Member Interview – Nikhil Balachandran, 09/18

I have a relentless desire to find solutions that address sustainability and process efficiency problems by building products from inception to scale with a passion that derives its inspiration from climbing mountains and swimming in open water. My encounters with litter during hiking and open water swimming have been defining moments that have compelled me to switch my career to keep trash out of the environment.

Now CEO of Zabble Inc., I live in Walnut Creek and am happy married to Diana. We are expecting a daughter in the coming weeks.  My professional goal is to build a company that provides services and tools to quantify and categorize waste to enable a circular economy that eliminates waste, is financially efficient and protects Earth.

I attended the same high school in Hyderabad, India that produced the CEOs of Microsoft, Adobe and Mastercard. I received my undergraduate degree in Electrical Engineering from RVCE in Bangalore and a Master’s degree from New Mexico State University in 2006.

Since then I’ve worked at startups in the San Francisco Bay Area bringing seminal ideas to life from inception to scale. As a data scientist, I’ve had the opportunity to develop groundbreaking algorithms in noise cancellation, patient medication adherence, indoor air quality and waste monitoring. While working at Texas Instruments, I tirelessly advocated, as a part of the Green Team, for the food catering company to stop displaying cooked food at the counters, which they did for two years. For my efforts, I was nominated for TI Founders Community Award.

In 2016, I met NCRA members at various conferences who encouraged me to join and learn the ropes from members and thought leaders to make an impact in the recycling community. I’ve completed the TRUE Zero Waste Advisor program (formerly Zero Waste Business Associate) with USGBC and more recently Zero Waste USA’s Zero Waste Community Associate program. I was appointed to the NCRA Board in August when a board member stepped down.

When I’m not working, you will see me spending time hiking, swimming, volunteering, reading, attending concerts and theatre or watching movies.

An avid hiker, I have trekked through some of the most beautiful terrains around the world in North/South America, Africa and Asia. In 2012, I summitted Africa’s tallest mountain Mt. Kilimanjaro and in 2015, my wife and I along with my cousin, a 2 time cancer survivor, attempted to climb Mt. Aconcagua in Argentina. We raised $150,00 which we donated to a breast cancer clinic for increased monitoring and awareness.

Since 2016, noticing an increase in trash on local trails, I’ve always carried an extra bag to pick-up the trash. (Who knew there is a Scandinavian movement called Plogging (or Pliking) devoted just for this activity.)

I’m a regular open water swimmer. I’ve swam from Alcatraz to the city on multiple occasions and completed the mega swim from Golden Gate Bridge to Bay Bridge in 2017. Being passionate about ocean conservancy as a surfer and swimmer, I’ve participated in beach cleanups every year since 2008 with the Surfrider Foundation.

What would people be surprised to know about you? I can match up any person with their animal doppelganger

What inspires you? An endearing story of tenacity and perseverance against all odds when human character prevails in its most pure form, devoid of culture, bias, prejudice and identity.

If you could vacation anywhere in the world where would you go? Although I love to travel and experience other cultures, I always find solace in Hawaii with its lush green mountains seamlessly flowing into the turquoise blue oceans. There’s everything from hiking to snorkeling to just plain chilling all in one island.

Book, 1984 by George Orwell

Meal: Palak Paneer – Cubes of paneer in pureed Spinach seasoned with spices. Accompanied by Roti. Makes my mouth water as I type.

Person: My grandmother, Kamala, who passed away in January 2018 who overcame insurmountable odds of defeating smallpox when she was little to inspire her kids and grandkids to keep aspiring for a better life.

Recycled Product: The upcycled Halloween decorations my wife creates from discarded pallets and other items.

Song, Movie or Show: Song: Non, Je ne regrette rien – Edith Piaf, Movie: Sholay, On the Waterfront

Technology: More intrigued by Quantum Computing and its implications than anything

Time Management Technique: Being cost-efficient, focused and disciplined at mundane tasks like paying bills, cooking, laundry and house-cleaning to free up time for more important tasks.

If you could invite any three people to dinner – dead or alive, who would you invite and why?: Gandhi, Lincoln and Diana Nyad

Question of Your Choice: How does an “ideal” world operate without landfills, incineration and dumping?