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!