merger with Indian Airlines, which even I knew would sound the death knell for us. I may have had to resign anyway, since Air India had a retirement age of 35 for women cabin crew in those days. Women cabin crew were discriminated against for a long time those days, so all in all I had made a good decision when I left.
ML: How and when did you transition from wholesale business in flowers to Spring Blossoms?
LL: The wholesaling of roses, in an unorganised flower market, was an eye-opener for a newbie like me, but I survived it and then went on to export too until that opportunity got stymied by horrible bureaucratic regulations. The timing of wholesale flower business was not feasible for a young mother and women entrepreneur. Mornings started at 3.30am and then again in the evening, flowers from various growers would arrive between 7:30pm to 10pm. It was really hard managing the time.
This gave me the idea to shift to a retail business as it had creative appeal and no time constraints. Initially I did weddings and events for corporates and also did two years of full time floral consultation for JW Marriott. But I wanted a steady business so started dreaming of a retail shop, especially after I had helped set up the floral shop at the Marriott.
I believed that good service and getting on to e-commerce in a booming economy of 2004 was a good opportunity. That is when I set up Spring Blossoms and I have never looked back or regretted it. But I do have doubts for the first time this year as our economy has hit a pause button!
ML: What were the main challenges while starting the business? How did you overcome them?
LL: The main challenge was staff training, customer service standards and capital costs.
I started training the ‘karigars’ myself after having learnt how to arrange and care for flowers in Singapore. Similarly, I would train my staff to accommodate customers’ needs and preferences and give proper service. I used to prepare pamphlets in regional languages and would make them read it and do mock selling sessions with them. Delivering fresh and unique floral arrangements is key to the business. There were also issues like not having a cold-chain in India for flowers, which exists all over the world.
ML: The online platform that you created -- I think that helped you to go national, didn’t it? When and how did you decide to set up the website and build a network of affiliates?
LL: I set up the website by the end of 2004, initially just for Mumbai deliveries. The affiliations came, when I travelled and met other flower shop-owners, especially those run by women. Telecommunication was improving and I thought I would be able to reach out to many more customers through the internet. It was an interesting journey and a very interesting learning curve. I still manage most of my online campaigns myself.
ML: I am sure there must be some nail-biting times that were a learning experience and some really satisfying ones too. Would you tell us about those?
LL: Indeed. One nail-biting episode was when an entire flower consignment of flowers got rejected by a Japanese buyer because of the lack of a proper cold chain in India. It is still the greatest impediment to the fresh flowers business. I lost out on this one.
Flowers typically need to "sleep" at 4°c so that they remain fresh till they are 'awakened by the florist'. That is the norm world over. Here, our flowers come for sale on the tops of public buses and in tempos with loaders sitting on them! Instead of awakening them, the florist has to "resuscitate" them! But seriously, half the shelf life of the flower is gone by then.
Another nail-biting moment was when I had to convince the bride, who felt that her gorgeous wedding plans were coming undone because of the colour of flowers dispatched by the foreign grower from Thailand. I managed to team those lovely white orchids we received (instead of the yellow that were ordered) with our local "gonda" or marigold into lovely cascading balls of flowers and the bride had her hallowed saffron colour. In the end, she was happier than before I think.
One of my worst moments was when I was quite categorically asked to partner with a local if I wanted to remain a wholesaler in the then specifically monopolised market.
ML: What drives you to work everyday?
LL: The passion of work and growth are my biggest motivations. Also, I love interaction with customers, be it online or offline customers, the corporates and individuals. They are my biggest supporters. Their support encourages me to keep moving ahead. After setting up an online presence to deliver flowers across the country, the challenge was to have affiliates who also ensured good designs, excellent quality and prompt service guarantee.
ML: Why is it important to encourage entrepreneurship in India, especially among women?
LL: Women need to be economically independent and flexi timing jobs are difficult to come by in our economy. So entrepreneurship, where a woman chooses her work hours and how much work she wishes to do, is the real way forward.
ML: What were the biggest challenges you faced as a woman entrepreneur?
LL: As mentioned before, timing was a big challenge in my line of business. Other than that I face the usual army of tax officers that are not specific to women, but to general small entrepreneurs. It is a great cost to maintain so many consultants to resolve tax issues that constantly crop up due to harassment from all government agencies.
ML: What are the best ways to connect in your industry?
LL: My Industry is non-organised, so the best way to meet is through social networking and we organise our own small conferences.
ML: What internet apps and tools do you use to run your business efficiently?
LL: Google apps are really my secret weapon, I adapted to Google for the business as soon as I opened my website. I use Google ad words and manage almost all connections through Google and Android tools.
ML: What plans do you have for the future for your company?
LL: My business is well established, so I look for ways to innovate and increase growth through different additions. My real future plan is to have a training center. I have an optimal run of my business, as I want to maintain the personal and creative touch for the client to have a great experience at Spring Blossoms. I do not want to be a faceless corporate. I am a “Click and mortar Biz” and plan to stay that way. Although my business has always been self-financed, I am happy that the government has now started a women’s bank, which I shall approach for a loan for the expansion.
ML: What are the major opportunities for women to start their businesses?
LL: There are plenty of opportunities but less encouragement from the government. I feel it should give added incentives to women entrepreneurs, as we always manage two businesses, viz. the household and the company.
ML: Who is your role model?
LL: My mother is my role model, she never gave up working and she gave us a warm house.
ML: What are your tips for women entrepreneurs trying to make it in a competitive world?
