NED startup builds house in 3 hours for under Rs250,000

Published: April 5, 2017
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With little money and tons of passion for displaced people, civil engineering students Nabeel Siddiqui (left), Yaseen Khalid (middle) and Muhammed Saquib (right) find a unique housing solution.  

With little money and tons of passion for displaced people, civil engineering students Nabeel Siddiqui (left), Yaseen Khalid (middle) and Muhammed Saquib (right) find a unique housing solution.  

With little money and tons of passion for displaced people, civil engineering students Nabeel Siddiqui (left), Yaseen Khalid (middle) and Muhammed Saquib (right) find a unique housing solution.  

Can you imagine building an entire house in only three hours? Or constructing large cost-effective colonies with proper plumbing and electricity within a month? A house that can be assembled and disassembled like Lego blocks? A house that can be transported anywhere because it is flat-packed? No, not a shelter, but a real house that can last up to 10 years and cost under Rs250,000?

When three NED University’s civil engineering students Yaseen Khalid, Mohammed Saquib and Nabeel Siddiqui saw the devastation in Syria and the alarming situation of internally displaced persons at home, they decided to build exactly that kind of a housing solution for their final year project.

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“We wanted to build something tangible that could be used in the real world to solve problems,” says Siddiqui.

But not everyone was convinced that they could make their vision a reality.

“When we presented our housing design to our university professors, everyone thought we were crazy and we couldn’t pull off the research, material sourcing and construction design by the time we graduated,” says Khalid.

Crazy or not, they found a mentor and supporter in one of their teachers who pushed them to explore the idea more.

“If the Chinese could build a 57-storey skyscraper in 19 days, we were convinced we could build houses in three hours,” adds Siddiqui.

But before they could implement the design they had created, the students needed some money to source the materials and test out the concept.

“We thought we’d get sponsorships from steel and cement companies very easily to build our first house. We went excitedly with our packages and offers to company CEOs and returned with nothing but goody bags and good wishes. No one wanted to give money to students,” says Saquib.

But the boys were still not discouraged and decided to put it all on the line.

“We bootstrapped, we begged our parents, we saved our pocket money, and we sold some stuff and finally got all the materials needed,” reminisces Khalid.

But just because they had the money to buy their materials and a friend’s backyard to put it together, it wasn’t all smooth sailing.

“We ended up buying the wrong material for a large portion of the money and when we started building our house the walls started falling apart,” laughs Siddiqui.

“It’s a good thing the retailer took back the materials, otherwise we would have lost over Rs50,000 on the wrong material and we didn’t have any more money for repurchase,” says Saquib.

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The boys learnt from their errors and changed and customised the design as they went along.

“The labourers we hired would be flabbergasted at what we were doing. They just didn’t know what exactly we were trying to do?” says Siddiqui.

The boys not only managed to perfect their design that can be put together in three hours, is flat-packed, sustainable and cost-effective, they also ended up getting selected at tech incubator The Nest i/o in Karachi.

“When we pitched to the president Jehan Ara and her panel of esteemed judges, we thought we didn’t have a chance because we didn’t have an app or website or anything,” says Khalid about their company Modulus Tech.

But The Nest i/o saw their potential and selected them in their fifth incubation cycle. Currently, the boys have pivoted their idea and are catering to multiple industries with Modulus Tech.

“The mentoring and advice at the Nest made us realise that our housing solution could be great for labour colonies, tourist lodges, domestic quarters or military camps. They could even be used as health clinics and schools in slums and rural communities.”

Their time at the incubator has been like a mini-MBA program and they’ve understood how to build a business plan, pitch to investors, and how to monetise the business.

While their direction, passion and idea are brilliant, there are still many flaws in the design that have to be addressed in order to reach a larger audience and a different market. Take, for instance, the overall design that may be basic enough for refugees and IDP usage but is not aesthetically pleasing enough for a tourist lodge.

They also struggle with convincing their audience that this is a ‘house’ and not a shelter.

“Most people in Pakistan have this perception that a brick-and-mortar house must take time to build and it has to be expensive to put together otherwise it will not be long-lasting,” says Saquib. “Convincing them that it is just as sustainable and tough as any house is still a struggle.”

Currently, the boys are busy expanding their team, talking to investors and learning about scaling their business.

Saba Khalid is a freelance writer living between Karachi and Berlin.

The video and photos were provided by Modulus Tech.

