Indrani Mukherjee dreams of building India’s largest bamboo company — and engineering a more sustainable country.
The 38-year-old owner of Bangalore-based Bamboooz is determined to convince large corporations, government agencies, developers and architects to trade conventional building materials like steel and wood for more environmentally-friendly bamboo. It has taken persistent coaxing, but Mukherjee says Bamboooz, which she started in 2010 with her husband, Samrat Saha, has managed to build parking shades, rooftop structures, gazebos and a charming eatery.
Mukherjee’s pitch? India should harness bamboo, which it has in abundance, for environmental reasons and to employ skilled artisans in Northeast and South India, who can expertly turn a pick-up-sticks pile of bamboo poles into structures of strength and beauty.
Bamboooz’s groundbreaking work received an award for innovation excellence last year by the Federation of Karnataka Chamber of Commerce for bringing bamboo structures to government organizations and introducing bamboo boards as an alternative to plywood in an unseen layer in bus floors.
“I believe that every woman should have some vision — should dream of something,” Mukherjee says.
A vision over job security
Mukherjee and Saha met as engineering students in college and then held stable jobs as civil engineers for 13 years. Before founding Bamboooz, Mukherjee worked for the government of West Bengal’s development authority, where she led a project with UNICEF.
“In 2010, we just quit. We always had a passion for doing something different, out-of-the-box,” she says. “We thought, in this age of global warming and lots of disturbance in the environment, that we should do something that can have an impact.”
Getting started wasn’t easy. There were financial constraints; Mukherjee, who is the sole owner of Bamboooz, funded it with savings and a bank loan. There was also family opposition. “I am a first-time entrepreneur in my family,” Mukherjee says, much to her father’s dismay. A director-level government employee, he wanted the security of regular paychecks for his daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter, who is now 12.
“As a woman, also, I faced little ups and downs,” she says. “But my partner—who is my life partner also—always encouraged me.”
Mukherjee also gained inspiration from two key figures: her mother, who she considers a pillar of strength, patience and compassion who “sacrificed her own career” to care for her two daughters, and Swami Vivekananda, a Hindu saint of the late 1800s, who advocated women’s empowerment.
Mukherjee, who is managing director of Bamboooz, takes charge of its finances. Saha serves as head of operations and handles procurement. They are both involved in product design.
Today, Bambooz has 15 employees and brings in about $50,000 in annual revenue. But Mukherjee has big plans; she wants Bamboooz to be at least ten times bigger five years from now. To get there, Bamboooz is setting up a manufacturing unit in Bangalore so it can expand its sale of bamboo household products, such as grilling skewers, incense sticks and vases, which it sells online. The company is also planning its own e-commerce platform, for which it is seeking partners or venture-capital funding.
Mukherjee, whose energy also burns on the dance stage, puts it matter of factly: “We would like to see our company, Bamboooz, as the most successful commercial bamboo products and design company in India.”
Why do you deserve to be on the Power List?
“I am an environment-friendly entrepreneur. I am not only doing business but also working towards the promotion and development of the most renewable material on Earth, called bamboo. I believe in the sustainable and inclusive growth of the nation and working hard to achieve the same.”