For a better home: This firm is making houses more functional, affordable

Their unique idea and mission has won them several accolades — from the United Nation 22nd Youth Assembly Impact Challenge Award to the runner-up award in the Uttar Pradesh Start-up Conclave
A master’s in construction management from the US. A plush job with a consulting firm in New York City. All this didn’t comfort Shriti Pandey as much as she thought these would. The feeling of “living in a bubble” was strong enough for her to leave everything that she was doing and head back home in 2016. 

A year-long rural fellowship with State Bank of India, which comprised of a stay in remote areas in Madhya Pradesh, made her ponder over the living conditions of the villagers. The poor design and structure of the houses, quality of material used, as well as dependence on external agents of cooling led Pandey to start her own venture of building affordable homes. 

After completing her fellowship, Pandey formed Strawcture Eco, in 2017. Her aim was to make living spaces more functional, aesthetically desirable, environment-friendly, and affordable for all. The firm uses compressed agri-fibre panels and steel structures to build houses. The panels are made of 100 per cent rice straw. These reduce construction time by 50 per cent, cost per square feet by 35 per cent; they are termite proof and fire retardant, and are 100 per cent recyclable. “These can be a viable solution to stubble burning in India in the long run,” says Pandey. 

With the aim to fix the broken eco-system of housing industry that only caters to the elite, Pandey chose to build the first model home in Gorakhpur instead of any metropolitan. The model home functions as an office for Strawture Eco where they bring their clients to show the work they do. “When it comes to affordable housing, a client would want to first see a proof before investing in it. Hence, we have built our own office as an example to show how we work,” she says. The 350-square feet home was built in just five weeks with all finish work. The cost of the house was 30 per cent less then that of traditonal brick and mortar construction. “We have collaborated with the oldest and largest manufacturer of compressed agri fibre panels for technical know-how — Ekopanely,” says Pandey, who visited the Czech Republic based company on her own to assess the quality of the product at the start of the project. 

Pandey aims to address two problems through her venture. One is of crop residue burning in India, which has been in the news and is a big contributor to Delhi’s hazardous pollution levels. The other is to provide alternative housing solutions that are low cost, sustainable, non-toxic, and take less than half the time to be built as compared to traditional construction. She is confident that the material being used to construct these houses will stand in all weather conditions prevalent in India. But more than the construction material, it is her gender that has played a major role in getting investors. The usual remark of “you-should-have-a-male-co-founder” that every woman founder of a start-up  receives, has found its place in Pandey’s entrepreneurial life as well. However, that has not deterred her from going ahead with plans of expansion across the country. 

“We are currently focusing on both residential and commercial projects. Looking at commercial projects involves lesser time compared to a residential one. We already have four projects in Uttar Pradesh where we have built classrooms and done about 50,000 square feet of construction,” says Pandey. With every project, the firm is diversifying geographically, she notes. “We have three projects running in UP, one in Uttarakhand, and one in Chennai. The aim is to partner an institution in different geographies. In Chennai, we have partnered a developer who wants to build affordable housing,” she adds. 

As the company is currently bootstrapped, the profits from these commercial projects, would, in turn, be used to build affordable housing in the rural sector. They have done over 10,000 square feet of construction and made a profit of Rs 1 crore since inception. Pandey hopes to make a turnover of Rs 1 million by the end of 2019 and then go on to raise money from investors as well as look to build these compressed agri panels on their own in India. “These insulated compressed panels made out of straw can provide an additional source of income to farmers. With this project, a farmer can make Rs 25,000 from a one-acre plot of straw, and reduce the carbon emission caused by stubble burning,” says Pandey.

Working towards a big pilot project in one of the developing states in the country to showcase a new alternative model of social and affordable housing, Strawcture Eco is aiming for dignity for families, and to design with empathy. “We are hoping that the technology would be accepted by the government so we can, with support of families, build houses under Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana and meet the government’s mission of providing housing for all by 2022,” adds Pandey.

Their unique idea and mission has won them several accolades — from the United Nation 22nd Youth Assembly Impact Challenge Award to the runner-up award in the Uttar Pradesh Start-up Conclave that provided them with funding. Most recently, they won the Green Building award at the Smart Cities Expo held in New Delhi. Banasthali Vidyapeeth and IIM Bangalore Women Start-up  Programme has mentored them.

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