Bangalore: When you think carbon accounting, Ernst and Young, KPMG and PricewaterhouseCoopers come to mind. But when little-known NextGen PMS Pvt. Ltd gets ICICI Bank Ltd, Infosys Ltd, Yes Bank Ltd and some 30 Fortune 500 companies as clients, you tend to notice.
Started by Abhishek Humbad and Richa Bajpai in 2009, NextGen is an offshoot of a college research project. It began as an investment club the two ran for alumni members of the Birla Institute of Technology and Science (BITS), primarily trading in carbon and providing consulting services to banks. In 2007, the Reserve Bank of India directed banks to report what they were doing for the environment.
Striking a balance: Richa Bajpai and Abhishek Humbad(centre), the founders of NextGen. Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint
While making a presentation at the World Youth Renewable Energy Congress in Portugal during their final semester, the two got noticed by the World Bank. Much of their initial experience around carbon emission management and sustainability came from projects with the World Bank.
“But we needed the backing of business school to take the business forward,” says Humbad. NextGen was incubated at BITS before it moved to the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore and then to the Indian Institute of Management in the same city.
After a BE in Electrical and Electronics from BITS, Pilani, Humbad joined IIM, Bangalore, for a two-year course in business management. Bajpai, who did her BE in Electrical and Electronics at BITS’ Jaipur campus, opted for a short-term course for women entrepreneurs at the same B-school.
Over the next couple of years, they continued to build their business while making the most of being in a premier management school. At the time, much of their funding came from winning business plan competitions. The prize money of a typical business plan contest was about Rs 50,000. “We didn’t need too much funding then, just a computer and cellphone was enough,” says Bajpai. So far, NextGen hasn’t had to rely on external funding.
Networking played a key role in helping the duo win their first client—Intel Corp. An enquiry from the world’s largest chipmaker came after a conference the two had presented, and it turned out it was a former Bits student who clinched the deal for them.
At that point, the challenges of completing a business management degree and working towards a business plan was exacerbated by parental pressure. “Of course our parents wanted us to take up steady jobs and it took us some time to convince them,” Bajpai says.
Their persistence has paid off. The company’s revenue jumped from Rs 1.5 crore in 2010 to Rs 5 crore so far this year. “From a financial perspective, we’re far more lucrative than what we might have been had we taken up jobs,” adds Humbad.
The idea behind NextGen is not just philanthropic effort to clean up the planet; it also entices corporates to go green by appealing to their profitability. So it starts by measuring a firm’s carbon footprint—right from emissions from sourcing, production and storage to even retail and final disposal, and moves on to find ways to reduce carbon emissions that will eventually help save costs.
Humbad and Bajpai run a dual operation. Emission management and consulting and sustainability remain NextGen’s mainstay, contributing about 80% of its revenue. Cleantech in India is still at a nascent stage—the country is yet to accept the Kyoto Protocol, a United Nations Framework to fight global warming.
Aware that lucrative growth lies in the more compliant European markets, NextGen recently developed a tool along with Mindtree Ltd that will track data for sustainability management. This will be marketed jointly by both countries across India and international markets.
NextGen is already working with clients across Sri Lanka, the Maldives and the United Arab Emirates. “So, it’s like running a knowledge process outsourcing where we’ll be managing environment compliances across other countries too,” says Bajpai.
NextGen’s more recent waste-to-energy business is slowly gaining ground. It has installed six biogas plants across the country. Investments towards such plants, though, are dear, costing Rs 15-20 lakh. “We’ll be using the revenues that come from our consulting business to invest in plants,” says Bajpai.
Eventually, Humbad and Bajpai want to use this technology to power rural telecom towers. All this, they hope, will help take the company’s topline to a sweet Rs 300 crore in three years.
In the past six months, NextGen has opened two offices in Mumbai and Delhi. Its employee count has gone up from 13 to 24. Humbad and Bajpai are now also considering debt and equity funding. “But only at the right valuation,” they are quick to add together.