Bangalore’s Pentechan girls find mention in Modi’s list of praises for Swacch Bharat initiatives

Image courtesy: Team Pentechan

P.M Narendra Modi has tweeted about the Team Pentechan that recently came up with the Sellixo app, which addressed the pressing issue of waste management in the country.

The PM’s tweet referred to this achievement in relation to the Swachh Bharat venture, which inspired the invention of the app:

Sanjana Vasanth, Anupama.N, Mahima Mehendale, Swasthi. P.Rao, and Navyasree.B from New Horizon Public School, Bangalore won the prestigious Technovation Challenge (middle school division) 2015, which is the world’s largest and longest technology competition run in co-operation with Adobe Foundation, CA Technologies, Google, Verizon, United Nations Women, UNESCO and MIT Media Lab.

Team Pentechan receiving their award at San Francisco  |  Image courtesy: Team Pentechan
Team Pentechan receiving their award at San Francisco | Image courtesy: Team Pentechan

The 9th standard students created an app called Sellixo, that, to speak in simple words, connects sellers and buyers of dry waste and serves as platform for contact and business between them. Enjoining an environmental issue with a social cause, the latter being the social criteria of the competition, the team hit two birds with an arrow. They had to present the app in the presence of the top most executives in the field of technology.

Folomojo spoke to the girls, who got candid about everything from their experience at the world stage and what made all of this possible. The Principal of the school, Mrs. Sandhya Raman too shared her experience and her views on how proud she feels about the team.

Here’s excerpts from the interview:

1. What inspired all of you to come up with the Sellixo app?

The competition required us to address a social problem. That was the criteria. And recently Narendra Modiji, our PM, launched the Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan towards which our Chairman donated Rs 5 crores, which was an inspiration in itself. Initially when they said social problem, issues like women empowerment, child care etc. came to us. But our mentors suggested we work on something in the lines of environmental issues, soon after which the Swachh Bharat movement came in. A combination of all these inspired us to take this up.

Image courtesy: Team Pentechan
Image courtesy: Team Pentechan

2. How did you zero in on this idea of addressing dry waste?

We had another idea in mind, initially. That idea didn’t gain currency during survey. Our initial idea was about how we could take extra foods from hotels and give them to the orphanages. But that brought out issues like stale foods, storage issues, transportation hitches and the overall health risks of eating food from outside. So we dropped that. After this we again brainstormed for a few weeks, discussed the pros and cons of other ideas and came upon the present one.

3. Why have you named the app Sellixo and what made you choose Pentechan as your team name?

Lixo in Portugese means waste and our app connects dry waste generators to buyers. So, basically it’s about selling waste, hence the term Sellixo. And Pentechan came about because we are 5 of us and there is also a reference to technology in the name, as it goes pen-tech-in. (giggles)

4. So basically the mobile app is to connect buyers and sellers of dry waste?

Yes and avoid dumping of waste. With the app you would know who needs the kind of waste you are shelling out. It is an incentive for sellers when they come to know that they can actually get money for selling waste which will lead to segregation and sale. The app is for everybody from residents to shopkeepers, vendors, apartment complexes, party halls and corporates. And since this is an Android only app, we would like to extend it to iOS and Microsoft users as well.

Image courtesy: Team Pentechan
Image courtesy: Team Pentechan

5. Who funded the whole venture?

WeTech (Women Enhancing Technology), a partner of Technovation came to the school and picked 15 girls and divided us to three groups. They told us about Technovation and provided the necessary resources, mentors and workspace to work for the competition. But awards were funded by many companies. WeTech handles participation for the Technovation challenge, in India. So WeTech brought in multiple schools to compete and then chose the team that would represent India in the Challenge.

6. Who helped you with the whole thing?

Our mentors did. We had learnt a bit of Java last year and that helped us as well. We used this tool called MIT App Inventor 2. It was a ‘learn as you go’ experience. Our mentors from Goldman Sachs mentored us the whole way, including preparing business plans, pitching our topic convincingly and the app demos. We knew nothing about these things before we started out. It was as good as running a business. How you sustain your idea was the most important part.

Image courtesy: Team Pentechan
Team Pentechan with their mentors | Image courtesy: Team Pentechan

7. What role did your family and the teachers at school play? Where did they come in?

Our parents are from IT backgrounds. So, they had important inputs we could use and the teachers made us practice pitching our idea in their presence, multiple times. The school gave us access to the computer labs and our parents also took care of our transportation to and from Goldman Sachs. Both parents and teachers helped us make those last minute changes that are so important. Since we had exams in March we had to do all the work in April.

Team Pentechan with the Chairman and Principal of NHPS  |  Image courtesy: Team Pentechan
Team Pentechan with the Chairman and Principal of NHPS | Image courtesy: Team Pentechan

8. You said there is scope for many more features in the app? Can you talk about some?

Yes, we have many ideas. The first would be to include a chat service, so that sellers and buyers won’t bypass our app by sharing their contact numbers. If they do that, after the initial bit, our app wouldn’t be of use. They will contact each other directly. We are also planning on adding e-waste to the already existing categories of paper, plastic and metal.

We would also like to address the issue of wet waste though that isn’t as much a problem as dry waste is. Also to increase reciprocation, we want to add user ratings, so that we can recommend companies that are regular on the app. The other important thing is many don’t know English, so to try and include services in other languages is also in mind. Frequent purchases are awarded too to encourage the using of the app.

9. What is your message to other students?

Anupama says, “If you have an idea, believe in yourself, that you can do it. Don’t just sit with it, try and make it happen.” To this Sanjana adds, “It’s also good to know whom you can speak to about the idea, to know the right people to talk to, is important.”

The girls chorus, “Then there is Google and YouTube today, and you have everything on the net. It’s important to divide work as a team and then crack it. That’s what we did. Some of us took care of the coding, others business and pitching etc. It was divide-and-conquer all the way.”

Image courtesy: Team Pentechan
Team Pentechan with the trophy | Image courtesy: Team Pentechan

The Principal of the school, Mrs. Sandhya Raman too gushed at the success of the girls and spoke about the media attention the girls received. “They are everywhere. All most all the media outlets have spoken about them. It’s no small thing. It’s a huge achievement. Even the school went berserk when they heard we had won,” she says looking every bit a proud Principal and deservingly so.

Having received laurels from the PM himself, these girls are rearing to go to do a thing or two by taking up the cleanliness of the country as their primary aim.

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