Ask the Climate Startup is an interactive series we run at CLIMAFIX that derives key insights from innovative climate startup founders on many different aspects of their startup journey. (See all posts at Ask the Climate Startup)

This series is done as part of the CLIMAFIX Summit 2023, India’s largest climate startup summit, organized by CLIMAFIX & Energy Consortium – IIT Madras.

In this post, we have Prabha Nagarajan of sharing her perspectives.

CLIMAFIX thanks Prabha Nagarajan for her valuable inputs.


1. Are you a first, second, or later-generation entrepreneur?

First generation

2. What has been your previous work or professional experience?

I have 15 years of cumulative experience working both in the academia and industry. After my doctoral study in molecular biology, I made a transition to industry. My work experience in previous roles has spanned across a few countries, where I was mostly involved in product ideation, development, manufacturing, and commercialization. The other founders, Prof. Sanjiv Sambandan and Nitin Parekh have vast expertise in technology and business development respectively.

3. Were there any special or specific reasons for you becoming an entrepreneur?

Environment and sustainability are deeply held personal values for me. Both these became stronger when I became a mother. Aligning my values with my actions was the next natural step when I was ready to make a leap in my professional journey.

4. Where or how did you meet your co-founders?

We three founders – Prof. Sanjiv Sambandan, Nitin Parekh and myself – met at Xerox PARC, California, USA. We realized we shared a common passion towards making a positive social impact, especially in water. This thought was further nurtured by Prof. Sanjiv (founder) who returned to India and started his lab at IISc which is where the idea for the technology was conceptualized.


5. Was there anything noteworthy you wish to talk about from your first year or the first couple of years of your startup?

There are several. The first is the support showed by IISc, their incubation cell SID, and the colleagues of the founder to create this startup. The second was the recognitions and traction we received from the international community via the various awards and recognition. The third was us being fortunate to find inspired youngsters to join our team. Finally, deep tech start-ups require significant investment and patient capital, we were fortunate to get support from Government impact initiatives which helped us in our technology development and validation in the initial phase.

6. Was there an Aha moments during your startup journey that made a dramatic difference (positive or negative difference)?

There were three Aha moments. The first related to technology, the second related to Business, the third related to teamwork.

The first was when many engineering insights (that can be detailed better by Prof. Sanjiv Sambandan) led to good results and product designs. The second was in identifying our market fit (which I will not discuss here). The third was in learning and implementing creative ideas to keep the team inspired.

7. Were there any memorable, amazing or funny memories from your journey?

The whole journey has been memorable and amazing. One of the most amazing aspects has been interacting with the team. This also leads to a lot of funny banter – but I am unable to pick one that I can state here.


8. What was your biggest mistake in the startup journey? Something that you would like other startups to avoid?

There were two big mistakes. The first – we gained too much attention too early on. This is not necessarily good if you are not already commercialized. The second – we took a long time to enter market because of our focus on perfecting the technology and logistic bottlenecks caused by the pandemic.

9. Looking back, what would you have tried to do differently if you were to start again?

Sell as you build. Don’t wait to build and then sell.

Laser focus. Keep quiet, keep your head down and keep working with focus.

10. Is there a question you would like startup founders to ask before they start?

Is your belief in your vision and mission aligned with your values? If yes, then it will be a worthwhile journey. You will win no matter what. Strong visions and beliefs have a way of influencing the world.


11. What keeps you awake at night?

My responsibilities to our customers, the team and the company.

Yet, I have learnt not to stress about this. Quoting the Dalai Lama (and as always advised by my mentor, Sanjiv Sarin), “If there is a solution to a problem, there is no need to worry. And if there is no solution, there is no need to worry.” Our worry stems from our not knowing if there is a solution or not – and I have learned to handle it with calm, collected action.

12. What do you think are your biggest strengths that are especially helping you in your journey?

I pay attention to details and sometimes can be annoying by asking too many questions; this has albeit helped me in achieving a broader vision in executing strategies. In my journey, I am not walking alone, my main strength comes from the people I am working with, our team, customers, mentors.

13. How were you able to find – and retain good talent – given the vast, lucrative opportunities such talent has today?  

It is important to be transparent about the vision of the company with the team, this fosters a positive work environment. Good talent also requires meaningful work, which is what attracts them to deep tech companies like us. We offer flexible work arrangements, growth opportunities and responsibilities to ensure a strong work culture.

14. Was there some support or help you received in your startup journey that proved critical? Who would you like to thank?

There are too many people to thank – our team, our angel investor, mentors, customers, SID IISc, BIRAC, IIM B, and many more good souls. Also, it goes without saying – our families.