In the middle of an oppressive Hyderabad summer in 2007, Venkat Rajaraman stood in the long queue at the airport, when he noticed two young men checking their newly acquired iPod with a lot of curiosity. Rajaraman asked them if they knew the chip for the product was designed in Hyderabad. It was not a question that was unintended since he worked for Nvidia, the company behind the chip design. But it was the question that a 70-year old who was overhearing their conversation that made him take a hard look at the way things were. “Is a music player a priority for a country like India?” he asked him. Narrating the story, Rajaraman says it was “a hard slap across my face and the defining moment for me to do something different.”
In less than six months, he packed his bags and left the Bay Area for good and joined Su-Kam Power Systems in Gurgaon as its Chief Technology Officer. Though he had worked in Sun and Nvidia, he was inclined towards power and especially renewable energy. “There was a story waiting to unfold in India and I wanted to be a part of it.”
After close to six years of running Su-Kam and Solarsis India (a solar PV solutions company) the entrepreneur in him took over following a decisive moment of serendipity at IIT, Madras. He started Cygni Energy, named after a bright star in the Cygnus constellation. To date, his company has successfully electrified 10,000 homes across Rajasthan and Assam which had no access to the electrical grid. With a product called DC Inverterless Controllers (DIC), he will reach out to another 16,000 village homes in rural India this financial year.
During his stint in Solarsis, Rajaraman had installed 1.4 MW of solar panel at the IIT Madras campus. That was in 2013 and he got into a long conversation with Ashok Jhunjhunwala, who taught electrical engineering there. According to Rajaraman, just the process of generating electricity with solar panels, converting first alternating current (AC) to direct current (DC) and then back to AC, results in a loss of 45%. The academic was concerned about the loss on account on conversion of electricity. “He asked me if we were doing the right thing,” narrates Rajaraman, who is an electrical en