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Reader Comments (20)

  • Javed Iqbal
    Apr 5, 2017 - 4:00PM

    What’s new in this? Its already in abundance in UAE. We call them Porta CabinsRecommend

  • Hasan
    Apr 5, 2017 - 4:16PM

    Great idea! Displaced refugees is this millennium’s biggest political problem and 80% of displaced refugees are located in south asia according to recent CNN study.

    Wishing you guys success in helping humanity survive the ravages of political displacement of human beings.Recommend

  • Ch. KA Nye
    Apr 5, 2017 - 4:30PM

    Bravo.. It’s a great start.Recommend

  • Salman Anwar
    Apr 5, 2017 - 5:03PM

    simply great, great efforts .. hats off to boysRecommend

  • Ch. Allah Daad
    Apr 5, 2017 - 9:33PM

    Fire all those teachers who discouraged them. They are the reason our kids don’t take initiative and invent new things. Recommend

  • faraz
    Apr 5, 2017 - 11:58PM

    Well Done! Proud of something Made in Pakistan!Recommend

  • Muneeb
    Apr 6, 2017 - 5:20AM

    ..assembled and dismantled like lego blocks ET. NOT assembled and dissembled. Please correct your use of words while reporting in English.Recommend

  • Juliet Samuel
    Apr 6, 2017 - 9:10AM

    If our youth is trying to do something better for our country as well as for their bright future. We should all become their 1st supporters instead of discouraging them and be proud as well.Recommend

  • mrashidhai
    Apr 6, 2017 - 9:22AM

    @Javed Iqbal:
    Will you please mention any of yours such initiative/achievement in life (even copied one). Please try to learn to appreciate and encourage such initiatives/achievements of our young student.
    Well done young NEDians. KEEP IT UP. Recommend

  • Fahad Badar
    Apr 6, 2017 - 10:52AM

    Well done nedian.
    Keep it up.
    It’s great for the Pakistan industry that such creative ideas are generating amongst Pakistanis.
    We should all promote our Young talent.
    Masha AllahRecommend

  • Naveed
    Apr 6, 2017 - 2:52PM

    Keep it up!Recommend

  • Khan
    Apr 6, 2017 - 3:19PM

    It’s like a Shed not a house. I bet many people in mountainous area build their houses much cheaply from the timber.Recommend

  • Ammar.
    Apr 6, 2017 - 8:55PM

    Assalamualaikum.
    Congrats to the team.
    I need to build a permanent house for my 7 members family. I have a plot of 100 yards.
    Do you people any practical plan for me, please?
    Regards.Recommend

  • Tiger
    Apr 7, 2017 - 5:56AM

    Its not good it become very hot sumeer Recommend

  • someone
    Apr 7, 2017 - 9:29AM

    One can buy a container house cheaper than this. Recommend

  • @ground reality
    Apr 7, 2017 - 10:45AM

    No wonder….. this quality cabin can be setup in lesser time with lower budget by any local carpenter single-handedly or just with a help of his junior, with out going through luxurious education of NED. This is story is a perfect example of marketing gimmickry and exhibits power of media. Being a lay man I feel a bunch of engineers (young ones) should create real wonder before using their PR or money in media which later serves humanity in real.

    I think it is the misery of our society that we start applauding and promoting for ordinary project delivered a bunch of high profile professionals (going to be).

    God bless our generation. Recommend

  • Miss Error
    Apr 7, 2017 - 11:26AM

    Everyone pin-pointing possible drawbacks (healthy criticism is good) need to understand they are CIVIL ENGINEERING STUDENTS. They know the science of making a comfortable home and they are also working on improving their current product. Recommend

  • rehana
    Apr 7, 2017 - 10:43PM

    Low cost sustainable housing is a necessity in Pakistan and other developing countries. It is remarkable and encouraging to see that it is students who are coming up with solutions. It is through adopting the scientific method and experimentation that this country can build its capacity to innovate and build an entrepreneurship mindset. Unlike the useless government who is in the habit of relying on foreign handouts, getting the country and deeper and deeper into debt by starting mega projects which will no doubt remain unfinished when the money runs out.
    How are energy and water needs provided for in the housing units – electricity , gas , plumbing and sanitation? Are they making use of renewable methods e,g solar powered and recycling materials to lower costs?
    Hope they continue to develop their product and succeed in their worthy endeavors.Recommend

  • David Salmon
    Apr 8, 2017 - 12:57AM

    A house that only lasts “up to 10 years”? One might rent such a house temporarily, but who would buy it? A real house lasts longer.Recommend

  • Aamir
    Jul 18, 2017 - 12:51AM

    Excelleny job but make it on commercial basis so you could earn as well….Recommend

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