LL: The three most important things are to have immense passion for what you are doing, have faith in yourself and to remain strong. The path will not always be smooth, but do not give up. Understand or make an effort to study accounting and budgeting before you start any entrepreneurship. One cannot be penny wise and pound foolish to run a business. Proper budgeting is most important for any business to be successful and run with a decent profit margin. I feel most entrepreneurs make a mistake here; they have grand plans, which do not always succeed as the market varies constantly. If you have pulled on too much liability, be sure it will pull you down too.
Most speakers at Moneylife Foundation events love the bright bouquet of fresh yellow flowers and roses that has become a part of our events. The flowers come from Spring Blossoms, founded by Laxmi Lobo in March 2004 at Dadar. She has been donating one bouquet every month to Moneylife Foundation for a long time!
Geodesic has defaulted in repaying its FCCB holders and loans to financial institutions. Sebi, which is trying to continuously make corporate governance norms tougher, is asleep as usual
Geodesic Ltd, the sham internet software and service provider has run up more than Rs1,200 crore of liabilities and defaulted on payment of its Foreign Currency Convertible Bonds (FCCB) and loans. During the June 2013, all the independent directors resigned from the post of directorship and till now the company has not appointed any independent directors on its board, offending the clause 49 of the Listing Agreement. Moreover, its accounting is a mess. Geodesic submitted its year ended June 2013 results, revised year ended June 2012 results with its September and December quarter standalone results to the exchanges altogether on 15 February 2014. This is a scam of large proportions with accounts fudging, siphoning of money and possible hawala transactions involved. And yet, no regulator - the stock exchanges, the ministry of corporate affairs and Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) and Reserve Bank of India (RBI) is bothered.
Moneylife reader and investor, Krishna Raj has filed two complaints with Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) about non-disclosure of its financial results and subsidiary accounts along with non-disclosure of material information on FCCB repayment. SEBI failed to give him satisfactory reply and said that, company is taking necessary steps regarding FCCB repayment issues and company in its annual report 2011-2012 has stated that Ministry of Corporate Affairs (MCA) has granted general exemption to attach various documents in respect of subsidiaries as per section 212(8) of The Companies Act, 1956. Hence the subsidiary companies account is not attached with balance sheet. Investor may ask the company for the full annual report.
Geodesic had raised funds through FCCB during the year 2008, which was due for repayment in January 2013. However the company has not been able to discharge this liability. The FCCB holders through their Trustees; Citibank London, filed a winding up petition against the company for defaulting on the dues. Recently during February 2014, the London Court has given a summary judgment and directed Geodesic to pay Citibank, a sum of US$157 million and US$14.88 million in respect of unpaid default interest upto 07 February 2014. It includes penalty of US$39,266 per day of default interest from 08 February 2014 to the date of payment. It also ordered that the company would also have to pay the cost £1,22,500 of the proceedings excluding Value Added tax (VAT).
The MCA website index of charges shows ICICI bank have Rs130 crore, while Axis Bank have Rs25 crore of charge amount secured against Geodesic. The company has defaulted in repayment of loans to banks to the tune of Rs80.05 crore during the year and some have filed winding up petitions against the company. Barclays and Standard Charted demanded financial charges of Rs35.28 crores towards interest and loss on hedging contracts on a conservative basis. However, company has made counterclaims against both the above banks for excess charges on hedging contracts of Rs93 crore. The company has also disputed amounts claimed by ICICI Bank and HDFC Bank against the hedging contracts.
Geodesic has delayed submitting its year ended June quarter as well as September and December quarter results with the exchanges. During December quarter, company in its regulatory filing said, “The delay in announcing the audited annual results was due to the company’s sales and purchase registers being taken in custody by regulatory authorities in India for inspection. However, these books have been returned to the company during September and October 2013.” Geodesic said it is expected to announce its results by 9 January 2014 which it announced a month later on 15 February 2014. It further mentions that, “The audit and recasting of accounts of the company and foreign subsidiary took a longer time than anticipated because of the cross border regulations and accounting guidelines.”
The Geodesic has done ‘sales returns’ in its accounts and make many other changes in its balance sheet and published revised year ending June 2012 results. The company said in its regulatory filing, “In April 2011, the company has developed a new version of one of their product using current technologies and coding languages with additional features to keep up with the latest changes in technology but the revised version developed certain problems with all the customers. Hence, the company restored the earlier version of the product temporarily so that the business loss to the customers was minimized. However, in spite of all its efforts the company was unable to offer a permanent solution to the problems faced by the customers. In July 2013, the company agreed to reverse all sales made to the customers of the said product from April 2011 to avoid further legal action from the customers. This has been booked as ‘sales returns’ in the respective years in which the sales had taken place. An appropriate part thereof was reversed in the revised accounts for the financial Year ended June 30, 2012 and the balance impact of the said sales returns on the financials for July 2012 to June 2013.”
Geodesic results announcement said that it is facing difficulty in arranging working capital finances, delay in receivables as well as higher debts. During its December 2013 quarter, its net loss increased to Rs37.58 crore from net loss of Rs18.96 crore while its sales stood at Rs8.13 crore compared with Rs100.42 crore a year ago period. In its year ended June 2013, it made net loss of Rs43.13 crore despite sales of Rs172.77 crore. Geodesic share was trading around Rs100 on BSE, during January 2011, which is now trading near Rs3. Its share prices plunged 77% in last one year from Rs12.85 to Rs3.05 as on 25 February 2014.
Mr Krishnaraj alleged, “Lack of enforcement of timely disclosures of material events cripples investor interest, not to mention losses. A foreign investor when asked to consider investing in India told me, what has your regulator done to stop another Satyam? SEBI just needs to look around the level of regulation that even much smaller exchanges like Stock Exchange of Thailand (SET) enforce, to know where we stand.” Moneylife has reported numerous cases of price rigging and accounting shenanigans but the SEBI sees no evil, hears no evil.