(January 28, 2022): He set out to be an entrepreneur, and inadvertently chanced upon and solved two of India’s biggest problems – bad public toilets and open defecation. What founder and CEO Mayank Midha did was design and launch public toilets that clean themselves with Internet of Technology (IoT) enabled tech. These sensor-operated prefabricated portable toilets come with auto-flush and floor clean technology making the lives of millions of Indians easy since 2015. The man behind GARV Toilets is bringing about a much-required revolution in sanitation that India needs.
A Unilever Young Entrepreneur Award 2018 and Global Maker Challenge Award 2019 recipient, the 38-year-old is solving the problem of open defecation in India through his IoT-enabled GARV Toilets. Midha has fabricated around 2,000 toilets in 262 locations across four countries – Ghana, Bhutan, Nepal and India.
A business to learn from
Faridabad-born and raised, Mayank, an electronics and communication engineering student at Maharishi Dayanand University, joined the family business after his father’s untimely death. “I was 19 when I started handling customer and relationship management at our manufacturing business while my mother managed operations,” says Mayank Midha in an interview with Global Indian. Calling it his first tryst with business, he learnt on the job while juggling college during the day. “It was a tough time. Juggling two worlds but my mother was a constant source of motivation,” he adds.
After graduation, Mayank landed a job at TCS (2005) through campus recruitment, but within two years, he realised it wasn’t his cup of tea. “The desk job was dull as I kept coding and testing software day in and day out. It had become frustrating. I wanted to be a part of something on the field,” reveals Mayank, who quit and appeared for an entrance test for the Institute of Rural Management Anand (IRMA).
This transition from coding to the social sector was a result of a conversation with a TCS colleague, an alum of IRMA. “Talking to him made me understand that 70 percent of India lives in rural areas, and digital technology is the future. It was enough of a push to join IRMA which gave me a window to a new world,” adds the entrepreneur, who went to work in the social development sector for a few years on various World Bank projects.
By this time, the bug for entrepreneurship had bitten Mayank. He was keen to grow the family business too, as he had been burning the candle at both ends – the business and job. “The fire to take the business to the next level got me off the job rut,” he adds.
As a spectator to farmers’ problems, Midha wanted to build hardware products to help them. Yet, being an unorganised sector where farmers prefer local fabricators, his business failed to scale up. After two years of efforts, he gave up. Problem solving on social issues has always inspired Mayank, thus next, he tried solar lamps (which did not work). “I had to sell some of my assets to repay debts,” Mayank rues.
When a toilet inspired a revolution
Very few life-changing moments have a toilet involved. Yet, in 2015 while using a public toilet at Pragati Maidan, Mayank was left horrified at its state. The idea struck then. “I did some research and got to know that 600 million people in India openly defecate. Despite 10 crore toilets being installed in India, only 45 percent are used. I knew that I had to find a solution,” Mayank adds.
He brainstormed and GARV Toilets was born in 2015 – portable and easy to clean and use toilets. His earlier manufacturing experience helped in fabricating a public toilet from metal. “Working with Airtel and Telenor, delivering telecom equipment like BTS (base transceiver station) cabinets which resembled toilet cabinets inspired the idea,” smiles Mayank, who had his eureka moment from those nondescript BTS cabinets.
When 2014 saw the launch of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, it was the trigger Mayank needed. A year of prototyping followed. “We realised that despite the government spending millions of dollars on public toilets, they became defunct within six months. So, we decided to design automatic toilets that work with sensors, and don’t require any human to physically clean or maintain them,” adds Mayank, who has installed 2,000 Garv Toilets across the country – UP, Bihar, Telangana, Maharashtra and Haryana.
These toilets are Internet of Things (IoT) enabled and are integrated with solar panels, battery packs, auto flush and cleaning technology. However, getting support to accept prefabricated toilets made of steel was a huge challenge. “We kept knocking on the doors of the government and NGOs for two years but found no support. No one was ready to invest. The frustration had started creeping in. That’s when we won a few awards (Sanitation Innovation Accelerator 2016) for the concept, and this international recognition gave me the encouragement to push through,” the entrepreneur adds.
The pilot project kickstarted in 2017 through a CSR campaign, and there was no looking back for GARV Toilets helmed by this tech-sanitation entrepreneur. “After a successful project in Pune, we expanded to Patna and Delhi where we installed them in government schools. We got a great response,” adds Mayank.
The very next year brought huge validation as Mayank won the Unilever award, and the company’s toilet installation shot up to 700. It was the turning point – GARV spread its wings to Africa – Ghana and Nigeria where open defecation is an issue. The CSR-funded project in Bhutan was a huge success too. “It’s great to know that other countries are keen to replicate our model,” adds the entrepreneur, who is currently executing a programme with UNDP under which they are installing them in Syrian refugee camps (Turkey).
Success stories ride on those around, and for Mayank, it was his wife Megha Midha. “She has been my biggest supporter, my first investor – I was almost broke when we started GARV Toilets, she invested ₹10 lakh,” reveals Mayank. Megha, a software engineer has transitioned into resource management, and helps GARV with HR support but works full-time with Nagarro Software as a senior consultant. The father of two – he has a nine-year-old daughter and a three-year-old son – loves to unwind with his children. And to beat the stress of entrepreneurship, Mayank travels, and dabbles in photography.
To fail and startup again takes courage and Mayank advices, “Find that one thing you want to work upon and stick to it. The timing to introduce a product should be correct.” He now wants to tackle another big Indian problem by transitioning into waste management. “We are looking forward to coming up with a smart sanitation centre where we provide shower facilities and hygiene products like sanitary pads. Not just this, we are also planning to use faecal waste for building material,” Mayank signs off.
- Follow Mayank Midha on Linkedin