Entrepreneur Spotlight: Sidhant Gupta

From Graduation Trip to Groundbreaking Sustainability Business

May 27, 2023

Entrepreneur Spotlight: Sidhant Gupta

From Graduation Trip to Groundbreaking Sustainability Business

May 27, 2023

RSVP here

This event is sold out.

The Inspiration Behind Clearbot

Clearbot is a visionary company at the forefront of innovation, specializing in the design and manufacturing of automated electric boats. As Sidhant Gupta co-founder and CEO passionately explains, "Our unique selling point is the complete elimination of emissions and manual effort from marine tasks".

In 2019, Sidhant and his co-founder Utkarsh Goel were about to complete their studies and graduate from the University of Hong Kong. Eager to go on a graduation trip but lacking the necessary funds, they were thrilled to discover that the university had a fund that would sponsor their trip in exchange for undertaking an engineering project in a foreign location. This led them to set their sights on Bali as their graduation trip destination.

Sidhant shares: "While on the beach in Bali, we noticed people collecting trash on their surfboards from the water, and we learned that it was a huge problem. There's a huge community effort to keep the water clean. The government in Bali spends a lot of money investing into this process. But the process is not scalable. It's completely manual. So they can't really control the problem and scale".

Upon returning to Hong Kong they discovered that the Hong Kong government was using petrol and diesel-powered boats manually collecting waste with a net and 2 people's hands. Sidhant shared “In the end they were creating more pollution than they were cleaning up”.

This sparked the founders' vision to come up with a better solution - an emission-free, semi-automated or fully automated system that could be scaled up to address the issue more effectively.

According to Sidhant conventional methods of monitoring marine pollution only provide a partial understanding of the problem, with limited data available for remote regions. These methods include beach surveys, computer models based on samples collected at sea, and estimates of the amount of trash entering the oceans. Clearbot’s boats are able to detect and recover marine trash and oil spills providing very accurate data for effective clean-up by using a two camera system and AI-powered technology. Clearbot's AI dashboard tracks waste collection, impact data, and generates ESG reports. This not only helps protect the ocean but also enhances our understanding of its ecosystem.

💪🚧💡Navigating Obstacles: Clearbot's Journey to Market Triumph

At the beginning Sidhant and Utkarsh faced the typical startup challenge “the chicken and egg problem”. Sidhant recalls, 'What we had was a chicken and egg problem. We might have inquiries or customers, but we didn't have a product. And we didn't have a product because we didn't have the money, and we didn't have customers.' Despite this hurdle, they were determined to bring their vision to life. Undeterred, they decided to bootstrap their way forward.

They sought support from socially impactful organizations and were fortunate to receive help in building their first prototype at a minimal cost. They started with a rough prototype to prove the concept was possible. Sidhant explains: “It was literally some aluminum and net stuck together like two toy helicopters for propulsion. It was a super, super hacker. But you've got to start somewhere, right?”

With limited resources, they went through multiple iterations, each costing less than $500, but their determination never wavered. They were willing to do as much as they could with as little as possible. Eventually, they secured an order, which led to investment, and their startup began to gain momentum.

Sidhant goes on to share “Our next challenge is trying to understand how we can scale from 10 to 100 boats. Our boats are electric and can be solar-charged. They run on batteries that are charged with solar energy when the boat returns to shore. The boats can be controlled remotely from a laptop, however the process of parking and plugging in the solar panels is still a manual process". In order to solve this problem, Clearbot is currently working on developing a self-docking station to automate the parking process. "Our focus is on figuring out how to efficiently operate a fleet of 100 boats with a team of just five people”. But Sidhant's vision extends beyond just waste cleaning. "We can make the marine industry more sustainable by adopting electric and solar-powered boats," he said passionately. "Our ultimate goal is to inspire others and revolutionize the way marine ports are managed."

🌍Collaborating with governments and ESG departments

As Clearbot strives to clean up the oceans, they encounter a mixed mindset when working with governments. While the initial adoption of their environmental solution may be driven by a desire to create impact, they realize that in the long term, it's often seen as a cost rather than a priority.

Some private companies will sponsor boats for local communities as part of their environmental, social, and governance (ESG) projects, allowing Clearbot to make an impact and test their boats as pilots. However one challenge with ESG is its vulnerability to market fluctuations. In the current global economic downturn, where job losses are rampant, ESG initiatives often take a hit and may even face cancellation. As a result, Clearbot recognizes that their primary source of sustainable business lies with governments, who are ultimately responsible for finding long-term solutions to environmental issues.

🚀💡From Idea to Market

Clearbot's journey to launch was marked by various phases and challenges. The idea for Clearbot was conceived in May 2019 during the co-founders graduation  trip to Bali. However, for the next four months, it remained a research project without much progress towards becoming a business. After that initial period, Sidhant and Utkarsh went on different paths for about a year, with Sidhant starting another business and Utkarsh working at Credit Suisse. About a year later in September 2020, they regrouped and started working on Clearbot again. By June 2021, they were able to launch their first full-size board in the current form factor, marking the official launch of Clearbot as a product. Overall, it took approximately two and a half years from the initial idea to the successful launch of Clearbot, including a period of research, setbacks, and renewed efforts to bring their vision to reality.

🚀💰A pivotal moment on the journey

In January 2021, Clearbot was struggling with a less-than-ideal product that resembled a bathtub and didn't work well, but it proved the concept. The team was eager to build something better to attract clients and generate orders. Then, a random LinkedIn request from the CEO of Razer, a prominent gaming company in Singapore, changed everything.

Sidhant, recalls the pivotal moment: "The CEO of Razer saw our product on CES, which was virtual that year due to the pandemic. We got a free booth to showcase our product. So we reached out to him and pitched the idea of a collaboration, showing him a picture of Clearbot with Razer branding on it. He took a phone call in his car, and we had about 10 minutes to pitch. It was a game changer."

The collaboration with Razer resulted in a new design for ClearBot's board, and Razer also provided funding for the first prototype. Sidhant explains further, "Because of this collaboration, we were able to showcase a version of ClearBot to governments that actually worked and was real. This changed the direction of our business."

This decision came at a crucial time during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, from January 2021 to June 2021. It had a significant impact on Clearbot's progress, and Sidhant reflects on the experience: "That 10-minute pitch to Razer completely transformed our business and opened doors for us that we couldn't have imagined before. It was a game changer for ClearBot."

💡Words of Wisdom from Sidhant

"Honestly, just go for it! Do it, make mistakes, learn quickly, move fast. Just keep pushing because, initially, we had no money and didn't even know how it was going to go. But we kept pushing somehow, and now, this is real. It's just a matter of having a vision in your head, and any way that makes you move forward is better."

If you enjoyed reading this article, stay tuned for more inspiring stories and valuable insights from experienced entrepreneurs every week. Make sure to follow us on LinkedIn or subscribe to our weekly newsletter to stay updated. Join us on our journey of learning and inspiration! #Startups #Entrepreneurship #Inspiration #sparkmate

Let's make it happen

Spill the beans about your problem, challenge, intuition... and we'll bring a solution to life at lightning speed.