Innovator in green products

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Mayuri Bhate co-founder Ecotopia, is full of green business ideas. Her unit in Kakoda industrial estate makes products that are environment friendly, elegant and affordable to the consumer, finds out Shoma Patnaik

Located in Kakoda industrial estate Ecotopia is all about being in harmony with nature. The unit manufactures products that are biodegradable and made out of agro-waste. Its flagship product presently is charcoal briquettes that are used to fire up tandoors and as fuel.

  Unlike regular charcoal made from wood, Ecotopia’s eco-friendly charcoal is made out of coconut shell. They are in different shapes, easy to use, less dusty and can be recycled as compost.

Mayuri Bhate who co-founded the startup with her brother Mandar Bhate, says that, the charcoal briquettes have found acceptance in the market. It is presently being retailed in easy-to-carry boxes. The marketing is out of 10-15 supermarkets in the state, including Delfinos, Magsons and Oscar Supermarket as well as online on Amazon. 

“Local restaurants are also buyers of my briquettes,” she says, adding that, the unit also makes another product of a similar kind- cube-shaped lighter’s made out of wood-wax. 

“The lighter cubes are bio-fuel and help to ignite the charcoal. Wood wax catches fire quickly though it is not a hazardous product.  It is a substitute for kerosene and other chemical-based inflammable products. The lighter cubes are best for barbeques,” explains Bhate.

She adds that, the unit’s focus is on utilizing waste. “Our products are based on agro-waste. We do not want to manufacture products using resources or by cutting down trees and damaging Mother Nature. For us the raw material must not only be natural it must also be waste,” she says.

Bhate is a civil engineer who did her BTech from Government College of Engineering, Karad, Maharashtra, and then followed it up with an MTech from NIT, Calicut.

Taking the campus placement route offered to students, she landed a job with L&T where she worked for about three years before quitting the company to join the Lodha group, a real estate developer and construction company. She worked as an associate manager with the Lodha group for a while before ultimately deciding to leave the corporate world and start something of her own.

“I enjoyed my job but I always felt that something was missing. While in service I wanted to do something. After quitting my job I came down to Goa to live with my parents. For some time I was still unsure about what I should do. Whether I should start something of my own or take up another job? Eventually I decided to start a business,” she says

Bhate decided to build her business around environment friendly products. “In 2017 there was a serious move by the Goa government to make the state plastic free by banning the use of one-time plastic products like plastic bags, glasses, etc. I found out that, a major portion of the plastic waste was disposable plates and bags. So I decided to look into options to substitute plastic.”

She discloses that, Ecotopia was established in 2019, with the unit’s first product being areca nut plates and spoons.   To learn to make the areca nut plates, she visited Karnataka, Tamil Nadu where similar units are located.  The machines were designed by her and the raw material sourced from Karnataka.

Getting areca nut leaf to make the plates was a major issue because of which the unit tied up with self-help groups around Valpoi and an NGO to coordinate the work.

“Our unit presently has two verticals- tableware and bio-fuel. Our next product will be in the tableware vertical. We are in the process of designing eco friendly tea-cups made out of rice husk. The process is still not finalized. The tea-cups have to address the issues existing in non-plastic teacups made out of paper, etc. They need to be sturdy and not too hot to hold, among others. We also want out teacups to work
as planters after use.” 

Bhate points out that, her brother Mandar, a mechanical engineer, heads the sales and marketing functions while her father, Ravindra Bhate, looks after the maintenance of the machinery. The unit is located in the factory premises of her father who runs a fabrication plant in Kakoda industrial estate. It gives direct employment to about 10
workers as of now.

Looking at the future, Bhate says that, she envisages a situation where Ecotopia products are available pan-India and the brand is sold in supermarkets across the country. Plans are also to tap the export market and develop new products to add to the existing product line.

“All our products will have the same principle of creating something from natural waste. The products will always be organic,” says Bhate.

lady explains that, with people becoming environment conscious and the government keen to support them, the market for eco-friendly products is in great shape. “Everybody wants development but with less damage to the environment. Consumers are conscious of businesses modeled on sustainability.”

Ecotopia was started with funds raised from Mudra loan availed from Bank of Baroda, reveals Bhate. She says that, it was difficult to start the unit without any financial backup and also give up her job was a major decision since it was well-paying. 

“The corporate treadmill is always running and you don’t know where you are reaching. When I finally decided to quit my job I did not miss the salary as much I thought I would as I was happy with what I was doing. Initially we started with making several products but later we decided to cut down the range and focus on fewer products with an emphasis of quality,” says Bhate.

All of Ecotopia’s product range are functional and
yet elegant.