In 2015, countries across the world came together to adopt the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. At the core of this global partnership, lies the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which include, among others, reducing poverty and hunger, sustaining life below water and on land, responsible consumption, and climate action.
The United Nations World Tourism Organisation states that tourism has the potential to contribute to all the goals – directly or indirectly.
Aparna Vinod, who is living her entrepreneurial dream for the second time through her startup Igloopupa, believes she is part of the solution.
An online booking platform for eco-friendly accommodation founded in 2019, Igloopupa is a portmanteau of two words – ‘igloo’ meaning an eco-friendly shelter, while ‘pupa’ refers to a caterpillar’s transformative stage to become a butterfly.
“The startup guides travellers through a transformative experience towards eco-friendly living,” she says.
Growing up in Thamarassery village in North Kerala, Aparna has admired nature for as long as she can remember. The entrepreneur says she has been engaged in promoting eco-conscious living since 2010, and has organised several exhibitions selling handmade and recycled products across the state.
Aparna shares, “In the beginning, I thought of starting an NGO but then understood that I can do better work when there is economic sustenance. That made me think of a model where there’s economic viability.”
In 2014, Aparna took the plunge by co-founding The Jackfruit Tree, which operates serviced villas in Kozhikode and Wayanad.
In 2018, she decided to give up The Jackfruit Tree, and began building an online travel booking platform focussed on eco-friendly tourism.
The startup identified around 150 sustainable and environmentally conscious properties like homestays, farm stays, tree houses, tented stays, and campsites, and has 56 of them on its website so far.
To assess each rental property based on its sustainability practice regarding water and waste management, as well as community engagement in terms of employment, Aparna and her team developed a Sustainability Index Metric (SIM).
“We also look at the food they provide and how it is sourced. We prefer organic food grown within the property, but that is not practical for some places. In such cases, we encourage them to source from the local community in order to support farmers in the area,” the entrepreneur says, adding she has personally visited most of the properties featured on the platform.
At present, the startup is working on getting its proprietary Sustainability Index calculation Method (SIM) – a set of questions that property owners must fill in order to be onboarded onto the platform – patented.
In order to avoid over-tourism in one destination, properties featured on the platform do not accommodate more than 20 travellers at a time.
A determined pursuit
Aparna has stayed strong in the face of adversity and says that one lesson she learnt as an entrepreneur is to never give up.
In 2018, her startup was selected among the top hundred ideas by Women Startup programme at IIM-Bengaluru, which is supported by Goldman Sachs, and the Ministry of Science and Technology under the Indian government. Unfortunately, it was also the time when Kerala was hit by floods.
“On the one hand, I had a major achievement, and on the other, my existing business had just taken a very bad hit. The entire business got washed up in two months, and it was difficult for me to go and meet property owners in Kerala who had no business. It was emotionally draining for me to ask them to join me,” she recalls.
As if that wasn’t enough, Kerala was again hit by heavy floods in 2019, but this time she had Vijith Sivadasan — who joined her as a Co-founder — providing technical support to keep the platform running.
Aparna was also having a hard time raising funds for her venture, a trial-by-fire that almost every startup has to go through in its initial days.
“I did not want to share my equity and still have not done that. So, I tried to get a startup loan and it was a horrible experience. The officers said they would grant me the loan only if they were 100 percent convinced about the project. It took me a full year to finally get it,” she says.
Aparna has invested more than Rs 16 lakh in the startup through a combination of debt and personal savings. It is currently in talks with IIM-Kozhikode to gain some funding.
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