Meet the SHEROES - Rhea Singhal
Rhea Singhal worked with Pfizer before starting-up Ecoware an Indian brand that is leading the fight against plastic. Started as an experiment 5 years ago. Ecoware is now India's first and largest manufacturer of 100% biodegradable disposable tableware. Rhea tells us more about her journey –
Tell us about yourself
I was born in Mumbai and my parents moved to Dubai when I was a year old, in 1983. I grew up between Dubai and London. I study Pharmacology (Hons) from the University of Bristol. Once I graduated I worked as a senior marketing and sales executive in London (UK) for Pfizer Inc. I left my role at Pfizer U.K. and moved to Delhi with my husband in 2009 knowing that I had the skills to start a venture but was waiting for the right opportunity.
After arriving in Delhi, I noticed that how people were talking about health and safety of food but ignoring the packaging from which they were eating that very same food. For me, all benefits of a healthy meal can easily be negated if the serving dish has not been cleaned properly, is re-used, or contains chemical additives that are harmful to human consumption.
What is it that led you to start-up Ecoware?
I always knew that I had the skills to start a venture but was waiting for the right opportunity. Moving to India after a rigorous stint with Pfizer in the UK, I realised that this was the right time to use some of the sales and marketing skills acquired.
I found an urgent need to reduce the burden of littered/discarded plastics and at the same time provide safe and healthy food packaging. I looked for biodegradable disposable products, similar to what I used when I lived abroad and realized there was a gap in the market. After much R&D we produced a product that is durable and caters to the various cuisines.
The solution I had in mind involved using plant biomass to create disposable tableware that is strong, water resistant, and aesthetic.
This way people get the chance to eat safely and not harm the environment; live responsibly. At the age of 27, I started Ecoware in 2009.
Ecoware products do not contaminate the food it contains unlike traditional plastic and styrofoam and our range of tableware is 100% biodegradable and compostable. Our range of products are USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) Certified Biobased. By choosing a biobased product labeled, USDA Certified Biobased Product, the consumer can be assured that the USDA and the federal government stand behind the accuracy of the percent of biobased ingredients as stated on the label.
What are the challenges you faced while starting-up? How did you overcome those challenges?
One of the biggest challenges, was creating awareness of the need for an environmentally friendly product – starting with educating young students about environmental awareness, to enlightening distributors enough to incentivize them to look at my product over traditionally accepted plastic.
Education is key. When you introduce a new improved version of existing incumbents, especially one that sells at a premium, then it’s all about educating users about the benefits and advantages of using your product. Secondly since this is mass-driven consumer goods product, we required finding KoLs who can help us voice the benefits of our products.
Being taken seriously by the male dominated business industry – from the laborers in the factory to the distributors, and purchase managers– is a large test of business-stamina.
Convincing VCs that Ecoware is the future. I am not your typical tech startup. But I truly believe that we have to change our way of life to reduce our own risk as well as protect the environment and future-friendly solutions such as 100% biodegradable food packaging is an accessible solution. We know that the safest path is to avoid plastic when good alternatives are available. Fortunately for us we can reduce the risk by reducing our exposure to plastics.
How do you see Ecoware growing in the next 3 years?
India is such an exciting market with tons of potential and exciting domestic consumers.
People’s tastes are evolving, they are becoming more aware and educated and are making more responsible choices. For me this is key because I have been driving awareness so that my consumers make better choices and live responsibly, which is why I feel Ecoware is even more pertinent in the coming years
My goal is to be 1-stop shop for all biodegradable disposable packaging. To see Ecoware being used by the road side chaiwallah and in the best fine dining restaurants in hotels
As a mother of 2 young kids, I am even more driven to make sure we spread the message of responsible living and carry on providing solutions that are healthy and safe of for the environment, our families, and generations to come. Ecoware for me is more than a commodity, we take pride in being responsible manufacturers.
My vision is to make Ecoware a household brand synonymous with safe food packaging, similar to what Dettol means to hygiene or Google means to search online.
A message to all SHEROES out there.
Choose an area you are passionate about. When you start your own business you have to live and breathe it for at least the first year while you get things up and running. If you are passionate about your products and services this will also come across when dealing with potential investors and clients, making them more likely to want to work with you or buy from you.
Hold yourself Accountable and ask for help when you need it
Perseverance- no matter how hard you think it’s going to be. It will be harder.
Be open to change. Your ability to adapt across cultures is one thing that is going to play a major role in building a global career.
YOU CAN DO IT!