Nandini Reddy

A journey that began in IIT Kharagpur in 2015 with five architecture students getting together to provide a playground for schoolchildren has grown into a social entrepreneurship venture that re-purposes old tyres into colourful playground equipment. Anthill Creations, founded by Nancy Charaya and Pooja Rai, and supported by Vishesh Gupta, Souradeep Paul and Nupur Agarwal, is a social startup that uses old tyres from cars, trucks and tractors to create innovative, low-cost playgrounds.

After graduating from college, the five friends gave up their playground-equipment building project and opted for conventional careers. But continued requests drove two of them, Charaya (28) and Rai (25) to quit their jobs at Flipkart and Payzilla and set up Anthill Creations as a full-time venture in 2017 in Bengaluru.

The Beginning

With shrinking open spaces and emphasis on academic achievement, playtime is sacrificed. Anthill’s aim is to provide playgrounds for children in schools, slums, factories, corporate parks, and even on roofs. “One school principal in Bengaluru refused to let us construct a playground saying that it would distract children from their studies," recalls Rai.

Charaya submitted their idea to IIM-Bangalore for an incubation funding competition in October 2017. The idea was accepted, and Charaya and Rai decided to focus on it full-time. “Nudge Foundation supported us as an early stage not-for-profit venture in 2018 six months after the incubation programme in IIM. Michelin and Apollo have supported us by donating used tyres. Dell Foundation has funded our venture," says Charaya.

A majority of the tyres used in the projects are bought from scrap dealers and around 10% comes from tyre companies. “In India, you have to buy scrap tyres as compared to other countries where you would be paid to take them away. The cost of the tyre is 350-400 for truck tyres and we also need to pay for transportation," says Charaya.

Tyres were the choice for their sturdy nature. “The tyre only wears out and becomes smooth on the surface, the rest of it is intact, and can be manipulated to create multiple creative playground options. It weathers well, making it an amazing option for outdoor construction," says Rai.

Pooja Rai (L) and Nancy (R)
Pooja Rai (L) and Nancy (R)

The Impact

Anthill works in 13 states with offices in Bengaluru and Delhi and a team of 10 people. They work on a model that involves the community where the playground is coming up. They have built 30 playgrounds in Bengaluru alone and have completed 87 projects thus far that has impacted 40,000 lives. “A majority of our projects are funded by companies through their CSR initiatives and we involve the employees also in the final construction of the playground. It is a simple process to learn how to assemble our playgrounds and we teach the community where they are coming up to help with assembly. This helps them take more ownership," says Charaya.

The playgrounds are designed by Charaya and Rai who have a library of nearly 100 designs to suit different spaces. They have also tied up with Teach for India, local organisations involved in education and corporates for identifying spaces and schools where they can construct their innovative playgrounds. They have recently completed a playground for visually impaired children in Bengaluru. The tyres are used to create playground items that are tactile and also generate sound, which are the two senses that excite visually impaired children. “This playground is more about textures and sound and is specifically designed for children with visual impairment," says Rai.

The Road Ahead

“The plan for the future is to construct 10,000 playgrounds across India in three years," says Charaya. “We are looking to partner with similar minded organisations to work with us," says Rai. They are educating partners through videos and live chats.

They are also experimenting with recyclable items such as used plastic bottles, discarded drums, used cable drum wheels and old cycle rims as alternative materials. “We want to create inclusive playgrounds that have something for children, adults, specially-abled children and even senior citizens," says Charaya.

Solutions from Waste profiles startups that have created businesses or products from discarded materials.