Renewable Startups Now Have Better Funding Avenues: Abhishek Pillai, Solar Ladder

Renewable Startups Now Have Better Funding Avenues: Abhishek Pillai, Solar Ladder

Abhishek Pillai is one of the three co-founders who started Solar Ladder, a supply chain startup, four years ago. The three co-founders laid the firm’s foundation around the end of their London School of Economics course. The firm has around 250+ solar EPC (Engineering, Procurement, and Construction) installers on board four years later. It also received the latest investment of Rs 11 crore to expand its business in India. 

At the sideline of the RenewX exhibition in Hyderabad, Pillai talked to Saur Energy during a short interview and shared the startup’s journey, challenges, achievements, and future plans. Excerpts from the interview. 

How the three co-founders started Solar Ladder, and what were the main obstacles you faced during your initial years?

Abhishek Pillai: We three were classmates at the London School of Economics. During the last two months of our college days there, we co-founded the startup and ventured into the solar energy sector. It was around four years ago. That was when Venture Capital investors were not confident about investing in climate tech and solar startups. So we were bootstrapped entirely during the initial day, but we did make profits as our business model was sound and well-planned. 

It all came with the hard work of our team and regular learning. During the initial days, all three used to go to rooftops to take measurements of solar panels and other equipment to get hands-on experience in the rooftop solar industry. We used to talk to the investors for PPAs (Power Purchase Agreements). We tried our best to do all that any solar installer in India would do. It helped us in getting the entire learning. Such learnings exposed us to the challenges the installers faced and bottlenecks and hinted at how a solar startup can fix these. 

However, during the last few years, there has been a shift in the mindset of venture capital (VC) investors. They have also realized the potential of the growing solar and renewable sector and their scale. Now several such VC funding is available to solar and climate tech startups. 

Four years down the line, where does Solar Ladder stand now?

Abhishek Pillai: We are a supply chain platform for solar installers in India. Our main aim is to help these EPC installers in the country to grow. We offer multiple products, including SAAS, a software that allows installers to improve their sales conversion, turnaround time, project management, maintenance, and overall operations. 

Moreover, we also have a procuring and financing layer. It helps these EPC installers with cheaper procurement rates and gives working capital and rooftop solar loans. Financing has been a critical issue in the industry. We are working towards helping the big and small solar installers in smaller towns and cities grow their business. We are trying to remove the roadblocks these players often face during work. We have almost 250+ solar installers on our platforms. We have already deployed financing and procurement for these EPC installers. So we now have enough experience to scale up our business.

How did Solar Ladder arrange funding to scale up operations? What were the major challenges?

Abhishek Pillai: We must have pitched our ideas to more than 60 investors or VCs for funding. While we were doing it on one side, on the other side, we continued trying to understand the sector. We kept getting the EPC on board, executing the procurements, and arranging financing and working capital for such projects, even without major funding. So we kept adding more clients and could scale it up to 250 EPC installers without taking a break to seek funding. That was something that the investors liked it. 

How much support did you get from the government or other agencies regarding grants in your initial days?

Abhishek Pillai: Yes. The governments at the Centre also helped us through startup grants in our journey. We got the first startup grant with the help of NITI Aayog, the Goa government, and the Telangana government. Later we got another grant under the Generate Programme of the London School of Economics and, lastly, another grant from the Vicom Startup School. These equity grants helped us to stay on.   

How mature do you think the solar startup market in India is now?

Abhishek Pillai: The number of startups venturing into the solar sector in India has increased manifolds in the last few years. Every six months, we see a new startup develop new ideas. The market conditions for new solar startups or renewable startups have become overwhelming. The VC investors who were earlier reluctant to invest in renewable projects have now realized their market potential. These investors have accepted solar or rooftop solar as a growing and big market for a scalable business to build. It is the main requirement for any investor who wants to invest in an excellent big market. That perception has been broken now. 

What are your future plans now?

Abhishek Pillai: We aim to scale up our business and increase our services to more EPC installers. We want to extend our services to the smaller towns and services where solar technology has started penetrating, but the installers are marred with several problems. We want to help them fight their obstacles with our services so that clean energy technology expands sustainability and more players jump onto the bandwagon without bothering much with operational issues. 

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