COVID Case Studies: Ecoorb Ventures focuses on R&D for new verticals

1 September 2020 - Rachana Khatri

By Rachana Khatri

“Get things done no matter the circumstances”, says, Sunny Rajopadhyaya, Co-founder of Ecoorb Ventures

Ecoorb Ventures is a truly visionary startup from our Year 2 cohort of the I-Cube business incubation program. Starting off just as an initiative in late 2018, it has now grown to become a registered enterprise with 6 team members including founders, Sunny Rajopadhyaya and Jonej Shakya. “I saw huge piles of elephant dung waste all over the road and parks and residential areas and everywhere in Chitwan! It was a huge problem for the locals, the tourists and a burden for the environment. I thought of creating something out of this waste and started ‘Ecoorb Initiative’ where I started making paper out of elephant dung. But after I got enrolled into Nepal Communitere’s I-Cube Program in 2019, my small initiative finally took shape and turned into a registered and fully functioning business-Ecoorb Ventures. Today Ecoorb Ventures is a social enterprise that aims to provide sustainable alternatives and pre-cycling solutions to lead to zero-waste in Nepal.” 

Products made from quality elephant dung paper

Through ongoing market research, product design, development and testing at Nepal Communitere, Sunny and Jonej found ways to create a quality paper which can be used instead of ‘normal paper’ which is a major cause of deforestation. With this unique value proposition, Ecoorb started receiving bulk orders for paper however their production capacity was too small and needed financing. With coaching and mentoring through the I-Cube program and multiple investor meetups, Ecoorb Ventures raised seed investment of Rs 6 lakhs from a pool of 7 investors on demo day in January 2020. All of this he accomplished within ONE year! However as the COVID pandemic has made large as well as small businesses kneel down in the market since early 2020, we wanted to know how this pandemic has affected Ecoorb. I sat down with Sunny this month to find out how he’s tackling this difficult moment and what keeps his team across Kathmandu and Chitwan moving forward!

How has this pandemic affected Ecoorb specifically?

This pandemic actually had a huge effect on us because we couldn’t travel. Our manufacturing plant and production team is located in Chitwan from where we bring our paper pulp to deliver orders in Kathmandu. Even if we receive orders, our operations have come to almost half because we aren’t able to travel to Sauraha because of COVID and our sales have decreased. Also, we weren’t able to use our funds to buy our desired machines for manufacturing because of closed borders.

Ecoorb’s power team from Saurah, Chitwan

How is Ecoorb coping up to challenges that Covid-19 pandemic has brought forth?

We are currently focusing on building efficiency at the production house and organizational planning with our team virtually. We are also keeping some inventory stock of papers in Chitwan so that it will be easy for us to deliver in Kathmandu again once things open. Our team in Chitwan is comprised of hard working local women’s groups who are now taking full precaution and working hard everyday to achieve this mission of offering Nepal sustainable elephant dung paper. 

We are super excited that we will soon import better manufacturing equipment to increase the production capacity and train these amazing women under the leadership of Sweta Shrestha, Factory Manager at Ecoorb Ventures. We are also doing R&D for our new possible verticals under Ecoorb Ventures that focus on waste recycling and bio-cell use for insulation. Under waste recycling, we are exploring the use of e elephant dung pulp to create briquettes which is cheaper and more effective compared to agricultural-waste briquettes. We are also engaging with stakeholders regularly at Communitere to share our R&D work and map out possibilities of the prototypes once the situation opens up. During this critical time, our board of investors, from various backgrounds, have provided valuable guidance for us. With our last board meeting in August, they helped us with various ways to cope with the current situation and motivated our entire team. We try to stay connected and close with all our partners, customers and valuable boards members. We are even exploring ‘khar ko kagaz’ (paper made from Eulaliopsis Binata).

Is Ecoorb rethinking its business model or business activities? 

Right now, we are trying hard to keep production ongoing so that we meet our clients’ needs as soon as possible. Due to frequent lockdown, we aren’t able to produce and distribute as much as we’d like. Our research and development work is going in full swing with which we are exploring possible partnerships for new product categories. So, we are really positive that Ecoorb will have some add on verticals to its business model soon. 

We are really pumped up to integrate technology to increase our production when things come to an ease. We look forward to what happens because of the uncertain situation yet we still continue working on R&D to bring newer product categories such as khar paper and briquettes. According to Ecoorb -it’s a great time to be innovative and fix the internal and operational challenges with your team!