What Started as a Search For Perfect Furniture Ended Up in This Couple's Transition to Bamboopreneurs
From having no projects in hand to being invited by the US govt for a leadership program, here's how Aruna Kappagantula & Prashant Lingam build their startup of dreams via bamboo
Did you know that Bamboo, a naturally occurring composite material, reaches maturity after only 3 to 5 years whereas wood takes more than 50 years to mature completely? Hence, often referred to as the ‘Miracle Plant’, Bamboo offers great potential as an alternative to not just wood but steel, iron & even plastic.
Being able to survive more than 120 years in the wild, this woodsy plant holds great potential for sustainable development. Gauging the massive opportunities Bamboo industry beholds, Aruna Kappagantula and Prashant Lingam started their social entrepreneurial tryst with Bamboo soon after getting married in 2006.
The First Encounter
Bamboo House India was never a strategically planned venture. Newly wedded to Lingam, Kappagantula was searching for the perfect yet affordable furniture for her house when she came across the Bamboo furniture and she was stuck. Followed the search for a place where they could buy or get such furniture made, which end with them arriving in Katlamara village in Symna district of Tripura.
Located right on the Indo-Bangladesh border, the place was abundant with bamboo plantations and the couple was mesmerized by its beauty of the furniture and craftsmanship of the artisans. Soon after they realized that the ground reality was different than what was visible. The artisans were in tatters. Surprisingly, bamboo products are much more appreciated in the US than in India, where the plant is found in abundance.
“Right there, we thought of helping these artisans who are so skilled and might leave the sector,” Kappagantula shared. That marked the beginning of this power couple’s journey as Bamboopreneurs. For almost two years, they travelled around the country, collecting information about Bamboo from different sources before establishing Bamboohouse India in May 2008.
The Struggle & Success
What started as a dream for this husband-wife duo was almost on the verge of ending as a nightmare when they could not get any projects to build bamboo houses. Having incurred a debt of INR 60 lakh and lost 6 loved ones altogether, Lingam and Kappagantula thought of committing suicide and end all their problems. But then like a ray of moonlight in a dark night, they got their first order.
“After 4-5 years of struggle, a school principal from Ramanathapuram approached us to build a penthouse atop their school building. We grabbed the opportunity with open hands and started building bamboo houses without looking back,” Kappagantula unveiled. Since then, the couple has built hundreds of strong and affordable bamboo houses through their venture.
Through their venture, they are providing sustainable livelihood opportunities to rural and tribal communities. Interestingly, Bamboo has a huge market potential, which is explored, can provide employment to thousands of bamboo artisans. “When we started, the potential of the bamboo-based industry was estimated at INR 26,000 crore and had the possibility of impacting nearly 5 million livelihoods,” Lingam shared.
This gap and opportunity scenario attracted the couple which wanted to help the community via building bamboo houses. Their hard work has gained global recognition. In 2013, Aruna Kappagantula was invited by the US Government for the International Visitor’s Leadership Program. Government of Kenya also invited Bamboohouse India’s co-founders to build bamboo houses in their country.
Despite the main focus being placed on bamboo housing, the duo has started developing other lifestyle products along the way. They have developed a wide range of bamboo furniture, speakers, lampshades, bamboo straws and also came up with a bamboo cycle in 2017. This adds to the employment opportunities for the artisans and connects them to the market.
After years of staying focused on Bamboo housing, the couple started HerWin, a term which means recycling in Africa. It aims to collect plastic waste, recycle it & use it for construction. They have constructed houses out of the bricks and tiles made out of plastic. The venture is into manufacturing roofing sheets, cupboards and even t-shirts, completely made out of plastic waste.
“It is to ensure that all the plastic waste would otherwise go down the water streams or burnt openly or go to landfills, can be used for a better purpose,” provided Lingam. Bamboo House India is currently in discussions with (Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation) GHMC to construct public toilets and cafeteria modules through the use of recycled plastic for developing walls and roofing sheets across the city.