September 29, 2022

On a 54-day India-wide tour with one machine and two messages

Startup PotHoleRaja and his team meeting students to promote electric vehicles, sociopreneurship and repair potholes

Startup PotHoleRaja and his team meeting students to promote electric vehicles, sociopreneurship and repair potholes

Sourabh Kumar celebrated his 31st birthday on February 7 on the road. At present, the social startup PotHoleRaja of which he is a part, is touring Indian cities to fix potholes. The group arrives in a small motorcade, driven by an electric vehicle. A truck carrying a huge machine brings up the rear.

“It was a one-of-a-kind birthday,” he laughs, addressing this reporter on the way in Chenai. Sourabh and the motorcyclists – John Kuruvilla (pilot bike), Gautam Khot and Prajwal – are traveling across the country. Motorcyclists are chasing the world record for the longest ride in an electric vehicle.

Each of them carries a message through this journey which began on February 4 in Bangalore to cover 15,000 km, 25 cities in 54 days.

Sourabh, who is a co-founder of PotHoleRaja, a Bengaluru-based social start-up, plans to fix over 1,000 potholes and raise awareness about road safety during this expedition. Men on bikes promote electric vehicles (EVs) as the future of mobility. The mission also aims to inspire students to think as entrepreneurs and create social startups.

In Chennai, the team with their two messages descended on Crescent University, where they interacted with the students. “They already have an incubation center and our event was to further encourage them throughout our travels,” he says.

For PotHoleRaja, which relies on a public-private partnership and engages citizens, employees and transgender people to help eliminate potholes on the roads, this trip is a big step to introduce municipalities to eco-friendly, affordable and faster solutions to the problems people face due to bad roads.

In Bangalore, many resident groups call them when their roads are in poor condition, as contractors do not find the commercial solution to repair potholes very attractive. And in such scenarios, the civic body is happy to have groups like these on board.

New technologies

The automated pothole machine is a big draw wherever they stop. “Technology integration is what we try to bring out in our machine,” says Sourabh, who quit his job at the company to join co-founder Prathap Bhimasena Rao.

He says the machine can fix 400 potholes a day, but during the car trip, they fix nine to ten in a city.

“Within six to eight months, we can say a city is pothole-free with the machine. It helps us do big jobs with less manual intervention,” he says.

Backed by technology, PotHoleRaja uses reusable plastic to preserve road conditions. In addition to informal discussions with people in the restaurants, the team is invited to the offices of the municipality that wish to adopt the model.

The City Commissioner of Coimbatore, for example, was keen to implement this eco-friendly method in the city, he says.

Likewise, engineers from the Hyderabad Municipal Corporation wanted to know more about us.

“Our greatest success on this road trip is when organizations are excited to embrace these changes,” he says. In Ongole, young people joined the group to repair two large potholes. “I had posted on Twitter that we were stopping in town and they helped us with the exercise,” he says. Citizen participation is essential for this model to be sustainable.

“If citizens are not involved in development, a country cannot develop,” he says.

Not all routes have been mapped for pothole repair activity. In some cities, via Twitter, they are asking the public to let them know of areas that need a quick fix.

At each stop, the team interacts with students to talk about their life lessons and inspire students to start their own businesses.

“We’re a start-up that’s been around for five years and there are a lot of ups and downs that we share with students,” he says. Sourabh says the whole trip is sponsored by various start-ups, including Charzer and SpareIT, and it shows they can work together.