From festivals to weddings, flowers in India take centre stage in celebrations and religious ceremonies. Flowers are so dominant in Indian culture that they make up one third of the country’s total solid waste. Discarded flowers litter land and waterways, a problem which has inspired PhD chemical engineer Parimala Shivaprasad to set up a company creating a product from flower waste.
27 year-old Parimala is setting up her company Retra, meaning fragrance in Sanskrit, to produce a sustainable essential oil range, basing a pilot plant at a temple in her home town of Bangalore, Southern India.
Flowers can only be used in temples for a single day, and each day two million tonnes of flowers are discarded across India. Retra will upscale the flower waste, using a simple technique to extract the essential oils from rose and jasmine petals, using the remaining bio mass for compost.
Parimala will run Retra as a social enterprise, employing local women in the process and giving a share of the profit to the temple. The compost will be used to fertilise the temple’s vegetable patch.
Earlier in the year Parimala won the University’s Business Plan Competition and was also able to test out a prototype with seed funding from a successful pitch to alumni funders in a Dragons’ Den inspired competition.
Now she has received a University of Bath Innovation Award funded by the alumni community, which will finance her to focus on her business for twelve months based in Bangalore, with ongoing support from the Bath SETsquared Innovation Centre.
Speaking about setting up Retra, Parimala said: “India is known as the land of flowers, but little thought is given to what happens to them when they are thrown away, or to the problems they are causing in our waterways. Our lakes are suffocating thanks to the algae bloom caused by discarded flowers.
“The idea came to me on a trip home and being involved with student enterprise at the University has given me the confidence to go ahead with it and help me think through the idea beyond the chemical extraction, which is my trade.
“I’m very excited to be setting up the pilot process in Bangalore later this year. There’s a lot of work to do before then, including finishing my PhD, but I’m very grateful to have the opportunity to turn my idea into an actual enterprise that will benefit my local community and hopefully grow way beyond.”
Parimala is benefitting from business mentoring and support at Bath SETsquared Innovation Centre as she puts her business plan into practice. Siobain Hone, Graduate Enterprise Manager, said: “Parimala is an inspiration to all students who think they might have an idea for a business. She has worked extremely hard to plan her business, and impresses everyone she meets with her enthusiasm and ability. Not only is she completing a PhD in Chemical Engineering and setting up a business, she has also worked with us and the University's Doctoral College to set up workshops to inspire other postgraduates into entrepreneurship. We are very proud of her and excited to see Retra flourish.”
Lecturer in the Department of Chemical Engineering and Parimala’s supervisor, Dr Emma Emanuelsson Patterson, added: “It's been a pleasure to supervise Parimala. She has got a fantastic 'can do attitude' and is very resilient in the lab. She has embraced all opportunities provided by the University; doing public engagement, attending a wide range of training courses, putting herself forward for competitions and always volunteering and helping out when asked, both in the Department and within the Faculty. “Her key strengths are having a positive attitude, a willingness to help out, loads of ideas, striving to learn and to improve, and an ability to listen and take on board feedback.”