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Startups, family business and the future of in-vehicle payments

Anish Agarwal (MEng Manufacturing and Mechanical Engineering, 2011) is an entrepreneur in the automotive and manufacturing space with a passion for technology and engineering innovation. Anish discusses how his experiences of studying and working around the world have shaped his own career, including his time with the family business Sterling Tools and involvement in several exciting automotive startups including Sheeva.AI.

How did your time at Warwick aid your professional and personal development?
I come from an engineering and manufacturing family business, so Warwick’s ethos of academic and industrial collaboration was particularly attractive to me. Some of the modules I undertook were particularly relevant for my work with the family business Sterling Tools, especially in my final two years where I was able to specialise and refine my knowledge. Living abroad on my own, studying alongside people from a variety of countries, and completing industrial training in Catalonia, Spain, at the end of my second year all gave me a world view that contributed to my personal and professional growth.

Can you tell me about Sheeva.AI and how you became involved?
I wanted to expand my horizons into the technology space and attended an automotive innovation exhibition virtually in Tel Aviv at the beginning of the pandemic. I spoke with the founder of Sheeva, who was based out of Virginia in the US. After detailed discussions and business meetings, I decided to become a shareholder in the business and joined the company, heading their India project. The business has since expanded from the US and Europe into the Indian and South Asian market, so I took on the role of Asia Director last year.
It's primarily an in-vehicle commerce and cashless payments platform that integrates with a vehicle’s in-built infotainment system using precise geolocation technology. It enables consumers to pay for things like fuel, parking, and electric vehicle charging from the comfort of their own vehicle.

What impact will this innovation have on society?
It’s going to make payments more convenient, faster, and safer. It should help improve traffic flow through toll roads, as payment can automatically be deducted from your bank account if you use these roads. It makes filling up at the petrol station safer, especially during times of covid, and it makes paying for parking and charging much easier. It eliminates the need for cash, cards or QR codes when using your vehicle to make payments.

What does a working day look like for you?
Before my involvement with Sheeva, when I was working solely in the family business, days were quite regular and consistent, usually 9am to 6pm. With Sheeva based primarily out of Virginia and Detroit in the US, and me being based in Delhi, the time difference means having to make lots of calls and working late in the evenings. I don’t mind that extra work – it’s the nature of working with startups when you’re building something exciting – and I’ve always had a desire to work in technology.

Who have been the biggest influences on your career?
Growing up it was my family. My father built the business to what it is today along with my uncle, who joined later. They both have different personalities and qualities and taught me many foundational skills needed to have a successful career.
Experiences and travel have influenced me too. I completed an internship in Japan with a Toyota supplier, in addition to the industrial training in Spain that I mentioned earlier and the opportunity to work with Sheeva in the US. This diversity of opportunity, along with my education at both Warwick and Imperial in the UK, has enriched my career.

What advice would you give to a student who might want to follow a similar career path to you?
If you have a passion for technology and want to be entrepreneurial, gain some experience in a medium-sized or large company first. It teaches discipline and understanding of systems, processes, and structure. You need a lot of patience and commitment to be an entrepreneur. I’ve worked on building another automotive startup in the past where timing or external factors like covid and international policy in certain countries have made it difficult to succeed for periods of time. Finally, resilience is key. You need to have thick skin to thrive. There will be plenty of people who will doubt you, but if you truly believe in the business then you need to stick with it, whilst bearing in mind that not all projects will work and can be costly to start with.

What are your future plans?
I’m looking to stabilise the businesses that I’m involved with after the market turmoil of the pandemic. After being rewarded for staying in the market during difficult times, the tide seems to have turned, and I’ve recently been able to invest in people to lead some of these exciting ventures. That gives me more time to focus on the family business and support the family in delivering core business activity as we concentrate on the sustainable future of the organisation. Then there’s Sheeva, which I’ll continue to be involved with as it grows and develops.

“You need a lot of patience and commitment to be an entrepreneur.”