But, MS Vinod and Abhilash, the innovators, who run a web convergence solutions firm in Kerala Technopark, were initially least interested in the business opportunity. We pieced together the technology just to ease the need for public hygiene, says Vinod, managing director, Rain Concert Solutions.
The duo set up Dea Celera Electronics, which assembled a fully-automated public toilet, complete with a string of viable business models. Kozhikode and Thiruvananthapuram Corporations were its first clients, supported by organisations like Lions Club and Rotary Club. And within a year, Dea Celera notched up an annual turnover of in R12 crore and attracted international attention.
Last month Saudi Arabia-based $1-billion Eram Group picked up 50% stake in Dea Celera. In the coming year, we project our turnover to go up to R100 crore, given the spate of export orders from the Gulf, says Manohar Varghese, director, Eram Scientific Solutions in Thiruvananthapuram.
Dea Celeras JV has given much needed capital injection to the model to spread its reach to newer markets. Like India, West Asian and African countries make for a good market for automated wet toilet.
For Aleyamma Itoop, whos familiar with the one set up at Sarovar Park in Kozhikode, it is sheer convenience as the toilet opens at the drop of R2-coin, and cleans and sterilises itself in a jiffy. There is very little waste because of the bio-enzyme tanks that treat black water. Whatever manual cleaning is required, is touch-free. she says. In Kozhikode, it runs as a sorely-needed public toilet for women.
Despite the thrust on pre-use flush, after-use flush and underneath-floor-washing, power and water use are minimal. Delight model needs just 40 watts of power and 1,008 litres of water for 168 users. Water is recycled. There are also models powered by solar panels. There is an SMS feature, which sends phone alerts to the toilet administrator, after automatically checking on water and power availability, once in every 20 minutes.
But for the innovators, the biggest draw is not the technology, but the business-model. At the base, there is, the traditional coin-fed business model. And then there is the advertising draw. Each model has about 200 sq ft advertisement space, on the outside with back-lighting displays. Choosing the right location can yield ad revenues for entrepreneurs.
When strategically located, the toilet fetches R10,000-R45,000 per month for the entrepreneur in Kerala. For metros like Mumbai, Kolkata and Delhi or in countries like Kuwait or Saudi Arabia, this could be much higher.
Hybrid models that use both coin-fed model and the ad revenues are more popular. And its also easy to run. Self-help women groups can run the business well, as its not complicated, says SM Vijayanand, principal secretary, Local Self Government Department, Kerala. Way to go for innovation!