Chennai: Eshwar Vikas, an engineering student at SRM University in Chennai, was having dosa and sambhar with his friend at a south Indian restaurant in Delhi. As he paid the bill of Rs.110 for a dosa, a thought struck him that in Chennai it cost only Rs.25- Rs.50, while the prices for burgers, pizzas and donuts were the same across the country.
“The differential pricing is for India made food items like dosa, puris and chappatis as they are hand-made; burgers, pizzas and donuts are manufactured or automated,” reasons Vikas. He also says that it is because of labour problems and finding skilled people comes at a cost.
“I thought why not replace human effort with machines. But there were already machines available in the market, but they were not being used as they were big, bulky and tough to clean,” he explains. So, a bright idea struck him: why not experiment creating a small dosa maker.
In mid 2011, the electronic engineer started with his experiment and, after several attempts, was able to create a prototype.
After a year of struggle, he developed two models. One he called Dosamatic, a table-top dosa maker approximately the size of microwave machine, and the other, a high-volume dosa maker which would make a dosa every 20 seconds. Vikas loves to call his invention the “dosa printers”—it will make dosa at touch of button, similar to how coffee is made by a coffee machine.
One has to place dosa batter, oil and water on the machine which can also custom make these dosas on crispiness and size. He has applied for a patent for his machine.
The process of building was painful as he had to manage college and assignments.
The machines use greenfield technology compared with the conventional method of making dosas on the gas stove, and adhere to and comply with food safety standards in India.
The existing machines cost about Rs.3 lakh while Vikas’s Dosamatic will cost just one-third of the bigger machines. “If we are able to mass produce, the cost can significantly come down,” he says.
So far, he has spent Rs.6.5 lakh on his dosa maker. He scrapped the seed capital a bit from his parent’s savings and pooled in the money he earned through internships. SRM University had also provided him a grant of Rs.1.2 lakh. He also used prize money from other institutes. The Dosamatic won the best innovative product from Mahavir Institute of Engineering and Technology in Tiruchirappalli.
With the help of Indian Angel Network and his friend Sudharshan Lodha, Vikas has set up a company called Mukund Foods, which will look at automatising food production. He considers Hari Balasubramanium of Ontrack System Ltd, a web services and software development company, as his mentor who advised him to do the table-top and not the bigger version. “First my idea was to sell the dosas from the machine but it was Balasubramanium who encouraged me to look at developing the product for the market as a business,” says the 22-year-old.
“My mother said the dosas from Dosamatic were delicious. However, she pulled my leg stating it would be more useful for my future wife than her,” Vikas smilingly says.
So far, he has got 100 demo enquires and also verbal orders for his dosa maker across hotels and restaurants in Chennai. Vikas and Lodha did a survey across the city and found that approximately, a hotel makes about 400-500 dosas a day. Mukund Foods’ dosa maker can make 700 a day and is easy to clean, Vikas says.
The biggest challenge that Vikas faces now is to attract investors. The product has definitely a huge market but the concern of investors is that there is no market validation and neither are they able to raise funds from bank which require collateral, he says. Most of the investors whom Vikas approached said they were only interested in investing in companies that develop new technology. However, he has not lost hope.
The young entrepreneur illustrates a scene from the Dark Knight Rises movie where Batman tries to climb a well by tying ropes but fails miserably after which a wise prophet says, “Climb the well without the rope. Either you will die or you will get out.”
He has not taken offers from any company even as 95% of his classmates who would be graduating in the next two months have got jobs. “I did not want to have a back-up plan. That’s why I did not sit for placement because my passion for this product is to succeed, whatever may come,” he say. Mukund Foods plans to go into domestic production of Dosamatic in two years and expects to start export to US from the third year.
Mint has a strategic partnership with National Entrepreneurship Network, which hosts the Tata-First Dot competition.