Three Indian startups work to scale up in the assistive tech space

Hemani Sheth Mumbai | Updated on March 07, 2021

Representative image   -  Getty Images/iStockphoto

The startups are backed by Prosus

Three Indian startups are working to scale up assistive tech for differently-abled backed by new funding received as part of the inaugural Prosus Social Impact Challenge for Accessibility (Prosus SICA).

Sohum Innovation Labs, NeoMotion and Stamurai after winning grants of ₹ 2,500,000, ₹ 1,800,000 and ₹ 1,200,000, respectively from Prosus SICA are now taking their ventures to the next level.

Prosus, the global consumer internet group of Naspers, in collaboration with Invest India, Startup India and Social Alpha had launched SICA in August. The social impact investing challenge was meant for start-ups with the most innovative solutions in the assistive technology space.

It had announced the winners on December 2 last ahead of the International Day of People with Disabilities.

Sohum won for its “highly accessible device” that has been designed to detect hearing impairment amongst infants and small children. Founded by Swostik Sourav Dash, Chennai-based NeoMotion, which makes bespoke wheelchairs had grabbed the second spot in the challenge, followed by New-Delhi based Stamurai. Stamurai is a mobile app that addresses speech and language disabilities. It has been co-founded by Meet Singhal, Anshul Agarwal and Harsh Tyagi.

Over the past three months, the winners have geared up to scale up their startups, from building new partnerships to upgrading their products.

“We want to provide this technology to the rest of the world," Sohum's founder Nitin Sisodia had said in an interview with BusinessLine after winning the challenge.

Sisodia’s focus now is on increasing installations and exploring new partnerships to scale the venture globally.

“Currently, our main focus is on the growth of the company and a greater number of installations, so that we can screen a greater number of babies not only in India but also in other countries. So, what we are actively looking for at this moment is making more partnerships for the introduction of products in public as well as private healthcare sectors,” Sisodia told BusinessLine.

Sohum, so far has partnered with healthcare company Medtronic Labs to introduce its product in the ENT (Ear, Nose & Throat) segment. The company has also conducted training programs with the Tripura state government and Himachal state government and is planning to introduce the product in Punjab.

Globally, with an installation base in installation base in Tanzania and Uganda, the company is actively looking at expansion in Kenya and South Africa. It will also explore working with private setups and individual doctors who would like to start newborn hearing screening in Southeast Asia starting with the Philippines.

Business models

In India currently, the company is working on two kinds of business models.

“One is where we sell the device, and another is where we provide services to the hospitals. Someone from our team will go and conduct hearing training on all the babies born in that particular hospital. So that is how we are proliferating the corporate hospitals to screen more and more number of babies,” Sisodia said.

So far, the company has worked with hospitals such as Apollo, Manipal, St. Theresa and Rainbow, he said. The startup is also looking to pitch to state governments as part of programs such as Rashtriya Bal Kalyan Yojna and the National Program for Prevention and Control of Deafness to provide access to the solution to babies that are born at home.

NeoMotion, on the other hand, has plans to leverage the grants to ramp up marketing and sales. It has been focused on production, sale and active lead generation in the last four to five months.

With the grants coming in, NeoMotion will now invest in working capital.

“A portion of the grant will be utilised for our working capital requirement. With the needs coming in and with the production going up, part of it will be used for inventory for working capital. We will be also adding a few machinery and infrastructure to our production facility,” said Dash.

A portion of the grant will also be utilising for education and awareness purposes and for getting demo units installed in a few “specifically identified geographies” such as Mumbai, Delhi, Kerala and Bangalore centres.

The startup is also looking to explore partnerships with medical scientists, individuals and dealer outlets to expand in India. The company will also be launching three product variants this year.

Stamurai is looking to level up the app through machine learning and leveraging its significant data set of structured speech.

“We want to use this data, and the grant funds to build a machine learning algorithm that automatically classifies portions of speech, which are structured versus which are fluid. We can use this algorithm to give real-time feedback to our users, on the improvements in their speech fluency,” explained Singhal.

“This algorithm can also be used to make voice interfaces, such as Alexa or Siri, Google Assistant more accessible for people who stutter,” he added.

It is exploring B2B partnership with the voice interface providers with Prosus helping them to connect to companies for the same.

“In terms of our immediate next steps, we would be trying to hire and boost our machine learning team. We are also planning to add other languages to the app, starting with Hindi, Tamil and Spanish. We are also looking to expand to other speech disorders, beyond stuttering,” he said.

The startups, with their cheques in hand, are now looking forward to Prosus’ mentorship. The startups will be inducted into a new Prosus SICA mentorship program set to begin later in the year, another perk of winning the challenge.

The companies are looking for guidance in terms of answering important business questions and for tapping into the right networks to build their business.

Sehraj Singh, Director, Public Policy and Corporate Affairs, India, Prosus, said, “We are fortunate to be able to work with great startups to achieve success, create transformative products in assistive technologies, and improve the wellbeing and health of their many users. We are also grateful for the opportunity to work closely with Sohum, NeoMotion, Stamurai to help them incubate ideas and achieve scale. We look forward to providing them mentorship and access to our leaders across engineering, product, finance, strategy, HR and communications.”

Published on March 07, 2021

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