With technology and industries encroaching the nature, the sustainability of resources is
perhaps the toughest challenge that the world faces today. However, there are few
underrated stars directing the focus towards sustainable growth. Mr. Shrey Goyal is one
such bright star who hopes to bring about a change. A graduate from the Mining Engineering
Department of IIT Kharagpur in 2011, Shrey Goyal chose an unconventional career choice
when he co-founded Sustainable Growth Initiative, a startup that advises corporates and
governments on energy security and works towards low carbon emissions. Following a right
plan and an effective philosophy to deal with problems, he was listed in the Forbes India 30
under 30 list of 2016 in the NGO and Social category, at merely the age of 27. The products
and projects laid out by him have received applause on both national and international
forums. He also spoke at the COP21 climate conference in Paris.
Awaaz, IIT Kharagpur got an invaluable chance to interview him during his visit to KGP and
here we present an insight into his life and work that is definitely inspirational for all young
brains of KGP.
Role of IIT KGP –
IIT-KGP has been very central to both my professional and personal life. IIT has played a big
role a lot at the technical level of education. IIT helped me learn a lot of lessons from my
classmates and my friends’ circle which is today my network of contacts. Also, I believe that
the premier IIT-tag has helped me a lot especially when I have worked in national areas.
On developing skills during college years –
I have led teams and we won a bunch of competitions while in Kharagpur. I also had a
startup which was moderately successful. I believe that considering the time, space, and
opportunity that resources in KGP provide, it is a wonderful time to try these things. People
look for people who can lead them. There are a lot of things such societies and causes to be
done if one makes the best use of his time. Soft skills are challenges many IITians face after
graduating so it’s helpful to develop those skills.
Roots of the startup- Sustainable Growth India (SGI) –
My startup and academic work here in KGP was broadly around the idea of sustainability.
My first startup was in clean energy, followed by working at World Bank and at Grameen
which also revolves around the idea of sustainable development. After I had worked with
policymakers, National development agencies, and corporates, I and the co-founder
realized there is a lot of work to be done in the sector. Hence, we started on the idea as we
felt the time was right.
Role of Himanshu Gupta – friend and co-founder of SGI –
Himanshu is the reason the company started essentially. Himanshu worked at the Planning
Commission when we first met and he was the brains behind the operation. He created the
tool that we worked with and took complete ownership of his work. Even today, while
Himanshu and I work on different projects, we serve as advisors to each other and he has
been a big companion of mine in professional and personal capacities.
Traveling the road less taken –
Entrepreneurship was a completely new concept when I had made this “difficult” choice ten
years ago, while most of my classmates opted for corporate jobs. However, by the time of
graduation, I had gained enough industry experience, campus internships, and built a strong
network of contacts, so I had the confidence of doing reasonably well. Two-thirds of all first ventures fail but acknowledging the fact that IITians have beaten odds of almost ninety to
one, this would be relatively more probable.
Facing the tough times –
I have had my fair share of tough times and an equally combative philosophy to face them. I
learned to live with uncertainties, acknowledging the fact that things may not work well every
time. Sometimes, unconventional choices can take a toll on a number of things, ranging
from health to personal relationships. My batch mates and friends have been supportive all
this while and have helped him draw lessons out of difficulties.
Hobbies and Interests –
I have been passionate about quizzing since my days at KGP. Even after that, I go for
conducting and participating in quizzes when time and space permit. I am fond of writing and
have written OPED blogs for newspapers like The Hindu and Economic Times occasionally.
I have also written fiction stories and poems that have been published. Apart from these
hobbies, I am a cricket spectator and a fan of the Indian cricket team.
On the decision to shift his office to Paris –
Paris is the third most important city in the world following New York and London. COP’ 21
was a great success in Paris in the way French Government handled it. Also, the French
government offers support for any foreign researcher, entrepreneur, or expert on climate
change. They provide free office space, VISA assistance, legal help along, and have a new
passport category in order to facilitate the setting up of business. I met with a french
Diplomat in Delhi who motivated me to shift to Paris. We have formed a joint venture with a
French Energy Company and I are also on the board with a French social entrepreneur
network who will also be lending their resources. All these factors sum up to make Paris an
ideal place for us.
To how many countries is SGI currently playing an advisory role?
There are places and organizations who have bought our product but they may call us again
to do some servicing or they may not. In the past, we have done some work in Australia, the UK,
The US and now we are doing it in mainland Europe. In the next few months, a lot of things are
supposed to come.
