The Story of Two Friends and the Holy Flower
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At temples and dargahs, we offer flowers to the gods and sufi saints, but ever thought what happens to all those flowers once the ritual is over? These flowers don’t go directly into recycling bins but are dumped in the waters of holy rivers like Ganga. How about preserving our rivers and providing livelihood to women who make organic products like incense sticks by using waste flowers? Two friends did just that when a few years back they founded a sustainable social enterprise. Here’s how Helpusgreen began upcycling used holy flowers.
2011: Ankit Agarwal graduated from college and started working as an automation scientist with Symantec in Pune.
2014: Agarwal returned to his hometown, Kanpur for holiday and around the same time his friend from Czech Republic also visited him. While sitting on the Ghats of the Ganges on Makar Sakranti they saw flowers being dumped in the holy water after being offered to the gods.
2015: Agarwal partnered with his childhood friend Karan Rastogi and founded Helpusgreen. The idea was to save the holy river by making use of the leftover flowers from the temples. They soon started with the first product – vericompost and later launched incense sticks created from wasted flowers.
2016: With many other B school competitions in the fray, the duo managed to win the fourth edition of the Tata Social Enterprise Challenge.
2017: After convincing investors, Helpusgreen raised investment from Draper Richards Kaplan and Balmer Lawrie. They utilized the money to build first plant of ‘flowercycling’ in Kanpur, which manages 11.4 tons of waste flowers every day.
2018: They have now produced the world’s first biodegradable thermocol made out of waste flowers called florafoam and are currently running pilot projects with three international household brands. Their product is 27 percent cheaper than regular thermocol.
“Currently, we employ 73 women, who work full time and plan to employ 5,000 more women by 2022,” Agarwal says. Helpusgreen has also hired eight people from IIT to work on bio-leather. The start-up produces incense sticks, which are completely hand-rolled and organic, and are sold online under the brand name phool. Agarwal has been selected as the United Nation young leader for SDG 2018 and Helpusgreen has been awarded the United Nation Momentum of Change Award 2018.
(This article was first published in the October issue of Entrepreneur Magazine. To subscribe, click here)