Drop by drop: Anu Sridharan’s big leap in solving Hubli’s water crisis
Her whole life has been somehow connected to water. The idea was born when Anu and her friend Emily came to India for a research project on water and realised they are spending a whole lot of time waiting for water to come as part of everyday lives. Sridharan wanted to get to the heart of the issue and hence decided to take the entrepreneurial route to building a real effort towards water conservation and usage. She moved to Hubli in 2010 to pilot, and officially launched, Nextdrop.
Sridharan came up with a solution of improving water utility services for local populations and is already serving more than 75,000 people around Hubli-Dharwad locality in Karnataka. Her next stop is Bangalore.
Today, more than 5000 people pay her startup NextDrop ten rupees every month to get a text message delivered to their phone. For them, the text message is crucial as it alerts them when water begins to flow from the municipal water tap nearby, and allows them to make use of that information to store and get water.
She talked with Ria Das about the NextDrop system works and how it’s helping subscribers about receiving water.
Water solving project is a space that promises to have huge potential…share your story. Also tell us a little bit about the challenges you faced.
Actually Next Drop wasn’t my idea; it all began as a college project, one of my friend Emily Kumpel and I were doing our PhD at the University of California, Berkeley. Where my Master’s research was focused on the optimization of piped networked systems in developing economies and Emily’s was in Hubli as part of her research project, who needed frequent water samples to test its quality, found herself waiting for hours without a clue as to when the public water tap would start working. She took the problem back to the class in Berkeley where other co-founders and I came up with a mobile based solution. Soon we conducted a pilot project which won a prize from the Knight Foundation and during a summer vacation, I was free so I applauded ‘Hey, shouldn’t we solve this water problem once and for all?’. And the rest is history. Then, after 4 years later Nextdrop was born.
Tell us about Next Drop. The story, the projects, the impact.
NextDrop began by tackling the problem of erratic water supply – in most of urban India, water is available only a few hours at a time or a few times a week, but residents have no way of knowing when. NextDrop works as an updater, basically collects water data and it gives it to the citizen. It also generates complaints of how bad water supply in the city. Working with operators in the field, NextDrop sends text messages 60 minutes before water arrives in your tap, while also offering utility boards the tools to better manage and track leakages in water supply.
What were the challenges you faced during starting-up NextDrop?
Well, like everyone who have dreamt to startup something have definitely faced challenges like funds, resources, transportation etc. I’m not an exception. Being an entrepreneur at this age was a huge challenge although.
In the beginning, what or who motivated you the most?
Research says over 90% of South Asian families including Hubli in Karnataka, face irregular piped water supply and water comes once every five days and also not on schedule. People there either spend hours waiting for water, or a huge amount of water gets waste through unattended pipes left open. So, solving that problem was a huge motivation for me.
Before, my family was being little skeptical (laughs), but now they are huge supporters of what I do daily.
What do you think about the digital boom in India?
Oh it’s spectacular and huge technology transformation. The way technology in India has emerged over last few years, is undoubtedly fascinating. I don’t think I could have done something with NextDrop in a huge space without technology. When I started first, I was immature about all these things, so I researched online, read books online. So, it has so much knowledge to give that I’m enabling myself to learning every day.
What do you think the particular strengths women can bring in work place that perhaps men lack?
I think every person sees the world differently, but a woman’s angle is totally unique. How a woman can empathize of digging knowledge, brings up a company like her own children and it’s all about personal touch.
I don’t think I could have done something with NextDrop in a huge space without technology.
What do you consider to be your greatest achievement so far?
We have two upcoming pilot projects in Bangalore. It is so exciting (laughs)!
What is your success mantra?
When you just keep going towards your dream, automatically you’ll have your success. A day starts with paying off and giving back what you have taken earlier.
What’s Next Drop’s future? How are your goals shaping up?
Nextdrop also has a contract to monitor reservoir levels in Hubli in real time. When a particular tank is short of water, the municipality is alerted and water from another tank can be pumped in so that it doesn’t affect consumers relying on water from that particular tank. So, when this problem won’t be there anymore, I’ll take rest.
The power of digital is so strong that it as helps equalise opportunities. According to you how does Digital India empower women?
With the hand of technology of course. You move when technology shows you the path of how to move forward. With technology world is definitely a better place.
Successful stories can be a big inspiration for those on the road to rise. One message for all young entrepreneurs…
I think believe in yourself, you’re going to pay off but the whole point of failure is that you have to pack up again. You just have to keep going.