India: Initiative Seeks Most Innovative Assistive Tech Scouting Start Ups

Asia-Pacific, Assistive Technology, Misc., August 30 2021

In search for India’s most innovative assistive technology start-ups, Prosus the global consumer internet group of Naspers on Monday launched the second edition of its Social Impact Challenge for Accessibility in partnership with Invest India, Social Alpha and the World Health Organisation.

Eligible startups can submit their applications from now until October 19.

The initiative invites Indian start-ups with the most promising solutions in the assistive technology space to compete for an annual grant and access to the Prosus SICA mentorship programme.

Prosus has committed ₹16,500,000 to the initiative over three years, and each year awards grants to three successful start-ups. Partners including Invest India and Social Alpha provide additional mentoring and financing opportunities, while WHO supports the programme with technical assistance.

The top winner of the challenge will be provided with a grant of ₹25 lakh, followed by an ₹18 lakh grant to the second prize winner and the third prize will include a grant of ₹12 lakh.

In addition to the grant award, eligible start-ups receive an opportunity to work with Social Alpha, an incubator that promotes innovation and entrepreneurship across India. As an incubation partner, Social Alpha can also provide up to $40,000 in equity to the top startups.

Sehraj Singh, India Managing Director, Prosus, said,” Here in India, the needs of 70 million persons living with some form of disability have remained under-served despite a vibrant startup ecosystem. We believe that there can be a thriving market for assistive technologies and last year’s excellent response to our inaugural Prosus SICA initiative validated this belief.”

Deepak Bagla, MD & CEO, Invest India, said: “The excellence of Indian ingenuity has been at the forefront. The ability of our entrepreneurs to pivot and develop impactful frugal solutions is India’s strength. This challenge will lead the way in transforming assistive technologies in the country and propel India to become a world leader in the field.”

Manoj Kumar, Founder and CEO, Social Alpha, said, “Assistive technologies is a 25 billion dollar market globally but affordability and user experience issues hinder the market development in India, despite having a large population that needs access to high-quality assistive solutions. I am optimistic that Prosus SICA 2021 will unlock more opportunities and resources for innovators and help them go to market as they create world-class solutions.”

Bringing assistive tech under Digital India

“When we started this initiative last year, we believed in the thesis that Digital India had positively benefited so many different sectors in technology, and the internet. But we felt that assistive technology had not come into the umbrella under Digital India. And we thought, “let’s try and do something that can help the sector also come under that umbrella.” There have to be strong business cases that call for action,” Singh told BusinessLine.

Over the past year, the assistive technology sector has witnessed a significant amount of interest from early-stage and angel investors in this sector. The Prosus initiative has also gained traction from government entities such as the State of Kerala, Punjab and Haryana.

With its SICA initiative, Prosus is aiming to help such startups scale up further.

For instance, according to Sehraj, partners such as WHO can help Indian startups in the sector after they’ve achieved scale to enter the international markets with its global market understanding, analysis and reach.

“That is where we really hope to take the Made in India, to the world story,” said Singh.

Chapal Khasnabis, Head (a.i) Access to Assistive Technology and Medical Devices, WHO, Geneva said, “Prosus SICA is a unique programme that brings together industry expertise, financing and executional capabilities. We are proud to support the programme to transform India’s healthcare landscape aided by Made-In-India assistive technology for her own population and beyond.”

Moonshot ideas

The Prosus SICA challenge this year will scale it up, as organisers look for certain “moonshot” ideas in the assistive tech space.

Apart from technology, affordability, and scalability, “What we’re focusing on is enabling the judges to also look at some moonshot ideas. Some ideas that may initially not seem kind of natural, but something that could be very transformative in the near future,” said Singh.

“Together as a jury panel, as a company, we would like to look for one or two of those companies and then mentor them,” added Singh.

As the second edition progresses, winners from last year’s SICA challenge will also be playing a significant role.

“From last year, this year, the role that the three winners will play in creating the groundswell and supporting the startups being a part of the jury, and being a part of the mentorship program is going to be quite pivotal,” Singh said.

In its inaugural edition in 2020, Prosus SICA had received over 200 applications from 25 states and seven union territories across India. The top three winners were Sohum Innovation Lab (Bengaluru), NeoMotion (Chennai) and Stamuri (New Delhi).

Sohum Innovation Lab manufactures a device to detect hearing impairment in infants. It used the grant money of ₹25 lakhs ($35,000) to expand beyond India to African markets. It has partnered with state governments, private hospitals and NGOs, and has now sold over 200 devices across India, Tanzania, Uganda, and Guatemala.

NeoMotion creates bespoke wheelchairs with a motor-powered clip-on to convert it into a safe, roadworthy vehicle. It used the ₹18 lakhs ($25,000) grant money for marketing to enhance awareness and reach, increasing sales by 3X. The company’s solutions has attracted interest from the likes of Mahindra Group Chairman Anand Mahindra.

Stamurai, a mobile app to address speech disabilities through automated speech therapy, utilised its ₹12 lakhs ($15,000) grant money to make app enhancements that have driven up monthly installs by 2X and revenue by 60 per cent.

The top five finalists of this year’s challenge will be inducted into the Prosus SICA mentorship programme.

This year’s mentorship program for the winning startups will be a “360-degree holistic program that helps them at the grass level helps them at the proto market level at the marketing at the fundraising, as well as the engineering product and technician level,” said Singh.

Applications

For Prosus SICA 2021, an expert panel of judges will be evaluating the startups. Eligible startups can submit their applications from now until October 19. The top startups will be announced in December to mark the International Day of Persons with Disabilities.

Originally Published in the Hindu Business Line

Share this post: