Ankit Agarwal and Karan Rastogi first met in school and became friends. The duo went on to the usual path of pursuing higher education and jobs. Karan completed his master’s in business analytics and consulting from Warwick Business School. He did a thesis on climate change and carbon credits. While Ankit completed his masters in Innovation Management from Symbiosis Institute of Business Management; His interest in nature and environment increased when he researched the environmental hazards caused by discarded vehicle 

tires during his college days. He also has published many research papers in various International journals.

Story

In 2015, Ankit’s friend Yakub from the Czech Republic came to visit him; they went to spend some peaceful time by the river Ganga. The sight was sound and soothing; it was like a treat for the eyes. The sight was engaging but Yakub, Ankit’s friend, was concerned. He noticed that many devotees are offering flowers to the river Ganges and a truck is unloading the waste flowers into the river.

Yakub asked Ankit to do something about the situation of river Ganga which eventually turned Ankit and Karan into entrepreneurs.

The dream of being a World Changer and the love for the city made them quit their jobs and the duo co-founded Phool (before, Help Us Green) in 2015, a social startup based in Kanpur, with a mission to save the river Ganges and empower women.

Ganga is the second most polluted river in the world and affects more than 500 million people. This pollution is spreading diseases like malaria, dysentery, cholera, dengue, hepatitis, and severe diarrhea which is one of the leading causes of child mortality in India. Around 1.21 billion Indians offer flowers at temples, mosques, gurudwaras, and last rites. These flowers are a symbol of mother, harmony, and devotion. Because of that the flowers and other prayer waste are discarded in the river to respect its sanctity. But no one thinks what happens next.

These sacred flowers and other prayer waste rot in the holy river affecting the ecosystem under the water and start killing fishes and creating havoc and cause enormous pollution. All the insecticides, pesticides, and chemical fertilizers that are used to grow flowers get mixed in the river water and make it highly toxic. Every year around 900,000 tons of flower waste is dumped in the rivers of India which makes them chocked to death.

They started working on it and realized the danger of temple flowers containing pesticides and insecticides. They planned to meet Pundits and Pujaries of different temples, temple management officials and pitched their idea of recycling flowers. It took them about seven months of research and development (R&D) to come up with their first product, Mitti (vermicompost). Then they moved to incense sticks, incense cones, gulaal, and Florafoam (A product which completely decomposable in the environment after its use and purely made of flowers. It is an alternative to ‘Thermacol’ which is almost non-decomposable and takes years to decompose).

Now, they are researching to make bio leathers out of temple flowers. Meanwhile researching for the packaging they came across an interesting fact that the use of photos of Gods of outer wrapper, boosts sales of your product, but the people refuse to throw the wrapper into the dustbin, because of the religious sentiments.

They came up with an interesting idea and made some of their packaging material with photos of Gods on it with seed paper (paper with seeds interspersed in it). The idea was to make your customers remember you after they have made the purchase. The process was simple you just have to plant the wrapper (after usage) in a pot just like a seed and within a few days, the process of sprouting starts.

You can also buy their products at www.phool.co or from other major e-commerce sites like Flipkart, Amazon, Snapdeal, etc.

Journey & Recognition

Founded in May 2015, by Ankit Agarwal and Karan Rastogi, Phool has been supported and incubated by Tata Trusts, Social Alpha and IIT Kanpur. Phool is a sustainable solution to the ‘temple-waste’ problem in India.

Pioneering the technology of “Flower Cycling” to save the river Ganga from becoming a dump station for the temple, mosque, gurudwara, and last rites waste. Phool collects 8.7 tons of floral waste daily and it is transformed into biodegradable packaging material (Florafoam), charcoal free incense stick, cones, and natural vermicompost.

Phool employs and empowers women who came from the background of manual scavenging. They are now provided with facilities like insurance, bus service, and other medical benefits.

Phool has received many awards since inception like ISB iDiya Challenge 2015, IIM Indore Kalpavriksha Challenge 2015, and the IIT Kanpur social challenge 2015. They’re finalists at the Tata Social enterprise challenge 2016 (TSEC) however; the most prestigious will be the United Nations Young Leaders Award at the United Nations General Assembly in New York. Ankit was selected as one of the 17 young leaders for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by the United Nations, at the 73rd session of the UN General Assembly in New York.

Ankit was selected from more than 20,000 youth from more than 185 countries. As a young leader, for the next two years, Ankit will be engaged in UN advocacy efforts and support young people in the realization of the goals by collaborating with the UN on strategic opportunities. The Young Leaders, representing five continents, seventeen countries, and their constituencies of millions of young people around the world, ranging from scientists, inventors, storytellers, and activists. The UN Young Leaders is a flagship initiative led by the UN Secretary-General Antonio Gutierrez’s envoy of youth. The jury comprised of social visionaries and SDG advocates spanning across a range of backgrounds.

Ankit and Karan’s entrepreneurial journey has made it to the Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR). The two childhood friends were also featured in the Forbes 30-under-30 2018 List.

The duo wants to spread their operations across 2,000 km along the banks of Ganges and provide employment to 35,000 women and contribute to educating their children. They also want to replicate the model throughout India and hope that the country supports them.