Innovation Award Blog

2018 saw three winners of the Innovation Award at the Bath SETsquared Innovation Centre. We have asked the winners to write their own blog posts so that we can hear all about their entrepreneur journey as it develops. Read Parimala Shivaprasad’s blog about her winning business idea ‘Retra’.

Retra logo.png

#1 November 2018

Floral waste management in India needs immediate attention as it is causing land and water pollution due to the poor handling and disposal. One of the solution is to upcycle the floral waste by extracting essential oils and composting the used biomass for manure, which is the main objective of Retra.

Retra is a sustainable essential oil range derived flowers that are no longer used and discarded. It has evolved from being just an idea to a pilot phase stage, thanks to the various enterprise activities and support provided by Bath SETsquared. Seed funding through the Dragon’s Den competition helped me to validate the idea by carrying out small scale tests back in India last summer. This was followed by winning the University Business Plan competition and the Innovation Bursary this year. The bursary gives me the opportunity to test the market potential of Retra in the market in Bangalore, India. I am in the process of setting up a pilot scale plant in a temple in Bangalore, where I will be using the temple flowers to extract the essential oil. The plan for the 1st year is to work with 2 to 3 temples in close vicinity and use the temples as the marketplace for selling the essential oils. This will also create more job opportunities for the local community and I mainly hope to empower more women through this initiative.

As a winner of the business plan competition, I got the opportunity to meet successful alumni entrepreneurs earlier in October in London. It was a fantastic two days where I gained useful insights and critical feedback on my plans for the future of Retra. The entire experience has taught me to be more pragmatic about my enterprise and think beyond the pilot phase year. Retra was also featured on the BBC news both in UK and India, which helped me reach out to the international community with my enterprise. Following this, I have received a lot of requests to collaborate and I cannot wait to go back to India to extract some oils!

I am currently on a six month research placement in TU Eindhoven as a last part of my PhD. I intend to submit end of March after which I will go back to Bangalore to officially establish Retra.

Parimala Shivaprasad - Retra


#2 December 2018

Since my previous blog post, I have been working away in the lab at TU Eindhoven to finish a few experiments before the Christmas break. As a visiting researcher, I am working with two other PhD students at TU/e to utilise sunlight for sustainable chemical processing. We are using a sunlight simulator (to mimic the sun) and a light sensitive catalyst (a catalyst is an accelerating agent in a chemical reaction) and carrying out reactions in a spinning disc reactor (imagine a disc jockey’s console!). The reactor has a fast spinning disc and the spinning motion causes efficient mixing within the reactor leading to fast reactions. We are currently testing reactions for applications in the pharmaceutical industry. It has been a tough month but we have got some fantastic results and already planning our publication.

Picture of the reactor under the solar light simulator

Picture of the reactor under the solar light simulator

Like Bath, TU Eindhoven supports and encourages student entrepreneurs an innovation space on campus encourages students to work on their start-up. I plan to visit the innovation space after the break. In the meantime, I am researching the tulip flower market in the Netherlands for potential opportunities for Retra.

I am ending this year on a real high as I am nominated for the Forbes Asia 30 under 30 for Retra. They shortlist 300 entrepreneurs from Asia to be featured in 10 different categories. The competition is tough but I am pleased to even just be nominated. Fingers crossed for the final list!

Happy holidays!


#3 January 2019

Happy New Year 2019!

The New Year has begun on a busy note with less than two months to go before I finish my placement in the Netherlands. Which also means, I am now adding the finishing touches to my thesis (adios weekends) and look forward to submitting when I come back to Bath end of March. I am currently finishing a few experiments for the last chapter of my thesis and also a research article in the future.

A typical day in the lab

A typical day in the lab

On the Retra front, I am currently touch basing with my contacts in India and potential collaborations in other cities in the south of India in preparation to my return in the summer this year. I am also in the process of designing the website for the company. It has been a bit slow but I am hoping to make much more progress in the coming months. While on my placement, I learnt about a new technique to analyse the purity of the essential oils. It is a faster and an easier way to measure compared to some conventional techniques and I will analyse the test oils while I have access to the facility.

Retra – lab scale prototype

Retra – lab scale prototype

In addition to religious places, weddings are also a source of used flowers in India. As a few of my friends/cousins are getting married later this year, I have been asked to take a closer look at the floral arrangements with the potential of them being converted into a perfume post wedding. Weddings in India are becoming increasingly eco-friendly and this is a good opportunity for Retra to make impact by helping recycle the used flowers.

I can definitely smell spring in the air which means it is tulip time in this part of the world! I will spend the next two months establishing contact with florists to discuss the opportunity for Retra during the famous tulip auction.

