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‘Entrepreneurship is tough but rewarding,’ says Apeejay alumnus who runs a drone startup

Engineering student Harsh Bhardwaj’s startup has been selected for Rs 10 lakh grant from NIDHI

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After spending most of his school life in Canada, Harsh Bhardwaj came to India and joined Apeejay School, Pitampura, to complete his schooling. In the process of acclimatising to the culture, he chose to continue his education in the country and enrolled in Indraprastha Institute of Information Technology (IIIT) Delhi to pursue Electronics and Communications Engineering. The Apeejay alumnus is also a young entrepreneur—he has launched his startup called ‘Vimaan’ with his peers, which has been selected for a grant of Rs 10 lakh from the National Initiative for Development and Harnessing Innovations (NIDHI-PRAYAS), a Government of India initiative. Read on to know he got into entrepreneurship, what his startup is about, and more. Edited excerpts:

What was your experience at Apeejay School, Pitampura, like?

I moved to India from Canada in grade 11 and was enrolled in Apeejay Pitampura. Having spent a large part of my childhood overseas, I experienced a big cultural shock initially. But Apeejay made me feel welcome. The teachers were extremely supportive; our principal ma’am and vice-principal sir kept checking up on me. The peer group was good, and they helped me settle in. My friends also guided me with the application process for competitive exams.

You will soon go into your third year of engineering. Where did you get the idea of a startup?

The environment at IIIT Delhi is quite in sync with the West—from extensive research opportunities to advanced courses. I am particularly interested in robotics. So, I started the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) team with my friends at the institute and became the captain. Our team worked on various projects. We also bagged the first position in Hackathon, and we got monetary support of Rs 1 lakh as our prize. 

The idea from the Hackathon developed into a full-fledged startup. We applied for NIDHI-PRAYAS, a government-led scheme to promote entrepreneurship, specifically for hardware startups. After waiting eagerly for three-four months, we are now in the process of getting Rs 10 lakh as funds from this initiative.

I am also doing a lot of research in robotics. To my knowledge, currently, there are only two-three Nao (autonomous humanoid robot) robots across India and that is something I am also working on. I am in the process of writing a research paper with my professor on robotics. It has been a good journey so far.

What are you building in your startup?

It is essentially like a petrol pump for drones, which have limited battery life, between 30-60 mins. After that, the batteries have to be swapped—you have to land it and manually adjust the batteries. What we offer at our startup is that we retrofit manufactured drones and create some drones of our own that are able to autonomously swap the batteries. So, when the battery is depleted, the drone locates a particular station, lands on it, and swaps its battery for a brand new one. The depleted battery on the other hand is pushed into charging and the drone is ready to continue on its mission. This will have its benefits in supply chain management in terms of having continuous delivery systems. We are also looking into the idea of working with the Ministry of Defence for seamless and continuous surveillance.

Have you thought of a business model yet?

That is something we are still working on. As of yet, we have not thought about bringing the product into commercial markets. Right now, we are particularly aiming to work with the Defence Ministry.

Did you always want to become an entrepreneur?

I have had a huge knack for robotics, but the idea of entrepreneurship came to me around classes 11-12. I saw my father do a job his entire life and realised it was not exactly my calling. I wanted to do something of my own. But now that I am working on research papers, I have realised I enjoy that as well. So, I might just also pursue a PhD!

What have you learned from your entrepreneurial journey?

We often make the mistake of thinking that you can get quick success in entrepreneurship. The reality, in fact, is completely different from how it is usually perceived—the process is extremely slow. You are always worried about what’s going to happen next. The first prize money we received from Hackathon also came after a long duration of time. Entrepreneurship is a slow journey and definitely not full of excitement and adventure as it is portrayed. But in the end, it is rewarding.

Who else is working with you in this startup?

There are four of us as well as our associate professor who is part of the team.

Are you sourcing raw materials from within the country?

In India, there is some sort of a bubble with respect to the drone economy where the import of material required for this from overseas has been banned. On the other hand, this is good for drone startups in terms of opening up business opportunities. At the same time, it also becomes challenging to source materials like flight controllers that are not made in India. But we recently discovered a drone company from which we could procure some of the materials. There are some national manufacturers now and they are definitely increasing in number.

Are you planning to get more funds?

Yes. A hardware startup has a lot of hiccups. To be a full-fledged hardware startup in India, you are looking for somewhere around Rs 3-4 crore, which you need to have enough supplies to make a prototype, test your manufactured products, etc. Prototyping in itself is the most expensive stage. In our business, there is also the risk of drones crashing which incurs a lot of money. So, we are looking forward to securing more funding and keeping the business on track.

Disha Roy Choudhury is a Senior Correspondent at Apeejay Newsroom. She has worked as a journalist at different media organisations. She is also passionate about music and has participated in reality shows.

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