On the short term and long term targets of SGI –
It’s really difficult to say but a lot is happening right now. Soon we would be in Paris and we
would be establishing an office-based there and there is a company with which we will be
working in a joint venture. They have a few ideas of their own and have planned to spend
parts of it off. Those ideas vary a lot. Over the next few months, we will test those ideas and
see which one works. One of the ideas where we have already started work is in the Electric
Vehicles space. We will be developing toolkits that could be installed in any normal car
that will make it into a hybrid vehicle. We are also working on things like seawater air-
conditioning. It’s a way to provide cooling solutions and potentially generate using seawater.
The company already does that and has been already doing that for over a decade. We are
looking to improve it and to make it feasible at a much larger scale. These are a few things we
would be working on. About the long term, we can’t say where this will go but the long-term
ambition is to play an important role in advancing society and social equity, policy changes
that could be brought through technologies, etc. There is a lot that needs to be done and we
want to play some part in doing that.
On brain drain from India –
There are a bunch of reasons for the brain drain. There is not much research infrastructure
in India and that is something which I don’t see changing, honestly, it is not really improving.
Most of the people of my batch who are into research are therefore outside India. In general,
a lot of research happens outside of India. In other areas too there are greater opportunities
outside of India. Though the Indian Government is making a lot of effort and things are
changing slowly but at this point, if you want to raise money, it is so much simple to go to
Silicon Valley and do that. If you are working on planet change there is so much more interest
by governments and companies outside India. Even startups by Indians are based outside,
for example Flipkart which is based in Singapore and that is where it pays its taxes. Of my own
experience, running a company in India is very challenging with the bureaucracy, a certain
sense of lack of security, in terms of uncertainty regarding whether things will continue the
way they are right now, planning for the future, and so on. As a country, we really need to
step up our actions. Also, there is a possibility that a lot of these people who are abroad in
research or in business could come back and continue here.
Steps that can be taken to stop this brain drain –
The government or the IITs themselves can make greater investments in research and there
have been some attempts. For example when we were looking at doing something in
Electric Vehicles we didn’t find a place in India to do that. Climate change and clean
technology are going to be the issue of the future. None of the IITs have a climate change
research cell or research center to work on climate change, clean energy, or sustainability in
general. These are some low-hanging fruits that could be caught. That is it for research. On
all the other fronts, the government is encouraging startups and doing a lot but still, there is
still a lot to be done.
Changes in the higher education system that can be brought –
The problem really starts at the school level and the whole coaching industry level. I think
the biggest problem that the IITs need to figure out and need to do something about which
they haven’t done is the issue of stress and student suicides. That was already a problem in
my time at college. It wasn’t that big a problem some ten to fifteen years before that and now
it is a much bigger problem. Taking care of that shouldn’t be that difficult as all the premier
universities in the world do it. The same goes for addressing other issues such as gender issues here. Other universities have managed to balance their gender ratios. There
is not much support for LGBT groups too. In general, improving student life and student
morale will do a whole lot of good.
Importance of making students more aware of the sustainability of resources –
There are two angles to it. As soon as students graduate and take their career paths in
different industries, no matter which industry they go into sustainability and climate change
will affect them. Microsoft right now is devoting a lot of their resources to making
them more sustainable. Some of the highest paying sectors here are oil and gas and we
don’t need to say why they are a part of this. Investment banks are figuring out how to deal
with climate risks. So whatever industry you go to, you need to understand the idea of
sustainable development and climate change to be there and work more professionally.
Secondly, the world is going through a challenging time and as a citizen, you need to
understand sustainability. The more people who care about these ideas and factors, the
greater is the chance that politicians and policymakers can be affected at some point in
On his plans to visit Kgp next and message for budding entrepreneurs –
Co-incidentally this is my third visit to Kgp after graduation mainly because whenever I was
called to give talks I was usually around. Now I will not be biased here but I’m currently
engaged in a project in collaboration with my former HOD and we will be continuing with
that. The next time I‘ll be visiting Kgp would be four of five months from now.
For all the budding entrepreneurs now I would say – stick to it, it’s not that tough. It’s very
doable and if you want help there is no IIT Kharagpur graduate who isn’t there to help you.
I’ve known so many graduate entrepreneurs from here who have helped people like me and
mentored me. Anyone who is interested can write to me. In fact, there are people who write
to me, send me their plans, drafts and I send them back. Use your IIT brethren to help you.