They were Oriano Solar had made it to the much-anticipated list of Tech30 companies at TechSparks 2016 because of the founder-trio’s fierce commitment to solar energy even when the odds were stacked against them. The two-year-old startup supplies clean solar power and helps businesses and industries reduce their energy cost – and firmly believes that the electricity cost for the end-consumer can be brought down by 20 to 30 percent, and the power of the existing grids can reach the masses – including remote corners of the country where electricity is otherwise not available – if the solar agenda is truly met with the rigour it deserves from the stakeholders.
A quick recap
Oriano’s journey started in June 2015, when Sachin Jain, Yeshwant Rao and Sameer Shah came together and founded a solar-focused solutions company with a vision to supply clean solar power for economic progress that can go hand-in-hand with environmental development. After completing his MBA from the University of Cambridge, Sachin returned to India and joined Mahindra Partners in 2010, in the founding team of their Cleantech business. During this time, he met Yeshwant Rao and Sameer Shah at a vendor meeting. Yeshwant and Sameer had known each other for over 20 years, and had already started their solar journey in 2009, through their own company, CCL Optoelectronics. Impressed by their expertise and skill, Sachin stayed in touch with the duo over the years. In 2012, Sachin moved on to consultancy at KPMG, as an Associate Director in the Renewable Energy area. But when the newly elected government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi increased the solar energy target to 100 GW in 2014, the trio felt it was the opportune time to join forces and create Oriano Solar. “It was difficult for me to quit after 15 years in the corporate world. But having known Yeshwant and Sameer for the last five years and their passion for solar energy, my plunge was a lot easier,” says Sachin.
A month after it was incorporated, the founders of Oriano approached SIDBI Venture Capital for funding. “Since Solar energy comes under the infrastructure sector, not many ecommerce or software focused VCs were interested in the space. We learnt that it would be prudent to shortlist seven to eight VCs who were genuinely interested. Also, the size of investment we wanted and the typical investment round which the VC does should match,” Sachin said, of their strategy.
They, however, couldn’t close the deal, because they were still a young company without any numbers to show for – but it marked the beginning of what would be a long, symbiotic journey. In the meanwhile, seeing that the solar industry was getting a, the team soon realised that to differentiate in the market, they would have to look beyond regular EPC solutions. They started looking for investors who backed their mission of providing end-consumers solar power with zero investment, while lowering their electricity bill. Oriano won its first project with SunEdison, a leading global player for doing solar installation for end-consumer Amway’s Rooftop. “It was one of the first projects in the country done without any penetration on the RCC roof, or even any glue – on a two and a half acre rooftop installation. The entire design was done on basis of counter-weight ballast model,” Sachin explains. Upon successful completion of the project, Oriano decided to replicate this model – either providing end-consumers solar power with zero investment by bringing investors on board; or in turn, helping investors gets end-consumers for installing solar projects. This worked well, and they helped large international developers win 150 MW in a reverse auction by helping them enter solar market in India.
Go big or go home
To build a brand for Oriano in the crowded solar energy space, the team employed various strategies like showcasing their projects, inviting prospective customers to their sites, and creating brand presence through solar industry events and magazines. “Until recently, we did not even have a dedicated business development team. But what worked for us are our past relationships and the network we had built over the years,” says Sachin. Oriano then built one of the country’s first solar parks in Karnataka, 23 MWp in capacity, selling power to private consumers – across 100 acres of land, the construction of which needed around 450 workers. “This solar PV plant will reduce 6.9 lakh tonnes of carbon emissions till 2040 and is the equivalent of planting 13,23,765 trees. It gives power sufficient for 80,000 Indian households,” Sachin states. Around the same time, YourStory shortlisted Oriano as a TECH30 company, from over 2600 startup entries, at TechSparks 2016. “This recognition proved beneficial to Oriano, and we received inquiries from various VC/PE firms,” he says.
In the following months, SIDBI Venture Capital, that had been following Oriano’s growth trajectory keenly, pumped Rs 20 crore into Oriano’s operations, through its Samridhi Fund (backed by the government and DFID), in equity and venture debt.
Against insurmountable odds
Oriano Solar happens to be among the very few Solar EPC companies in the country that has raised venture investment. This round was crucial in opening up many avenues for Oriano. “Even after having a large order book, it was difficult to get working capital limits from the bank. Raising venture capital has helped us overcome this challenge and take on large value orders,” Sachin says, adding, “Post this, it is important to keep the VCs updated of your startup developments, to build a deep, long-term relationship.”
After the new influx of funds, in March 2017, Oriano was successful in building one of the largest solar rooftop installations of 5.5 MWp in the country for a single industrial end-consumer, Ashok Leyland/Hinduja Renewables, and currently, it is installing a 50 MWp solar PV project in Karnataka and has a total 105 MWp solar PV projects under construction spread across 400 acres of land, that they are aiming to complete by December 2017.
“These projects have created over 1,000 jobs for skilled and unskilled workers – including women – who are at the bottom of the pyramid. Some of our prospective clients were surprised to see the enthusiasm of our site engineers when they took them on a plant tour. From this feedback, we learnt that the passion for your work is infectious and never goes unnoticed,” says Sachin. Oriano has now broadened its portfolio from pure EPC solutions to providing land, transmission lines, and solar park infrastructure. With a team of more than 60 people and the bulk of their projects on the anvil, Oriano expects to install over 120 MWp of projects in FY17-18 with revenues over $25 million. In their short, two-year-long journey, Oriano has even won the “Solar PV EPC Company of the Year 2017 – Utility Scale (less than 50 MW) – Gold” at the India Solar Week Excellence Awards.