24 Good Businesses 2012

Pole vault

Wonder Grass is looking at gaining scale by making bamboo houses more affordable

Nilotpal baruah

We won’t blame you if you have not heard of Vinoo Kaley. This lesser known soul from Maharashtra is credited for bringing to fore the potential of India’s most under-utilised natural resource — the bamboo. Kaley, who gave up his lucrative architectural practice in Mumbai in the late 1970s, worked with bamboo artisans to not only make this forest grass an integral part of the handicrafts industry, but also advocate its commercial proposition. Ironically, just days after the architect-turned-activist put together his first draft of Venu Bharati — a compendium on the nature and various aspects of bamboo — he succumbed to a stroke. That was June 1998 when his son Vaibhav Kaley was 22 years old. Today, 14 years later, Vinoo’s legacy thrives in his eldest son’s five-year old start-up, Wonder Grass.

It’s no coincidence. Inspired by his father, Vaibhav envisioned his future early in life — he had to pursue his father’s unfinished work. After graduating from the School of Interior Design, Center for Environmental Planning and Technology, Ahmedabad in 1994, Vaibhav worked as an architect for a bamboo housing project called Venu Gram in Wardha. Then, went on to pursue a research programme in urbanism from Germany, before he got drawn to India’s Silicon Valley. “Bengaluru is not just the hot-bed for innovation in IT, it offers a vibrant environ for ideas to flourish,” Vaibhav says. 

After a one-year stint with BCIL, a real estate development company that integrates green-technologies into mainstream realty development, Vaibhav was sure that bamboo had a larger role in making greener and aesthetically pleasing homes. In 2007, things began to fall in place. The tide started to turn for Vaibhav when his business plan won the second prize in a competition organised by the Netherlands-based Business in Development. “The ₹2 lakh prize money was our seed capital,” says Vaibhav. But the boost came when Wonder Grass got selected for incubation support at the NS Raghavan Centre for Entrepreneurship learning at the Indian Institute of Management, Bengaluru. “Besides getting an office, it was the mentoring that gave me an insight into runn

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