An Anniversary to Remember

Acres of Ice
5 min readMar 23, 2024

One year already with Acres of Ice! This was the craziest year of my life. So much was accomplished, so many people I feel grateful for yet so many mountains to climb to move from an early stage startup to a profitable business. So far, I feel that every day, the probability of our startup becoming viable is increasing but to be very transparent, we are not safe yet. Quite far from that. I will try and take a step back on this first year to share some of our struggles and learnings.

You see both Basit and I knew that we will not be profitable soon. I had just finished a Swiss PhD and Basit was making green walls in posh offices in London. So we had the enough savings to give us a six-month runway. We both believed in the startup’s mission, so we were committed to trying this venture even if it could fail.

Building a product as a startup needs alignment on so many levels! First, the users have to endorse its need; then these user testimonies have to convince the funders; next the product components have to work cohesively together and be cheap enough; finally the product has to deliver the user’s wishes. We had to undergo several such cycles from ideation to real-world testing to get to a working automation system mainly because none of our components were ever tested under the harsh winter weather conditions in Ladakh.

We had some of the most challenging users: village communities, some of whom had already tried and failed building ice structures. Out of the 30 villages who had built ice reservoirs, we surveyed and interviewed 19 of them. After every village visit, our confidence and commitment spiked as we heard the issues we wanted to resolve being discussed by the construction teams.

Villagers learning to operate the automation system

From recruiting a team to designing circuit boards, several tasks lay ahead that we needed to gain more experience with. In the first few months, we were constantly speculating about how soon we will be bankrupt, given the rate we were spending on random experiments. During the office construction, every purchase came with the realisation that it could outlast our stay in Ladakh. Thanks to my wife’s advice, we made peace with that fact and built a warm space that can serve for several decades to come even if we might not be there to enjoy it.

A bird’s eye view of our Base in Shey, Ladakh

The first project we executed was the drip-irrigation system for a herbal garden in Pangong. Himalayan Institute of Alternatives, Ladakh was instrumental in providing this project. Almost a year later, we still receive calls saying that the system is working without any issues. However, the litmus test for us was the automated ice reservoir(AIR) projects in Igoo and Nang villages. Too much of our time, energy and money went in the design and selection of components for these projects. In the end, the support of GlaciersAlive Foundation brought the automation system from our lab to the villages.

Timelapse of Igoo Ice Reservoir

Recruiting was challenging though, not because we couldn’t find the right people but because we didn’t know what the right things to do with them. It felt overwhelming to be responsible for someone else’s livelihood and time. But we pushed through after several hirings and resignations to have a team of 8 wonderful people to join us in this journey.

Team Acres of Ice

Entrepreneurship was much harder than I expected because however good your product is, only proper marketing can make it desirable. In the first few months, I was sending unsolicited linkedin messages daily to people I have never met or worked with. In the world of startups, impact takes a backseat and this made all the conversations we had with venture firms and investors especially difficult. Without a working prototype or marketing video, many impact organisations who recognized the importance of our work shied away from extending their support to us.

The few partners we had were crucial to keep us floating for so long. As a founder, I could have got lost in paperwork and accounting but thanks to Alsisar Impact we outsourced most of this work. Leh Nutrition Project’s strong relationship with the villages helped us set up a water management committee that took care of our structures. Yolk Studio’s generous offer to document our pilot project with minimal support made it possible to capture the villager’s despair during this snowless winter and their hope of watching their ice reservoirs grow on their own.

So I am now about a year since I made up my mind to move from Switzerland to Ladakh and become one of the few entrepreneurs here. Even though it puts some stress on my family and me, even if I might destroy all my savings to start from scratch one day, I have never felt so much alive with so much passion. I have many doubts when it comes to the future of our business, but there are two things I know: first, I will put all my energy into making it a success (50/50 chance today) and second, I will absolutely never regret having made that choice. I learn everyday 10x faster than in any job I had before and this will never go away.

After having set the foundations, today marks the beginning of our second phase at Acres of ice. In this phase, we shift gears to focus on the summers instead of the winters. We plan to make large scale irrigation possible by combining the automation tools we have developed with traditional drip irrigation technologies. We will also reach out to more water-stressed villages and plan for installation of atleast a dozen more automated ice reservoirs. This year we also want to spread our wings beyond India to help provide water-smart tools to villages in the Andes and other parts of High Mountain Asia.

Suryanarayanan Balasubramanian
Co-Founder
Acres of ice

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Acres of Ice

Our mission is to promote holistic water management in mountain regions through nature-based technologies like artificial glaciers.