When Kunwer Sachdev started the business of manufacturing inverters to combat the power outage, little did he know that he was setting a perfect example of the Make in India vision. From being India’s largest power solutions company to marking its presence in 90 countries worldwide, his innovation has been creating waves with negligible competition in terms of technology and expertise in the power backup sector. At a time when the Government is working on bigger solar projects in India, Sachdev has focused on individual households and smaller solar projects and has been igniting millions of houses. Sachdev, the founder and Managing Director of Su-Kam Power Systems Ltd, in a detailed conversation with Bureaucracy Today gives insights of his journey as an entrepreneur, the importance of innovation in entrepreneurship and his plans to become a global market leader in the solar energy sector.
With no technical background, Kunwer Sachdev, now of Su-Kam Power Systems Ltd fame, started his inverter business with zest and inquisitiveness. He was intrigued with the fact that how inverters of early 2000s relied on generators for powering heavy load consuming equipment like air-conditioners, lifts, motors and other machinery. “My curiosity to learn ignited the R & D drive in me,” Sachdev tells Bureaucracy Today. This inspired him to make India’s high-capacity inverters which are today widely used by hospitals, industries, residential areas and Government entities.
Novice in handling technical or management aspects of his business Kunwer learnt each and every facet on the job. “Sitting beside engineers I became an engineer,” he says smilingly. He believes that his biggest strength was realized with his deep understanding of the market. “Initially our technology was rejected. But slowly and steadily people started accepting it. Today I can claim that the Su-Kam Power Systems Ltd has the world’s best technology with best people employed,” he adds.
‘MADE IN INDIA’
Long before Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced his Government’s decision to manufacture products within India, Su-Kam Power Systems Ltd was in the vanguard of making inverters. From being a start-up in 1998, the Su-Kam has grown exponentially to become an Indian MNC and has set a successful illustration of Make in India with over 40,000 channel partners in countries around the world.
Considered being one of the fastest growing companies in India the Su-Kam has been in the forefront in terms of technological innovation and upgradation. “When people now talk about the Make in India decision they think about everything except electronics but we have changed that perception. We have strengthened electronics business in India, ” says the Su-Kam MD.
Sachdev’s Su-Kam is not only the forerunner in Modi’s Make in India scheme but also ahead in tapping solar energy for producing electricity. “The world has acknowledged us now when we are working on solar projects but our work on solar products started a decade ago. All our products were made keeping in mind the solar aspect. It’s been long that we have been exporting our solar products to Africa, the Middle East and other countries, ” says the MD.
While the Government is working on larger megawatt projects, the Su-Kam has found opportunities in smaller projects. “We work on smaller, individual projects where production is for household consumption, usage and storage,” says Sachdev.
He feels that there is no scarcity of opportunities if a person really wants to explore. “There are people who crib about lack of better opportunities and forget about the existing one they have in their hand,” says the MD. He adds, “I believe if you make best use of your present opportunity, you never know how many new avenues will open up for you.”
The Su-Kam installed solar DC System in over 40,000 households in remote villages of Uttar Pradesh. “These villages which had never been electrified now have electricity 24x7,” informs Sachdev. A similar project was executed under the Tamil Nadu Government where they installed solar home lighting in 27,000 houses in the region. Many schools in the remotest areas of India which never had access to electricity have been solarized as a part of their CSR activities. Making waves internationally, the Su-Kam's hybrid solar system is helping make communication possible in the rough terrains of Afghanistan. “Our systems are powering 17 communication towers in seven districts of Afghanistan,” he adds.
COMBATING SOLAR WOES
One of the pioneers in tapping solar power, the Su-Kam has earned credit with a long struggle to make people aware of its usage. With a vision of simplifying and providing solar products to every household of India, Sachdev has been striving to make products which would work in adverse conditions given the fact of India’s power functioning and consumer habits .
UNORGANIZED SOLAR POWER SECTOR
Likewise, Sachdev believes that solar power being an unorganized sector is functioning at a much smaller scale. Much of this business is in the hands of people who do not understand anything about the solar concept.
According to him, the person who sells a solar power product or the person in charge of such an installation is also unaware about it. “It is just like putting a solar-based street light which wears out after a few months. What happens after that? The street light just stays there for years with no one to repair or to do anything about it as the person who installed it is ill-informed,” says the MD.
The Su-Kam Managing Director also feels that presently there is a huge gap when it comes to learning technology used in solar power. He points out , “The big MW projects are doing well as big MNCs and Government bodies are helping in troubleshooting. But who is going to resolve the problem of smaller household projects of 1 KW or 5 KW ?”
Sachdev says, “For instance, two or three years ago there was one street in Bangalore which had installed LED streetlights but now none of them are working. This is the plight of the solar power sector in India.” Giving another example, he mentions, “A few years ago, billboards in Delhi had solar panels installed but now you cannot see a single panel working. It is such a huge wastage of resources.People who did not know anything about solar products got them installed on a larger scale while the problem with smaller projects still persists as people are clueless whom to approach for their smaller needs.”
However, the most crucial challenge, according to the MD, is in creating awareness about solar products. He feels that even the Government is confused about what to promote and what not to promote. “Even for us the challenge is that our dealers and distributors are unacquainted with the benefits of solar power. We as a company are not yet ready to send our personnel to install these products. Thus, we also depend on dealers and distributors,” he adds.
