Siddarth Sridhar is from Bridgewater, NJ, and currently a rising senior. He is the founder of VerDay Inc - a nonprofit dedicated to promote environmental sustainability and autism awareness.
Question 1 : Where did you get the idea of using biodegradable materials? How were you able to come up with the technical knowledge to create this product ?
It started with bidding goodbye to my late grandmother. As per the Indian tradition, we spread her cremated ashes in a Ganges tributary in rural India. I held back tears while trying to comfort my cousin who was unaware of exactly what was happening around him. His autism rendered him distracted from many of the harsh realities of our world.
Afterwards, the sage of the retreat, where we were based, called for me. He had noticed my puzzled look and explained the rituals we had just completed: “By spreading the cremated remains of those who have passed, we give rich minerals back to the earth- thus completing the ‘circle of life’.”
In no mood for any *Hakuna Matata* Lion King dialogue, I mentally rolled my eyes and shrugged. Impatient and more than a bit hungry, I turned to my cousin as I guided him to the luncheon.
Sitting uncomfortably on the mud thatched floor, a green plate captured our eyes. My cousin’s eyes twinkled as he pointed to the plate in delight. I picked up the plates and as I fed my cousin, I realized it was sturdy, stylish, and--as I later found out--was completely biodegradable. Contemplating the plate, the sage’s words of giving back to the earth came back to me. In a better mood, after having eaten, I suddenly felt as though this encounter had a purpose. And I needed to find that purpose. Inquiring about the retreat, I found out that they practiced sustainability, grew their own vegetables, and made their plates from fallen Areca leaves.
If a 6x6 plate can do so much in India, then imagine the impact on Uncle Sam! I silently smiled as my cousin looked at me. I gazed back at him, seeing his happiness at face value, but the turmoil within his body due to his condition. I felt like I was really seeing him properly for the first time. Everything was clear. I could make it my mission to sell biodegradable products and donate the net proceeds to autism research. If I could help others like my cousin, then in a way, I would be helping him as well.
On that visit to India, we took time to tour manufacturing units and observed the “waste-to-wealth” process of transforming the fallen repurposed Areca leaves into stylish and functional dinnerware. Six months later, I kickstarted my 501c3: VerDay Inc.
For technical knowledge, I had to study the process thoroughly, going so far as to actually help in the process. Steam presses, Areca leave husks, and sanitation stations were all capital that was needed. This technical knowledge was essential to soar with the business. We also needed to create more than just the regular 6x6. We needed to make plates, bowls, spoons, compartmentalized, etc. We needed to market and cater to all tastes while preserving our mission, and that was important, especially in our initial steps.
Question 2 : Could you tell us more about the autism research that VerDay supports?
After seeing my cousin’s struggles, I realized that there are individuals on the autism spectrum facing the same issues.
We support eugenic research that goes towards preventing autism in the future. Our donations have (through Autism Speaks) percolated from NIH’s eugenic junk DNA studies to Princeton University’s junk DNA AI analysis project. 1 in 93 in the US are afflicted with autism; 1 in 144 in Canada; and lower statistics all over the world. We have a goal in mind, and even if we can’t solve it just yet— every bit helps to solve such a worldwide and widespread issue.
Question 3 : What is the manufacturing process like? How did you choose your manufacturer and how did you contact them?
First, we have a mushy Areca leaf husk after de-stemming them (these leaves fall down naturally and regrow quite fast, without a single tree being cut). Next, we clean it at a sanitation station. Afterwards we place the mushy leaf husk into the steam press mould and boom- biodegradable plates on their way to Uncle Sam!
Manufacturers are hard to communicate with- especially across the ocean. There are 1,600 dialects in India- so there was a communication barrier as well. But luckily, I found individuals who spoke the dialects that I knew (Tamil, Malayalam, Hindi), and I had to take a leap of faith. But after a few hurdles, I made a principal policy with how I give my money.
Question 4 : What goes into the design process for your product?
All of my products need “sleek and chic". I may sound like a fashionista, but it’s what people like. I try to order a new design that no one has seen before. The biodegradable plate as it looks is already amazing, but if we show a new plate style, we have the ability for consumers to be attracted to such a thing. Design involves innovation as well, and that’s one of the most important parts of the business.
Question 5 : What other hobbies do you have? How do you find balance?
I am an Improvisational Actor (NJSDL State Champ in 2019), and I love stand up comedy. I’m also a completionist and glitcher for Zelda games. I have so far completed 8 out of the 17 official Zelda games 100%.
I always make a schedule of what I do at what hour. Things can get hectic at times, but I just stick to a schedule that can help me balance out my academics, ECs, and my business.
Sometimes, I also have to decide what is the priority at the right time. Finding balance between these things is an important life skill that I find to be essential for my future.
Question 6 : What does the future look like for VerDay? What are some future plans that you have for yourself?
I plan to continue this venture into college and possibly beyond. VerDay will continue to work for as long as possible, and I may pass over ownership to an individual if I find that I can’t find that balance that I was talking about. One popular question that I get from many of my friends and colleagues is: “Will you ever profiteer from VerDay?” My answer is: yes. But not off of money. VerDay will continue to be a nonprofit, and the only “incentive” that I’ll get is that I will have made an impact by promoting environmental sustainability and autism awareness.
I have no idea about what I want to do in the future. The future is uncertain and whatever I want to be or need to be will be decided just like how I came across those plates in that rural Indian village. I’ll probably decide when I go to college.
Question 7 : What advice do you have for aspiring teen entrepreneurs?
Never give up and never let others dictate who you are. When you traverse down the same path I travelled- you will encounter jealousy from many individuals. The strategy is to be vigilant and remember that you have something that they don’t have and that’s your entrepreneurial action.
There are lots of individuals who claim to be entrepreneurs by doing nothing. You are different from them. You went out and took risks, you slogged, you worked hard, and you sacrificed. Success only follows hard work and you will receive that success if you keep holding your head high and doing good things with your business! Good luck!
Question 8 : What’s your favourite meme? What’s your favourite pun?
Area 51 memes; ever single line said by Colin Mochrie in Whose Line is it anyway.
Follow VerDay on their platforms!
Instagram: @vday_inc ( https://www.instagram.com/vday_inc/ )
LinkedIn: Siddarth Sridhar ( https://www.linkedin.com/in/siddarthsridhar/ )