He Started from Scrap and Became Kashmir’s Ace Innovator

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Waseem Ahmad Nadaf

Everyone wanted young Waseem Ahmad Nadaf to be an engineer, but he chose a different path. Today as a young innovator from Kashmir, he’s being praised for designing low-cost ventilators amid pandemic.

By Mrinal Pathak

HIS mad devotion was noticed early in his life when he would skip the usual childhood games to watch his father manufacture copper ornaments at length. The art of moulding copper eventually inspired the boy to innovate new and handy things, including a low-cost ventilator at a time when many in Kashmir were wondering: “Don’t we have any innovators who could make some ventilators on the emergency basis in this crisis hour?”

Before life would put him on an innovative ride, Waseem Ahmad Nafar, 22, was a boy-next-door from downtown Srinagar, with a routine schooling from S.P Higher Secondary School, Srinagar.

Once done with his school campus life, his innovative prowess earned him a ticket to 2015 Global Youth Leader Summit.

It was a summit for young start-up innovators, where he got a chance to meet a good number of entrepreneurs and CEO’s from different parts of the world.

The summit held in Delhi crossed his path with the founder of Human Circle, Kamal Seth.

“On the last day of the summit, he [Seth] came to me and asked, ‘I do not think you want to pursue your career in engineering. Do what you like to do!’”

These words struck Waseem’s mind and he decided to leave Kashmir and come to Delhi.

He stayed with Seth for two years and worked as an intern with his organization.

“I was very shy initially, but Mr. Seth’s wife helped me a lot in overcoming my fears, as she was a psychiatrist.”

Apart from working as an intern with Human Circle, Nadaf also interned with an international hostel in Delhi, where he got to meet many people from around the world.

“It was my mentor Mr. Seth who advised me to work there as he was fond of Kashmiri hospitality,” Waseem recalled.

During his two-year stay in Delhi, Nadaf worked with many renowned organizations, including UNICEF, Young India Challenge, among others to discover more and more innovation learning scope.

Waseem’s innovative world

“I travelled to different parts of India and met lots of entrepreneurs and innovators,” he said. “The exposure I got in those two years is priceless.”

In Delhi, Nadaf also applied for a course at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He cleared the first round, but could not make it to the final list of selected candidates.

The success in the first round of the selection process motivated him to build a career in the field of innovation.

“The fact that I could not score well in engineering entrance exams and still made it to the final round of MIT selection process, boosted my morale a lot,” Nadaf said.

Innovation, he asserted, is the science behind making the world a better place.

“I used to get inspiration from scrap,” he continued. “I always thought that any useful and innovative things can be made out of scrap.”

At the age of 14, Waseem designed an inverter out of scratch that could be charged within 30 minutes and provide backup for 30 hours.

“When my science teacher discovered this invention of mine, she was quite impressed and took me to a media house,” Waseem recalled. “From there, I got the first headline and story featuring me.”

Initially, his family members did not like his creative ways, but when his name appeared in the newspaper and everyone started praising him, Waseem’s father started encouraging him.

In 2017, he got a call letter from Hyderabad Central University (HCU) to take admission in Bachelors in Design. But due to the paucity of funds, he was not able to make up his mind until he got sponsorship from a Dubai-based organization.

At HCU, he was always ahead of his classmates and a class topper in the initial semesters. But few incidents forced him to drop out of HCU in April 2018 and return to Kashmir, where he joined the SSDM School of Design Parihaspora.

Waseem soon started working on designing water bottles that automatically filter water. He also started his own start-up called Let’s Breathe Technology.

During his research, he got constant incubation support from Kashmir University for his prototypes and he successfully designed water-filtering bottle.

The low-cost bottle which is made of organic material can be recycled and can filter contaminated water and turn it to potable.

“It was in the 33rd attempt that the result of the test came positive,” he said. “The end goal is to make more such bottles to reduce dependency on water filters.”

He pitched his idea at the state level Start-up India Program and went on to win the Jury Award.

Apart from Kashmir University, Jammu and Kashmir Entrepreneur Development Institute (JKEDI) also guided him and provided him incubation support for his innovation.

In August 2019, Nadaf got a chance to participate in Entrepreneur World Cup held at Delhi, but the fateful day of August 5 forced him and his father to travel back to Kashmir.

Finally, in January 2020, Nadaf got a chance to explore different innovative ventures in India under the Jagriti Yatra Scheme of Government of India. He travelled to 14 states in a special train.

“The immense exposure I got through that journey cannot be described in words,” he said. “I also got to meet a renowned entrepreneur Sonam Wangchuk during that innovative trip.”

Despite emerging as an ace innovator of Kashmir, Waseem is far from done. During pandemic, he successfully designed low-cost ventilators from scratch.

“Next,” he said, “I want to study innovation abroad and comeback to serve my society in a much-better way.”

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Mrinal Pathak

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