Until the next post!


#4 February 2019

February has been a short but a super productive month for me in terms of my research as I have now started writing out the journal article for the work done during my placement at TU Eindhoven. This also means I am nearly done with my thesis! My PhD defence date has been set to the last week of May and I booked my flight back to Bath so I am really looking forward to coming back soon.

Retra hasn’t taken a backseat even with an intense month of research and lab work. In addition to being an enterprise, I have always thought of Retra as a worthwhile case study for circular economy and solid waste management. Before I left for my placement, I had discussed this possibility with the academics from chemical engineering and school of management. I was suggested a reading list which has helped me understand how to prepare a case study which is quite different from conducting fundamental research which I am more familiar with. There is also a research group in my faculty primarily involved in studying waste valorisation, its economics and impact on the environment. I am quite keen on collaborating with the group with some data from my pilot scale plant which could lead to an interesting study and a research article. I am also preparing a work plan for the next few months with what I want to achieve while I am still in the UK, which will help me speed up the start-up process once I am back in the country.

Back in India, I got featured yet again on a national and local newspaper. You can read the article here. It is a nice feeling which fills me with optimism every time something like this happens but there is also a lot of hope resting on Retra as a concept which I want to be able to achieve in the coming year.

The floating flower market in Amsterdam and tulips in every possible colour.

The floating flower market in Amsterdam and tulips in every possible colour.

Meanwhile the tulips have started blooming and I will just be able to visit the world famous Tulip festival near Amsterdam before I leave!


#5 March 2019

Hello - this time from Bath! 

March has been fulfilling as I wrapped up my placement in Eindhoven, submitted my thesis (yay!) and moved back to Bath. It was hard saying goodbyes to my colleagues in Eindhoven but I am also quite relieved that I am now one step closer to finishing my PhD.  

 
Tulips in bloom in the  Keukenhof garden

Tulips in bloom in the Keukenhof garden

I finally got to visit the Keukenhof garden, the home to the largest collection of Tulips and a variety of other flowers. The garden is located in the heart of the flower district in Lisse, from where most of the flowers are exported from the Netherlands. The garden had a beautiful array of the first blooms which mainly consisted of daffodils, tulips and hyacinths.

 

The visit was also informative about the lifecycle of tulips and how nearly 99% of the flowers are discarded because they don’t look right! This opens a whole new market for Retra which I am now considering to pursue. This also goes on to show the amount of resources which are required to get the perfect annual flower crop. Some variety of tulips are fragrant and can be utilised for their essential oil while the rest can be used as a manure for the cultivation of the next crop. I have received interests from a few florists in the Netherlands and will look into how Retra can function in the Netherlands in the future.  

The lifecycle of tulips – from bulbs to flowers

The lifecycle of tulips – from bulbs to flowers

Back in Bath, I am now resuming work on the website for Retra and re-evaluating my business model canvas to better incorporate new ideas from the last few months. I have met with a few academics who research on waste valorisation to get a better understanding of the technical challenges on a pilot scale. I am quite excited about taking part in this year’s Graduate Accelerator Showcase and the Santander Enterprise Awards and looking forward for the whole experience. I have also applied to pitch at the Cleantech Innovate 2019 event in London at the end of this month and I am waiting to hear if I have made it to the pitching day.


#6 April 2019

Being back in Bath is an amazing feeling and I have gotten back into work mode. I met Rosie and Siobain to discuss the plan for Retra going forward and I got some very useful suggestions about making the extraction unit more compact and easy to assemble. I am now working on re-creating a prototype back in Bath so that I can test the extraction efficiency using flowers available in and around the region. I have also visited an Indian temple in East Ham to estimate the type of flowers that are offered. The flowers are mainly ornamental but on few festivals roses are mainly offered. 3D printing the essential oil extraction unit is another attractive alternative and I will soon start working on creating the designs. 

I am now re-creating the extraction process prototype back at Bath

I am now re-creating the extraction process prototype back at Bath

I have been shortlisted for the next stage of the Graduate Enterprise Accelerator Showcase. As a part of the process, I got some very useful feedback for my online pitch. I have fine-tuned the technical aspect of Retra but I am lacking a strong marketing and a financial plan. I will now focus on developing both in the coming months and looking forward to working with mentors who can give me further advice. This will help me make my pitch stronger but will also help Retra in the long run.  

I am also preparing to apply for the Royal Academy of Engineering’s Enterprise fellowship and potentially the University’s GCRF funding as the vision of Retra fits well with the latter award. This will help in gathering stake holders and international collaborators for Retra if the application is successful.  

Till the next post! 😀