IN A NUTSHELL: Did you know smoke from a mud stove kills more people than HIV, malaria, tuberculosis – all combined? Mumbai-based Neha Juneja is out to fix that. The seemingly benign act of cooking on a mud stove for an hour, she points out, causes “as much lung damage 20 cigarettes”. The 29-year-old’s answer to this is the Greenway Smart Stove, developed by her and her two partners, which is meant to for those two out of three households which use mud stoves even today. “In fact, 80 per cent of women who develop lung cancer in India don’t even smoke,” says Juneja. “Smoke from a mud stove kills more people than HIV, malaria, tuberculosis – all combined. It’s that lethal.” Her smart stove emits 70 per cent less smoke and most importantly the carbon monoxide, particulate are reduced to a safe level.
WHO: Juneja has an MBA from FMS, Delhi, and a BE in Production and Industrial Engineering under her belt. With that, she leap-frogged into a start-up way before we even had something we could call a “start-up culture”. “In 2008, when the stock markets were doing well and there was a general interest in trading, we started a website that would bring you the rates of financial derivatives, so you wouldn’t have to go through a broker,” Juneja explains. “We launched 11 days before the epic financial crisis. It was a good idea. It still is. It was just very, very badly timed.”
Yet, the venture wasn’t a complete bust. Juneja and her three partners made a profit by selling their sound algorithms. But they decided it was time to do something with a little more heart. “We started working on financing rural energy, that’s when we discovered the need for good stoves. You’d be surprised at how many houses have TVs, motor bikes and yet their food is being cooked on a mud stove. And if you ever use a mud stove, you’ll cry like you’ve never cried before,” says Juneja.
WHAT: In 2010, Juneja and her two partners started Greenway Grameen. “We designed a stove and took it for user feedback, but it still wasn’t right. In order to develop the stove, and understand the issue, we decided to cook on a mud stove for eight months – best investment we made but it was a horrible experience!” It would take them an hour just to light it. Many weeks and blackened utensils later, they developed 10 prototypes – the first was made in Chor Bazaar. “We sold them over the counters for Rs 1,000, and when someone offered to buy them we gave it to them for free,” says Juneja. This meant that their customer wasn’t just being polite.
Today, the Greenway Smart Stove sells at Rs 1,500. They’ve gone from a three-member team to a 130-member strong workforce. It’s also fetches Juneja many accolades: 2010’s Brightest Young Climate Leader by the Hindustan Times and The British Council and the L’Oreal Paris and Femina Women Award for Science and Innovation in 2013.
Here’s what makes her genius product different: “What happens in mud stove is that the fuel doesn’t combust properly. As a result, you have more carbon monoxide emissions, and more particulate matter. But it’s not a difficult problem to solve. You just need to burn the fuel better. You need a couple of things: better insulation, better retention time, a way to pump in more oxygen, so that the carbon is efficiently used.” Plus, you can use it with manure or locally sourced wood. It’s a viable alternative to LPG, which can be expensive for a family that earns Rs 3,500 per month. As a matter of fact, Juneja uses her stove in the city with great pride. “Except, I have to buy wood from the shamshaan ghaat,” she confesses.
WHERE: Having covered many parts of Karnataka already, you’ll find Juneja and her team doing demos at weddings, or working with micro finance systems in Gujarat, Rajasthan,West Bengal and parts of the North East this year.