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Name: Ashtesh Kumar

Designation: Founder, CTO

Ashtesh Kumar graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering in 2017 and founded Manastu – a startup for developing green propulsion system for satellites in 2017. Centred around many factors like FOMO and risk associated with startups, he shared some of his experiences and told us how he dealt with such thoughts

Tell us in brief about your present role and experience at Manastu.

Tushar Jadhav(IITB alumni batch 2014) and I founded Manastu Space in 2017. At Manastu we are building green propulsion system for satellites to replace the current, to be banned propulsion system which is highly toxic and carcinogenic and plagued with low performance. We are currently a small team of 8 people with diverse backgrounds like Mech, Aero, Chemical and even Nanotechnology. We are still into product development phase so the whole team is dedicated currently on carrying out research and development work in various fields like synthesis of new materials, their characterizations, designing, manufacturing and testing of thrusters etc.

The technology was conceptualized by Prof. Arindrajit Chowdhury. I worked on this project for close to three years under his guidance. During this period, Tushar and I were also a part of IIT Student satellite project, Pratham due to which we got opportunities to visit ISRO satellite and launch center where during our interaction with ISRO scientist we came to know about this problem that space community is facing world wide and how efforts are undergoing internationally with agencies like NASA and ESA spending million of dollars to solve this problem.

What made you to take a different path than the students taking mainstream decisions. Does factors like job security & FOMO didn’t influenced you?

From very starting I was inclined to go for higher studies specifically Ph.D. and like most I also wanted to pursue it from a  good US/europe university. I applied for around five such universities and got rejections from all of them. Another option was job in core sector but after consulting a lot of my seniors in the same field I came to know that most of them are involved in monotonous work instead of new innovative projects.

In my final year, Pratham was launched and we got some lifetime opportunities to see launch vehicle integration facilities, launch pads etc. All these things created a deeply rooted desire of doing something in this field. Around the same time Tushar driven by same desire resigned from his position of scientist at DRDO and came back to IIT. It was then we started this quest of finding the next big idea that would change space forever.

Obviously the fear of missing out was there in starting but when i talked to many entrepreneurs and seniors in the same field, I came to know that there was nothing to be missed out. Unlike old times failure is no more seen as a taboo. The experience of running even a failed startup is highly valuable to corporates and hence there is nothing to be missed. Needless to mention that my parents supported me in this decision which has made life easier.

When did you decide to do something different? How did it affect your career?

We started Manastu in 2017 during my final year. One of the major things I have learnt in this career is that working on a research project to publish paper and developing a technology to sell are as different as day and night. Fortunately we have ample opportunities at IIT to learn and develop new techs but unfortunately most of us clueless on what it takes to go from a lab scale prototype to a sellable product. The idea of developing a sellable product goes beyond the concept of improvement in functionality and features but to more detailed nuances like customer, cost, need etc. I think this is the most valuable lesson I have learned in the journey.

Students with inherent talent/skills in different fields fail to shine as they try to come in terms with peers.How did you tackle this and what you suggest to others?

According to me, the concept of startup is completely aloof from the concept of coming in terms with peers. It is about your belief in your idea of changing the world. The inherent nature of the startup is disapproval from conventional thinking. So if one really wants to startup one has to liberate oneself from the idea of comparisons with peers or seeking their approval. Needless to say you need huge support from your parents for this. Not everyone’s family conditions are conducive to support such initiatives.

How did IIT influence and shape your choice and dreams?

I think the opportunities to work on some of the most extreme projects at IIT helped me shape my choices and dreams. Space technologies has always intrigued me. With continued innovations and inventions we have come to a stage where people are now solving the problems of common man on earth from space. This has given a lot of push to space research even at universities. One such project was Pratham, IITB student satellite. The experience of presenting and defending your work in front of come expert professores followed by reviews with ISRO scientists. Adopting to ISRO’s meticulous ways of working to ensure quality. Working with some of the brightest minds including both batchmates and seniors who are currently working at multinationals, NASA etc. All these experiences at IIT were truly treasures which money can’t buy. Upon interactions with people from various fields I have known that these are opportunities not many colleges in India can provide.