Surya Iyer: The guy who makes trash sound cool!
on Tuesday February 6th, 2018, By Sumeet Patel

Waste management is a subject that most of us have read about and even researched for our projects. According to us, waste generation and management can be controlled in two ways. Either by social elements like Mr. Afroz Shah, who has undertaken the initiative to make Versova beach in Mumbai clean and beautiful again; or by using technology to manage it. Currently on average more than 70% percentage of waste generated ends up in landfills and incinerators. The reason behind this is the lack of segregation of waste and general awareness. There is a young Indian student who is trying to solve this problem. He is young, wise and believes that planning is one part and execution the other.

Graduate student Surya Iyer is the co-founder Hygiea, a start-up company with a mission to “eliminate waste from waste management.”

Meet Surya Iyer, a Mechanical Engineer from the KJ Somaiya College of Engineering in Mumbai, who is presently studying at Arizona State University(ASU) that has been known internationally for giving the world many entrepreneurs. This is not his only attempt at trying something different and he promises to give something back to the world. Let’s know his story in his own words:

How did this entrepreneurial bug bite you? 

Back in my second year at KJSCE (KJ Somaiya College of Engineering), I felt the urge to do something with my free time. I knew I was good in Science and decided to leverage that skill by correcting test papers for coaching institutes. It was a small business idea. But as easy as it may sound, it was a difficult start. People usually do not trust a random guy who approaches you saying that he wishes to help you out grading papers as a part time job. After getting rejected by 20 different coaching institutes, one of the classes reached out as they needed a backup grader. I slowly worked my way up and then came a time where I was grading around 2000 papers a week. It was around this time that I approached my friends for help, expanded the business and slowly realized the entrepreneurial bug in me.

So how is running a venture in the US different from running one in India?

People here are more supportive and have a more open mindset towards innovation. They embrace change as they encourage and fund ventures if they see the potential and that Entrepreneurial drive in the group. People in US use innovation as a method of promotion. For instance, a company is using our product to stand out from the rest of the market and create a competitive advantage in the market. That said, now, for all the leading ventures in US, growth is the new definition for sustaining a business. Gone are the days when you just build a business and let it operate the way it is. Today you need to keep scaling and growing your venture by staying upfront of Innovation and being open to new ideas. (“Boy I wish Kodak and Yahoo realized that!” says Surya with a smirk)

Tell us a bit about the problem you are trying to solve?

There is huge amount of waste generated everyday all over the world. What is sad about this is that most of it goes towards landfill. Hygiea’s mission is to create technology that can help sort out waste at source. In line of products, our first device is the “hyThing”, a sensor for the trash cans (smart-cans) to detect the level of fullness of the cans. Going so many times a day through the entire area just to know that the trash cans have not been filled even half way up is a wastage of resources and time for the workers. Now via an interactive application, facility manager has better control and decision-making capacity for that area. With our machine learning and data aggregation, we also provide analytics for better resource planning in these facilities. We are developing more products to improve the operational efficiency of Facilities and gradually working towards the bigger mission of eliminating waste at source and making the world ready for the next billion people.

What inspires you the most? What is the goal of the company? 

The problem of waste disposal is huge all over the world. We are generating more waste than ever and approaching a tipping point from where there might be an explosion of waste with nowhere to go.

We want to create technology that helps divert more waste from landfills to other sources. This alone is our biggest inspiration and our main aim.

Could you tell us something about the major differences you noticed or experienced in the education systems back in India and the place where you are studying at present?

In US, the professors have the complete autonomy of what they want to teach. There isn’t a fixed curriculum or pre-determined assignments. That helps them keep up with the present trends in the industry. At ASU, some of the projects we do in class are in collaboration with the industries, which gives us a real-world experience and industrial connections. The Entrepreneurship and Innovation team at ASU is one of the best in world for developing student entrepreneurs. Students get the utmost respect and support from the school, staff and faculty to pursue entrepreneurial activities. Programs and funding opportunities like Venture Devils, ASU Innovation Open etc. trains and helps students to go through the Entrepreneurship journey with professional guidance and increase your chance of creating successful ventures all while at school. ASU and Phoenix are the places to be if you want to pursue Education and Entrepreneurial activities side by side, because by end of your degree you will have that never give up attitude and inculcated that Entrepreneurial Mindset which separates you from others.

Do you have any advice for our readers? 

There is this concept of three C’s which personally has changed my life. It’s all about the curiosity, connections and creating value for others. Have the curiosity to keep learning how things work and why they work in a given way. Your connections can better guide you and help accelerate this journey. While doing all this, it is very important to realize the actual purpose for doing something and the value we are going to generate for others. Now this might be in an entrepreneurial venture, your work-life, education or any task/project that you undertake.

Also, it isn’t necessary for everyone to become an entrepreneur. Having that Entrepreneurial Mindset to keep innovating, asking questions and improving the process itself can help us thrive in any work we do.

So, this was the story of a young Indian student making a difference to the world! We hope he succeeds in his endeavours.

Sumeet Patel

Writer and Editor at TEN. I like writing on Life, Philosophy and Entrepreneurship.

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