--BY STAFF REPORTER
The Nepali brick market is dominated by traditional brick producers who are notorious for causing air pollution and other health hazards. The brick they produce also often falls short in terms of quality as they mostly ignore accepted international standards. But against this norm, a Bhaktapur-based startup has been fast gaining attraction in the local brick market due to the cost efficient and modern bricks it produces.
Founded by Bikram Prajapati along with his partner Gokul Prajapati in December 2014, with an initial capital of Rs 15 million, Bajra Brick and Tile Industries is being warmly received by customers. Among the Prajapati duo, Bikram is a graduate of Mechanical Engineering from Pulchowk Engineering Campus whereas Gokul has been a brick businessman for 10 years who knows the tricks of the trade and is also a 50 percent share partner. Prior to the business venture, Bikram had worked as an automobile engineer for five years and collected some money which he later used to start the company.
While studying at college, Bikram wanted to develop a system that could control the flow of air pollutants which the traditional brick kilns release. “The World Health Organisation (WHO) has listed Bhaktapur as among the most air polluted cities in the world. It is the traditional style of brick making that is worsening the quality of air in the district,” he mentions. After analyzing the grim scenario, he approached his friends for help. “We successfully developed a system but no brick producer was willing to adopt the technology. We tried a lot to convince them about its benefits but they showed no interest even after offering them the system free-of-cost,” he recalls.
Bikram saw how they placed profit over the environment and this made him take a radical step. “Their attitude and utter negligence towards the environment gave me a strong desire to start my own business in the future,” he says.
After failing to persuade the brick producers, Bikram went to Japan to work in 2009 after the completion of his degree. He worked as an automobile engineer and made some money. Two years later he returned to Nepal thinking to do some good. “Since I did not have adequate resources to start a business, I came back to Nepal with an offshore job that supported me financially,” he recalls.
Soon, along with Gokul, he embarked on a mission to establish Bajra Brick and Tile Industries to strictly produce quality and cost efficient construction materials with modern, environment-friendly technology and local materials. The company was registered in December 2014 and started operating immediately after the earthquake of 2015.
“The company also aims to contribute towards quicker reconstruction of houses and important structures destroyed or damaged by the earthquake with the substitution of traditional bricks by concrete blocks, bricks and tiles,” informs Bikram. According to him, the company does not use fertile soil for producing bricks and tiles. “We use industrial waste instead,” he says, adding, “We use the waste that remains after production and compact it to produce the products. This helps to control the pollution that a brick factory produces.”
The main products of Bajra Brick and Tile Industries are concrete hollow blocks, concrete bricks, interlocking blocks and finishing interlocking blocks. According to Bikram, all these products are produced using a single machine which requires a small workforce. Beside this, the bricks produced by the company are twice as stronger than local bricks due to the lower water absorption rate. “The more the water absorption rate, the weaker the bricks are. Our bricks come with a maximum of nine percent water absorption rate, whereas it is 25 percent in traditional bricks. The bricks we produce are of uniform size and are 20 percent cheaper than traditional ones,” informs Bikram. As opposed to the traditional bricks produced by baking in kilns, the company’s products are manufactured in machines through the process of compression and vibration. This ensures the bricks are of a constant size while also requiring less cement during the wall plastering thus adding cost effectiveness to the essential construction material. According to Bikram, the machine used by the company can operate for 12 months, whereas the traditional brick kilns can only operate for six months in a year. Due to the longevity of the machine, Bajra Brick and Tile Industries has an annual production capacity of four million pieces.
Like most other startups, they also faced various problems in the beginning. The major problem the founders faced was to convince people to use the bricks produced by modern technology. “People were used to traditional bricks due to which it was difficult for us to convince them about the benefits of using our products,” he mentions. “But slowly we were able to convince some people at Bhaktapur and the city areas.”
Nevertheless, even today the company is struggling with various problems like negative marketing. According to Bikram, traditional brick makers at times create difficulties. “The increasing syndication among the entrepreneurs has increased the trend of negative marketing,” he says. Similarly, the company is also facing problems related to working capital. “We started with Rs 15 million but recently we are facing the problem of working capital as we were not able to maintain stock levels,” reveals Bikram.
However, the coming days are looking a bit easier for the brick startup as it was recently selected for the Rockstart Impact programme and a number of investors are interested in investing in the company. “Negotiations regarding the investment are ongoing,” he informs. Currently 16 people are working as full time employees in the company and the founders are planning to increase the workforce in the coming days.
Focusing on Bhaktapur in the first phase, the company has also stretched its market arms to other parts of the nation. “We started in Bhaktapur since it has a large number of brick industries and we wanted them to see our project,” mentions Bikram. Apart from Bhaktapur, the company is supplying bricks for the construction of Hotel Akama, a three-star hotel being built at Dhumbarai, Kathmandu. Meanwhile, its products are also being used to build a resort and individual homes at Gotthatar.
The company is targeting to undertake five different projects in five years while expanding the market outside of Bhaktapur. The company plans to work on projects located at Imadole of Lalitpur and Sitapaila of Kathmandu around the Ring Road area.“These projects will be sufficient for us inside valley for the time being. We aim to move towards Hetauda and Chitwan where there are a lot of construction activities happening at present,” he says. Similarly, the company also has plans to work in the Terai area. “We are focusing on the Terai plains as there is an ease of transportation and quality soil to produce bricks,” he shares. Meanwhile, the company also recently met probable customers in Charikot and other village areas of Dolakha district.
Bikram says the company’s promotional activities, marketing and networking are largely carried out by word-of-mouth. “We are working through a network formed by myself and my partner who has worked for over a decade in this field,” says Bikram.
As it was not easy for the Prajapati duo to start a business that has strong potential to change an industry which follows an age old traditional style, Bikram has called on the government to ease the bureaucratic hurdles and formulate policies to promote startups. “It is important to support startups as they have new ideas and can bring positive changes,” he states.