But if the Government takes an aggressive initiative, the solar industry, Sachdev hopes, will stabilize in three to four years.
NO SUBSIDY REQUIRED FOR SOLAR POWER USAGE
Whenever the Government talks about providing subsidy for any business or a project it goes into a loss, believes Sachdev. When Bureaucracy Today asks him why he rejects the prospect of subsidy, he replies: “ Paperwork and formalities required to obtain benefit from the Government are tiresome. When did it become easier to recover money from the Government? Even filing an Income Tax return is a tedious process in India, forget about the subsidy part.” However, he believes in the initiatives of the new Central Government. “But there is still a long way to go,” he sighs.
Sachdev is of the view that even in the remotest rural areas of India people don’t take subsidy from the Government. “They buy an LED, a battery and a solar panel because they want light. Where and how to get subsidy is a hassle for them,” he adds. According to him, people are successfully producing solar electricity without subsidy but the only challenge for them is to figure out the good and bad quality products as the latter one stops working after a few months’ usage.
Similarly, Sachdev believes in optimum usage of existing opportunities in hand, while his aim is to reduce the cost of electricity drastically. “I see a lot of potential in solar electricity. Even in solar power production we are at a very small level, though there are ample opportunities. With the burgeoning population of India there’s a huge requirement of solar power and therefore there is a scope for business. Even the Government has realized the potential of solar energy,” he says.
As the success of any enterprise lies in timely incorporation of advanced technology the Su-Kam Managing Director encourages innovation in every form. Sachdev feels that everyone makes mistakes while working. He says, “It is because you are working you tend to make mistakes. When you don’t work, you don’t make a mistake.”
He further explains that in his company he has made a simple rule, “If one makes a mistake it is alright but the only act which makes me furious is when the person starts giving explanation or blames someone else. Justifying your lapse simply means you will make the mistake once again,” Sachdev says.
In recent times the company brought in a device called Electro-scopie which lets you 'see' the internal functions of an electrical equipment. It can be used to compare two inverters for their DC/AC waveform, switchover time, harmonics and efficiency – things which are important but can't be seen otherwise. Not only inverters, this device can compare the efficiency of any two electric appliances such as blenders and refrigerators. “It empowers the customer to make the right decision based on knowledge rather than falling for mere marketing gimmicks,” he adds.
The Su-Kam's award-winning R & D unit has a team of 50 talented engineers and scientists who do intensive research for creating technologically advanced products. Owing to the hard work of these experts, the Su-Kam has been able to file over 100 patents. While the company is well known for putting the disorganized power backup industry into order and for inventing Home UPS which eradicated the need of having a separate UPS for computers the self-made entrepreneur spearheaded the invention of the world's first solar hybrid UPS. Similarly, the Su-Kam's Brainy – home solar UPS – can run on both solar power and the grid. In recent times, the company has also developed India's first touch-screen and Wi-Fi-enabled Solar Power Conditioning Unit. Based on advanced technology, the functioning of the product can be monitored from anywhere in the world through a laptop, or a tablet or a phone.
The Su-Kam is a perfect case of an Indian brand marking its presence globally. Since 2003 the company, after capturing the market in India, started its operations in Africa, the Middle-East, and South America. Su-Kam products are now favoured by the people of Yemen and Syria. In Africa, the Su-Kam has become a household brand. Similarly the company has been exporting its products to the neighbouring countries of Nepal and Bangladesh on a wide scale. “In Africa, people prefer our Made in India brand over any Chinese or American one’s,” Sachdev says proudly. Owing to continuous innovations by the Su-Kam, no low quality Chinese products have been able to enter the Indian market.
While the Su-Kam is striving to bring affordable solar products into every household, Sachdev feels that people are apprehensive about solar power usage. However, he adds, “If they understand the fact that it will save their cost plus and give them a chance to produce their own electricity instead of buying it from a supplier, they would be convinced.”
A perfect example of rags to riches
Making a self-effacing beginning from a middle-class background, Kunwer Sachdev never imagined setting up a manufacturing business of power backup on his own. But his interest was in setting up a pen factory and selling it to people while competing with the then Luxor pen brand. “This was a time when soon after the completion of my 10th Grade schooling I started working with my elder brother who was selling pens from manufacturers to retailers,” says Sachdev.
During his growing years Kunwer saw his father who was in Railway service struggle to set up a business. The middle one among the three brothers was determined to become an entrepreneur. After completing his degree course, Sachdev started working full-time with his brother in his pen business. “I came up with a brand name Su-Kam during my college days but that was for our pen business,” says Sachdev. While making headway, the ambitious Sachdev also chalked out plans to expand their business but only to realize that he and his brother were not in sync.
“We parted ways. Sometimes this is what happens when brothers work together. It may or may not work out as envisioned,” says Sachdev. Later on, he joined an electronic company as a salesperson. “I was a little depressed at that time as I always dreamt of becoming an entrepreneur,” he added. But around 1991-92 he ventured into the business of Cable TV communications in Delhi with his initial planned brand name, Su-Kam. Being a visionary, Kunwer was quick to foresee the growth of power backup industry in India and therefore decided to shut down his Cable TV business to establish Su-Kam Power Systems in 1998.