Ease of Doing Business for MSMEs: Over 130 toll plazas or 18 per cent of India’s FASTag toll plazas currently have Comvision’s solutions.
Ease of Doing Business for MSMEs: If you often drive long distances with a FASTag sticker on your vehicle’s windshield, chances are for once you must have crossed automated toll plazas managed by Comvision India. Harjinder Kaur Talwar, the company’s founder, started out as an entrepreneur when she was only 23 back in 1995, the time when it was almost impossible for women to get bank loans by themselves. So, Talwar had to onboard her father as a business partner to secure a bank loan worth Rs 3 lakh to launch Comvision India, a computer-training service provider then for corporates. However, the market wasn’t ready at that time as very few large businesses showed interest in IT-related training.
In between, Talwar also tried her hand at the e-governance sector in India to tweak the business model. Based in Hyderabad in 1999, Talwar approached the Andhra Pradesh government for an opportunity to develop backend technology solutions to deliver various government-to-citizen (G2C) services such as driving licenses, birth certificates and other municipal services under a common roof instead of citizens approaching different government departments. The state government allowed Talwar to test her solution with a TWINS project that allowed citizens to access those services electronically at G2C centres, similar to Common Service Centers that exist today. It was also showcased to the then President of the US, Bill Clinton on his first visit to India in 2000. But what I learned as an entrepreneur was that earning money through a business isn’t a cakewalk contrary to what I had assumed before starting the business. I couldn’t even repay the loan to the bank,” Talwar told Financial Express Online.
In 2011, Comvision diversified its technology infrastructure to offer traffic management segment solutions in the transport sector. The sunrise segment back then caught Talwar’s attention to providing solutions for smooth traffic flow within and outside cities. The company’s eToll solution for highways works like an enterprise resource planning software for the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) to manage toll collections along with providing solutions to managing parking spaces with real-time data of spots availability and automatic traffic signal management based on real-time traffic flow, and more.
In 2017, the company expanded into FASTag-based collections as well and implemented its contactless parking solution at the Hyderabad airport in 2020. “The whole technological side of FASTag was developed by us. It was challenging initially but the market opportunity was big. I used to meet different banks headquartered in Mumbai and the National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI) explaining to them about our technology. A major infrastructure bank eventually became our first partner,” said Talwar. Comvision is currently responsible for FASTag-based electric toll collections at highways and also the clearing and settlement of toll transactions. Over 130 toll plazas or 18 per cent of India’s FASTag toll plazas currently have Comvision’s solutions. According to the data available on the National Highways Authority of India’s (NHAI) website, there are 726 toll plazas across the country.
The company’s greatest feat in traffic management business came when Talwar cracked a deal last year with Saudi Arabia’s King Fahd Causeway Authority (KFCA) that manages the 25 km-long causeway connecting Khobar in Saudi Arabia and Al Jasra in Bahrain. A causeway is essentially a road bridge raised slightly above the water, sand, or wetland. It took nine months for Talwar to close the deal that nobody among her colleagues believed would be possible.
Talwar said it looked difficult because Comvision had never implemented a toll management project outside India, forget managing a hi-speed causeway. “KFCA officials were impressed with the work we had done in India at highways but they wanted to understand how our technology would manage their tolls without any human intervention at the toll booth since tolls in India are managed manually by an operator. There were around 15-20 conference calls over that nine-month period where I had to explain them right from design to implementation of the project and how our technology will manage operator-less tolls. KFCA was eventually convinced,” she added.
Th KFCA project helped Comvision’s revenues jump 30 per cent along with an increase in inbound queries from overseas and better margins. “We are now expanding to Bahrain. We are now a mid-sized business now and are looking to grow by 300 per cent in the next financial year,” said Talwar who is also a board member of the International Women’s Entrepreneurial Challenge (IWEC) Foundation.
Set-up back in 2007 in Spain, the foundation helps connect small and mid-sized women business owners from 47 countries with each other to expand into new markets. Talwar is working on helping Indian women-MSME owners to expand into these countries through this platform. “As a woman, your efforts are doubled since you don’t just have to convince others that you can run a business but also run it successfully. There is a sense of disbelief on the face of people when they know that you have built the business.” Through IWEC, Talwar is looking to help women entrepreneurs in learning how to expand or export overseas, market a product, find buyers etc.