From learning disorders to visual impairment to mobility, new-age start-ups in assistive technology are picking up steam. On offer are free reading solutions, smartphone access to web surfing, augmented reality, customised prosthetic limbs, match-making aids and more.
Can you take us through some exciting start-ups that caught your eye?
Blee and Bionic Yantra are names that come to mind. There is a huge shortage of quality solutions that cater to and empower persons-with-disabilities at an affordable price point. Before we launched the programme, we incubated and invested in a few such assistive tech firms. The sector was crippling because of limited or unavailability of high quality and affordable solutions. Last year, we decided to intervene with focus on three key areas – support for design for manufacturing, validation studies and clinical trials and work order financing. We engaged with our experienced partners and have built strong domain expertise and community connect. Interestingly, jury members from leading organisations like Jaipur foot, Enable India, APD, ARTILABS, NISH, and XRCVC were a part of the quest’s screening exercise.
How can solutions such as Flexmo Crutches and Kibo be made accessible to masses?
While there are many start-ups which are passionate about this, the market needs a push from the ecosystem specifically the investors and incubators to provide access to patient-risk capital. This will not only allow such budding enterprises to cross the ‘valley of death,’ but also establish allied services such as manufacturing hubs, and distribution networks.
In a fragmented market, the advantage of economies of scale is hard to achieve in this space. It makes the products unaffordable for the end users, in a sector where the purchasing power is already low. Accessibility will come with availability of financing options and presence of a distribution model that includes sales, service and support to ensure customer engagement. We are trying to develop a model in partnership with some of the NGOs and other ecosystem players. And this programme is the first step in that direction.
How was the response to the initiative?
The challenge was open to everyone across India. Though, there was an overwhelming response from Bengaluru, Delhi and Mumbai, applications poured in from Chennai, Pondicherry, Hyderabad and Pune as well. While some of the best innovations are from top engineering and design colleges, but the students need guidance. We have an Entrepreneurs for Impact (E4i) programme, which offers opportunities for students to turn into entrepreneurs.
Which fields are in need of more investment?
It’s hard to pick a sub-sector in the space of assistive technologies when the whole sector is extremely underserved, but in mere number of innovations, the sector is partially skewed towards visual impairment and physical disability. Primarily, innovation in the space of developmental disorders and speech and hearing impairment need an extra push.
Are any specific trends coming to the fore?
Today, the start-ups in India are talking about going global. The innovators across sectors are striving to get international standards and certifications. This will not only help the idea of Make in India a reality, but also boost foreign investments in our country. Moreover, in the space of assistive technologies, the global market is mature and allows for sustenance of these much-needed innovations. India with its large population and diversity offers a test bed for emerging technologies to get validated. Thereafter, the solutions can be refined before attempting to capture global markets.