Dear Friend of Ashaya,
It is a strange time to write to you about our progress at Ashaya.
As history anticipated, the second wave is throttling us here in Pune and India. Fortunately, we have been healthy so far, but many of our friends, our extended families, and our fellow citizens have been less fortunate. If you’re looking for avenues to donate, I’d recommend here, here and here. Death is not novel, but it hits hard every time.
Pune is currently locked down. We are lucky to still be nimble enough to transport some of our equipment to our houses and continue tinkering. But things have slowed down a little.
The last three months have been fruitful in general. Our lab in Chinchwad is almost fully loaded. Jitu, my co-founder, got another technical breakthrough — we’ve figured out how to separate polycotton textiles into polyester (plastic) and cellulose (cotton). 60% of all clothing materials contain plastics, and clothes are one of the largest contributors of microplastics, which we know are no good. We still have to figure out how to take these separated layers and make them into something more valuable, though. So yes, a long way to go.
Meanwhile, we have been optimizing our first breakthrough. Our multi-layered packaging separation process has now been upgraded from 1 gram to 1 kilogram. We have established a miniature supply chain with a local kabbadiwala (scrap shop) who’s an 8-minute drive from our lab. She’s eager for us to buy her waste in larger quantities of course, and we can’t wait to do so as well.
We now have a 3D printer that we’ve been tinkering around with, and it’s fascinating, but we are such noobs with it. We also have a mini-extruder that spins out 3D-printing filament, so we are close to extruding our first filament! But let’s not get too excited — we are using virgin plastic for now to understand the basics, recycled filament is a while away. In my world that has been becoming increasingly virtual, I have realized that there is so much of physics and chemistry that I took for granted.
We are also growing in number.
Well, we have added one more person to the team — Nainika started yesterday and will drive the art around polymers and extrusion. We are excited to add another dimension to our research!
We’ve also formalized our advisory board, and had our first board call a couple of days ago — we are so damn fortunate to have the support that we do. Locally, we have PCSIC and Pune University that we can lean on.
Internally, we are experimenting with the concept of functioning as a teal organization. We might get an intern soon. It’s becoming real.
And yet, it all feels a little surreal at times.
We are pushing this boulder up a hill while hoping that Sisyphus doesn’t come to haunt us. We are still in no-man’s-land when it comes to the most important piece of the puzzle: value-increase. Unit economics is against us and we get laughed at from time to time for even attempting this. There is a slew of known unknowns and countless unknown unknowns. The only upside is that we have little competition — who else is ludicrous enough to do this?
It’s scary. But I don’t want to be doing anything else.
Hope you are safe and well out there,