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Environment Detective

Feb/12/2023 / by Bindu Gopal Rao

Abhilasha Purwar of Blue Sky Analytics measures the real impact of climate change

Entrepreneur Abhilasha Purwar

For Abhilasha Purwar the cause of the environment was always close to her heart. That was true even when she was doing her B.Tech in applied chemistry at the Indian Institute of Technology (Banaras Hindu University), Varanasi. 

“I worked on the science side of climate, making innovations like flexible solar cells, a special nano photocatalyst to better break down dye to reduce textile pollution,” she said. “I also worked in oil and gas to better manage oil spills.”

She worked at the prestigious Tata Institute of Fundamental Research for about six months, where she worked on nanoscale technology. In 2012, she worked with two renowned economists at India’s Ministry of Environment through the Jameel Poverty Action Lab on policy-related work for three years. 

“I got to understand the environment, pollution and climate change from the perspective of the industry, industry associations, workers, the technology, and the regulators,” Purwar said.

Gaining Mastery

She went to Yale in 2015 to do her master’s in environmental management, where she focused on climate models, atmospheric chemistry, and agroforestry. 

“I also studied capital markets, macroeconomics, and microeconomics,” Purwar said. “I got this opportunity to work in great internships in West Africa and Minnesota where I sold solar systems.” After graduation, she worked in the investment industry.

Enter the Entrepreneur

In 2019, Purwar started her own company and moved back to India. She took help from her brother (Kshitij Purwar) to set up Blue Sky Analytics. Having exposure to different cultures gives her a sense of confidence and reduces insecurity. 

“Education at Yale was more dialogue based, which is not like in India,” Purwar said. “I had a flexible schedule and chose the class I wanted. If I did not like a subject, I could drop it and go to another class with a better professor. At work, American managers pass the baton and give you an opportunity to shine.”

The time she became an entrepreneur was a difficult category for startups.

“I told my brother that this was a cause that was worth it even if we failed,” Purwar said. “Reading about air quality in Delhi, I felt that it was time to do something to give back. It’s been a great journey.” 

Purwar says that it is important to look back at how our ancestors lived, and how things have changed.

Profit and Pitfalls

“This is a crisis that affects everyone across the world, irrespective of your bank balance,” she said. “Being married to a problem has merits, as you understand the many layers of the issue. I have been going deeper into the sector for the last 12 years, and it has given me many insights. I always say that the whole world is speeding to the cliff without braking, let alone changing their direction.”

Purwar admits she has faced challenges as a woman entrepreneur, though not necessarily of a patriarchal type.

“It is also because it’s a new field,” she said. “I have many meetings across cities. Sometimes I sleep for four hours in a 48-hour cycle. This comes with the subconscious biases as there have been limited examples of women entrepreneurs working on deep climate technologies. There is an automatic expectation that the person coming will be male. So while more than 50 percent of the population is women, less than 2 percent of venture capital goes to women.”

A Time for Analyze

According to the Blue Sky Analytics website, it gathers intelligence about the environment from satellite data, AI and stored data. 

“We take a series of images from different providers and figure out environment and climate intelligence from that,” Purwar explained. “Say, we want to see the mangrove plantation as part of afforestation. We can measure it without visiting the place. We can monitor air quality, pollution, water levels, wildfires, emissions, and do predictive analysis.”

This information is invaluable for the banking and finance sectors they serve. For example, insurance premiums have to be raised in some areas if wildfires are common there.  

Purwar’s advice to aspiring women entrepreneurs is, “Try difficult things… As we execute this, it becomes easy for the next generation. A career in science and technology is very easy. Many times women do not attempt to try what they perceive is difficult. Just go for it.”

Seema

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