Change Makers: ECOSTP Tech – Tharun Kumar, AMP 2007

Tharun has twenty+ years of experience in the field of IT and Sustainability. Deep expertise in sustainable solutions in sewage treatment. He held a rich mix of experience in technical and well as business leadership positions in the past. Prior to starting ECOSTP he was program managing the IT security for Aadhaar, the GOI unique identification project. He had in the past held leadership positions for Sutherland, ICICI OneSource, Cable & Wireless, Hughes and Motorola.

In his current role, Tharun is focusing on harnessing ancient knowledge and practically apply for today’s environmental problems specifically wastewater treatment.

Can you please tell us about your entrepreneurial venture – ECOSTP.

We have created a unique ‘Zero Power Zero Maintenance’ IOT sensor-enabled sewage treatment product to disrupt the current model of using power hogging motors to treat the sewage. The product is a replica of a cow’s stomach based on the Biomimicry bioengineering concept.

There is a great need for more sewage treatment plants like this. In India, its estimated that ninety-three percent of human waste is dumped directly into rivers, lakes and sea. And around the world, according to the United Nations, a staggering eighty percent of wastewater is discharged into the environment untreated. 

We  have over 50 paying clients in 9 states in India. Nine client CEO’s have given video testimonials too.  We are trying to disrupt the motor based sewage treatment technologies which currently hold 99 %  of the market. We are onway for classic  ‘disruption’ – We are a 3 year old startup.

What was the idea behind this venture, what inspired you to be in this space?

I and friends who were from IT background wanted to try to solve the sewage problem – as they say, “Don’t curse the candle – light a candle”. There is no point blaming politicians or god – we citizens need to do something.

We studied the problem from a ‘design thinking’ perspective and we found that ‘power/electricity’ is the key issue … so developing a ‘better STP’ ( a better mousetrap ) will not solve the problem..we needed to create a radically different solution.

We looked into nature for a solution – “How does nature treat sewage? all these years?” We found our answer in an organism called ‘anaerobic bacteria‘. It does the real magic as they are the natural scavengers.

By the way we found that in todays world sewage is always treated by – ‘aerobic bacteria’ which is the prevalent paradigm and it needs air blowers as aerobic bacteria needs air to survive.  The STP’S come with different names but they all rely on ‘aerobic bacteria’ to break down the sewage.

We did some research and found that  ‘anaerobic bacteria’ is present in Septic tanks which does treat waste water to some extent. We also found ‘anaerobic bacteria’ is found in dense manner in ruminant stomach ( cow as an example ). The cow stomach can even digest cellulose unlike a human stomach which is enzyme based digestion.

We improved the good old septic tank mimicking cow stomach with 4 chambers and made a prototype …Further, we improved the prototype and got a ‘product’ ready. We also added a ‘factor of safety’ design add-on so that it is rock steady, we tested the product thoroughly and launched the product.

We filed for a patent and was granted too. We also got recognized by the United Nations and were selected as a best practice case study.

How is ECOSTP different than the other solutions and STP’s available in the market.

Our unique patented “Zero Power Zero Operator” Sewage Treatment Technology has no moving parts compared to conventional STPs which use energy, hogging motors, exhaust fans, pumps, and blowers. The product is a replica of a cow’s stomach based on biomimicry concepts.

An anaerobic bacteria-based system exists in pockets but has not been successful for various reasons. Our biological strategy was to look at how a cow’s stomach implements anaerobic digestion in detail. As we all know, the ruminant stomach in a cow turns grass into milk, meat, and wool. We biologized the same method to convert “bad” water to “good” water using exactly the same ruminant stomach process. We looked at other ruminant animals – Sheep, goats and deer too.

Our natural digester model based on the biology of a cow’s stomach is used to break down organic fecal content into treated water. We add anaerobic bacteria catalyst seed (one time addition) from a cow dung substrate and the end result is that sewage you put in is converted to water, some gas, and very little sludge (digester).

ECOSTP system does not need power. It uses gravitational force. Water flows through Stage 1 chambers vertically and horizontally through pipes. Water flows vertically through Stage 2 slow sand filters and then horizontally through Stage 3 plant gravel filters. Gravity is a natural phenomenon by which all things with mass or energy—including planets, stars, galaxies, and even light, are brought toward (or gravitate toward) one another. We cleverly leveraged this universal life force to clean wastewater.

What’s next for ECOSTP?

We have perfected the product and implemented it in India. Now we are planning to go global.

We don’t make STPs centrally and ship. Instead, we sell the core technology, a DIY Kit which clients buy and make locally at site using locally available materials and workforce. We use locally abundant materials, mimicking nature by not relying on scarcity, and using resources from the immediate surroundings.

What has been the most fulfilling moment in your entrepreneurial journey.

 A memorable one was a call from Mr. Doraibabu from Mamta Construction when we were down with Covid and struggling to pay staff salaries. .. This is how the conversation went

“Hello Tharun, Our STP is working well, how much we need to pay you?”

“You already paid 80% – 20% is pending”

“I will transfer now – pls share your account again”

“Wow ! thanks …during this Covid times it is a real blessing. You are paying without even we following up.. wow”

“I am doing this as my customers who I sold the apartment is very happy. Rarely we builders gets appreciation from home buyers ..and thank you”

If there’s one advice you would like to give budding entrepreneurs, that would be.

Persist for 1000 days at least when you start. Don’t fall under pressure and pivot.. Wear horseshoe spectacles, focus and deliver. The universe will conspire and ensure you win.

How was your experience at IIMB? Any key learnings or experience that helped you professionally or personally.

During IIM-B days we started a free 3 months school dropout boot camp called LifeDream. Amazing mentoring by Prof P D Jose, Prof Shainesh and Prof Vasanthi Srinivasan. In the last 10 years, we have graduated and employed over 1000 students. This happened thanks to IIMB.

The IIMB Alumni network helped us craft a powerful mission statement – “Our mission is to reclaim every drop of wastewater, naturally.” This mission fires us up every single day. We did a few days of mission/vision workshop by the alumni team pro-bono as ‘purpose’ drives all of us.

Any fond memories of your days at IIMB that you would like to share.

The study tour we did to Barcelona. FC Barcelona management explained us in-depth the Football Business. Also interesting is how they differentiate from other clubs with a motto of ‘More than a Club’,  by wearing the UNICEF logo on their jersey in their commitment to the welfare of children worldwide. The ‘purpose’ helps them attract the best players and enhances the brand. We learned many nuances.

Later we saw a real match featuring FCB and Villarreal. Saw Messi in action.

A favourite quote.

“The only sustainable competitive advantage is an organization’s ability to learn  and unlearn faster than the competition.” ― Peter Senge

You can contact ECOSTP on:

ECOSTP Technologies (P) Ltd, Brigade Real Estate Accelerator Program,
Brigade Gateway Campus, Malleswaram – Rajajinagar,
Bangalore 560 055, India