This woman entrepreneur wants to revolutionise the electric vehicles segment in India.
An independent study by CEEW Centre for Energy Finance (CEEW-CEF) in December 2020 claims that India’s electric vehicles (EV) industry will become a $206 billion opportunity by 2030. And journeying In this ambitious road towards embracing change in transportation, a number of companies are riding the EV wave.
Okinawa Autotech, founded by Rupali and Jeetender Sharma in 2015, claims to be the first company to launch India’s high-speed electric two-wheeler Okinawa Dual, which is expected to help businesses with last-minute deliveries.
Born and raised in Ganganagar, Rajasthan, Rupali Sharma moved to Gurugram after her wedding to Jeetender Sharma. There, she worked as a dentist for over a decade before joining her husband, a veteran in the automobile industry, to start Okinawa Autotech in 2015 with a “vision to create a greener and cleaner environment for the present and future generations”.
Rupali says Jeetender’s visit to Okinawa Island in Japan is what inspired him to launch this startup. “He observed and realised the key reason behind the people in that region having one of the highest life expectations is the low pollution levels,” she adds.
Setting up the business
But the idea of Okinawa Autotech was faced with scepticism initially. “One of the most common questions was whether they would be able to return home if they ride an EV — the ‘range anxiety’ was real. Besides, people believe electric vehicles are ‘low-speed’ vehicles that could never match an ICE. We wanted to manufacture and sell high-performing e-vehicles in order to break this myth and make people realise that EVs could offer the same performance as vehicles run on conventional fuels.” says Rupali.
Okinawa set up its corporate base in Gurugram, with its manufacturing unit in Bhiwadi, Rajasthan. The first two years were spent on market research, understanding the customer requirements and challenges, development of the entire supplier base, prototype formation, endurance testing, and other parameters.
The first prototype was tested for 25,000 km in different road conditions. Based on the results, Okinawa improved its prototype and launched its first product, a high-speed scooter RIDGE in 2017. At present, it has six electric scooters in its portfolio in the price range of Rs 50,000 to Rs 1.14 lakh. These are a mix of lithium-ion slow-speed and lithium-ion high-speed scooters.
In the low-speed range, Okinawa Autotech offers Okinawa R30, Okinawa Lite, and Okinawa Dual. On the other hand, the three high-speed products are Okinawa Ridge+, Okinawa Praise Pro, and Okinawa iPraise+. It is also planning to launch two more new high-speed two-wheelers this year.
The startup’s target audience spans across India in both B2C, as well as B2B segments. The consumers are between the ages of 16 and 60 and above. Among businesses, it is focusing on ecommerce and food delivery companies, to begin with.
With India slowly emerging as a hub for EV manufacturing, Okinawa has several competitors, including Ather and Hero Electric.
However, Rupali says the startup differentiates itself with its extensive dealership network, provision for road-side assistance, EMI options, and app-connectivity, among others.
“Okinawa is a bootstrapped venture. We have invested close to Rs 150 crore in operating and growing the business. In the last fiscal, we saw significant growth in revenue, clocking approximately Rs 140 crore and we are aiming to achieve a revenue of Rs 155 crore in FY21. We are looking at a three-fold increase in revenue to Rs 400 crore in FY22,” she says.
Rupali believes she has been fortunate enough to get the right support from her family and peers to step into an industry generally perceived as ‘not fit for women’. However, there’s still a long way to go for a genuinely welcoming environment for women entrepreneurs.
For her fellow women entrepreneurs, she has one piece of advice, “Do not hesitate from dreaming. When you dream it, set out to achieve it. The path might be difficult and filled with obstacles, but if you have a clear vision, then nothing is impossible.”
This year, Okinawa has forayed into the B2B segment with the launch of Okinawa Dual, an electric two-wheeler, specifically designed to help businesses in last-mile delivery. The startup also plans to expand its footprint in the global market.