I joined the Nanosolar Energy Design Centre in Amrita where solar modules were made and deployed during college time. Harsh, Kiran and I were colleagues in the same project and completed M.Tech in Nanotechnology and Renewable energy while working. Later three of us formed NyQuest Innovation Labs to utilize our expertise in solar PV & product development and started developing iCON to convert existing UPS systems to solar power.
Our Challenges came in the form of funding, product design and technical expertise. Nishanth, our future CFO became our first investor. Our mentors Dr.Vinod brings vast experience in product design in renewable energy, while Lakshmi madam brings machine-learning expertise. We have got government grants, soft loans and MRPL funding from IIMK LIVE.
Our first Product, iCON needed to convert any existing UPS system to solar power at the lowest cost for the customer. With patience and persistence we iterated, tested at a customer site based on their feedback. It was like designing a shoe which should fit everyone. Our mentors were strict about one thing. The process is everything, people will come and go. Documentation was a big bore, time-consuming and we loathed it. Anyone can make a single Taj Mahal like a prototype, but if you want all the million units manufactured to be identical then being strictly process-oriented was the mantra.
After 100+ pitches, we learned that we are not communicating well, our pitches are too technical. Also finding investment for hardware is not easy even in Silicon Valley, imagine our plight in Kerala! We learned early on that our best friend and worst enemy is the customer. Revenues were coming in slow but we did anything that came our way while working on our dream product. We are about to launch iCON, and have several babies in our skunkworks to follow.
The most important lesson we learned is that, patience is the biggest virtue. There will be many months we would’ve toiled without salaries and our extended families and the larger society not taking us kindly, for not taking jobs in big-name companies and “settle in life”. However, no one will be able to take away our learning, the biggest asset we acquired through this journey. Yes, the terrain is rough and tough but I’m sure that together we will reach the zenith.
Akhil S Pillai, Founder and CTO29