PHOTO: tabla!, Sanjna Parasrampuria, Pranoti Nagarkar Israni

Pranoti Nagarkar Israni
Driven by a passion for fixing problems

She has a degree in mechanical engineering and designed and built the hardware for the Rotimatic prototype on her own.

Yet when Ms Pranoti Nagarkar Israni met people to convince them to come on board her company, most assumed the 32-year-old was part of the marketing team, or that she had simply come up with the concept and let someone else do the rest of the work.

It was a frustrating time for her.

"To break the stereotype, I had to do some crazy things," said Ms Israni. She asked her husband Rishi Israni to teach her to ride a motorbike.

"I learnt it in the carpark, I got my licence and I bought a 200cc Honda Phantom, which is a very heavy bike. I rode it everywhere I went for three years, including to meetings," she explained, adding that she stopped riding just before her pregnancy.

It was a strategic move, one among many that Ms Israni has made.

She met her husband while she was studying at the National University of Singapore - she was in her first year while he was in his third. After he graduated, he worked for a few years before starting his own company, and from his experience, she got to see the various steps in starting a company.

Ms Israni, whose childhood dream was to become an inventor, realised that she needed to know how a product cycle works and, following her graduation, she landed a job at Amtek Engineering where she got to work on a project for Philips.

"In those two years, I got to see an entire product cycle, from concept to manufacturing," she said. She soon felt that she was ready to quit and start her own company.

The idea for a machine that can make rotis came from brainstorming sessions with Mr Israni on what problems could be fixed. They discussed possible solutions for everyday problems, like how at the time, there was no way to find out when the next bus was coming. She explained that they kept coming back to rotis, which is "a staple for Indians in their diet".

Originally hailing from India, she and her husband would often miss homemade rotis. Adding to that was the fact that roti-making was a time-consuming and expensive affair: "One guy is occupied just with making rotis, and that's expensive."

Doing some research on roti-makers, Ms Israni found that a lot of them were industrial-scale machines. Her requirements for an automatic roti-making machine, then, were that it had to be "compact and affordable, for home use".

It has taken seven years to design, build and perfect Rotimatic. Along the way, the Zimplistic team, which makes the Rotimatic, has won various competitions including Start-Up@Singapore, and in January, the team took Rotimatic to the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, where they received the Best Kitchen Gadget Award.

They are now in the process of fine-tuning manufacturing-related issues and carrying out extensive quality-testing to ensure that nothing falls through the cracks when they finally start shipping their product.

It's been a long but fulfilling time for Ms Israni.

"In the beginning, you're fighting your own demons and being brave about it," she said, "but along the way, you start facing external challenges. Everybody's encouraging about the product, but when it comes to concrete contributions, very few people are brave enough to be part of it."

The entrepreneur is all too familiar with fighting her own demons.

She shared that when she was pregnant with her now two-year-old son, she hid her pregnancy for as long as she could.

"It was my own thinking that maybe people would give me special treatment if they knew I was pregnant," she said. "I always had that insecurity. I didn't want them to think that I was weak because I was pregnant, so rather than risk them making that judgment on me, I hid it from a lot of people."

She worked through her pregnancy, adding that she got labour pains while in the office.

Ms Israni has no regrets, though. In fact, she recommends that every woman keeps working till the last day.

"Health is very important for a pregnant woman, and your health is best when your mind is occupied."

It is evident that, for her, bravery is the key to entrepreneurial success. But Ms Israni is quick to add that with bravery comes a certain amount of fearlessness and persistence. "The intention to fix something is so strong that nothing else can come in the way," she explained.

It is this desire to fix something, to pick up a problem and find a solution for it, that drives her to do what she does.

"As an engineer, you are wired like that," she said.

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