Simran Chowdhry didn’t set out to be an entrepreneur, but when the 23-year-old discovered social entrepreneurship, she felt right at home.
Simran founded cleantech startup BluePhin Technologies in 2018 with two partners. BluePhin is an autonomous robot that collects surface waste in water.
With over 8 million tons of plastic entering our oceans every year and the current COVID-19 pandemic sending millions of more disposable waste into the waters, these tech solutions driven by young voices like Simran’s are vital in creating businesses that serve a greater purpose.
Raised in the GCC for most of her life, Simran was a sports enthusiast in high school and wasn’t decided on a major when she headed off to university. In her first year, while navigating uncertainty in business school, she entered the Hult Prize, a startup program for early-stage social ventures.
“I got into finance, but it was not about getting to Wall Street. I come from India and I have seen the lack of access in India – what can I do?” she says, explaining that felt a deep-seated need in her to tackle business and impact together.
The team at BluePhin spent long nights brainstorming how to tackle a pressing issue with innovative technology that is affordable enough to serve underdeveloped countries alongside developed ones.
During the pandemic, their pilot program had to be put on hold, but the founders were inspired to dream up things they otherwise wouldn’t have.
“It became more evident that we couldn’t slow down. We have been working on different models which would allow us to rapidly deploy and cater to different environments, through smaller iterations,” says Simran, who talks excitedly about bringing to life this futuristic idea of a robot that does it all.
BluePhin operates through human-like senses, runs for 6-8 hours, and emits no carbon emissions. The latest prototype is a modular design that can be adapted to different environments such as higher tides and can collect other types of waste such as organic waste and debris.
With interest from local municipalities, BluePhin have run several pilot programs and plan to run more in the coming months with international NGOs. “This sets the foundation for what could eventually become a black-box model,” she says. “We could then easily introduce robots for collecting waste on land, in water, and in multiple other areas.”
Recently graduating into the pandemic from the American University of Sharjah with a BA in Finance, Simran didn’t sulk about not having a graduation ceremony. Instead, she reveled in the fact that Beyonce gave the class of 2020 their commencement speech and that she now had more time to work on her startup.
Alongside building her own company, Simran is providing mentorship to startups navigating the crisis. “I enjoy building startups, it’s who I am,” she says.
“My friends and I, we were feeling so useless during this pandemic. We’re not doctors, we’re not nurses, we can’t do anything about what’s going on so we decided to set up a career management guide.”
When asked about what her goal is with BluePhin, the young entrepreneur says “to cease to exist,” as when something is no longer needed, the issue has been resolved.
“No matter what you do you have consequences in life and this is a positive consequence of business and there’s just no downside,” she says. “The more I grow this company, the more I’m going to grow my impact.”
In August, BluePhin was selected as one of the startups in the accelerator program by Plug and Play in partnership with the Alliance to End Plastic Waste, where 10 high-potential startups, over the span of two years, will work towards solutions that set out to eradicate plastic waste for good.
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