A deep-rooted passion for imaging technology reflects in the way she animatedly discusses the gaps to be filled in the home camera segment. Her excitement for her work is only matched by her calm, composed smile and a child-like exuberance. Meet Raji Kannan, Founder and CTO of LensBricks, the latest entrant in the imaging industry that is already attracting a lot of attention.
Just back from attending the Image Sensors conference in London, Raji is living the startup dream. Not every startup can manage to raise $1M USD with its initial pitch. But in December 2013, the vision materialised when Raji travelled with a fractured leg from Bengaluru to Boston to pitch the product to investors. It took only three days to sign off, with the company registered in just two days.
The coming together of the right team with distinctive ideas set the ball rolling for LensBricks. It is co-founded by Pranav Mishra, Raji’s partner-in-crime from Nokia, where they collaborated on several path-breaking and risky projects. She explains,
When I started my team on image and video services in Nokia, Pranav was the first to sign up. He has always been a high-risk taker with amazing clarity. Together, we had worked in bringing several products to the market with our algorithms embedded in them.
For a couple of years, the duo had been debating the startup concept but it took shape only when they met Ramesh Raskar, who heads the Camera Culture research group at the MIT Media Lab, and owns over 50 patents. Raji’s team had implemented an idea from Raskar’s whitepaper on a lens. “Ramesh backed us based on our skill set and vision. Things such as the team not having a Ph.D.did not matter to him,” says Raji. With the addition of Raskar into the team as a technology advisor, the pieces of the puzzle fell in place.
“We believe that every camera can be a smart camera, just as every phone has become a smartphone”, says Raji talking about the core business idea of her brainchild.
LensBricks aims to improve consumer life with a unique combination of hardware and software solutions in the home market. She elaborates: “Most CCTV cameras are dumb, that is, it requires human intervention to scan through hours of videos if you need to spot something. It’s proven that it’s difficult for a person to concentrate on a video for more than 17 minutes, so a paradigm shift is needed in the way we use our cameras.” LensBricks’ flagship product plans to offer consumers something in that direction by understanding a specific scene and delivering augmented information.
When they were chosen for the PCH hardware accelerator program for the Jan-June 2015 term, they knew for certain that they were headed in the right direction. A program like this is a great enabler, especially for a hardware company that has its specific set of challenges such as manufacturing, distribution, packaging, aesthetic design requirement, and most definitely, the capital.
The team has not shied away from marketing their product in all the right forums, like the Image Sensors Conference and INK Talks. “You are only as good as your exposure. Our strength lies in how well we can collaborate, and networking forums provide us with the opportunity to be inspired by ideas from other fields such as astronomy and medicine,” acknowledges Raji.
The team is now all geared for a public launch of the product by the end of 2015.
For the past few months, Raji has been in San Francisco, Skyping with her eight-year-old daughter every night. She agrees that not being able to spend enough time with her daughter is the most difficult part of the journey. But she is blessed with a big troop to hold the fort at home, which includes her husband, parents, and in-laws. Her parents were initially hesitant when she jumped into the startup venture, but once she had made her decision, like a true Indian family they backed her completely, even helping out with the logistics.
Inevitably, we are tempted to find out if being a woman tech entrepreneur has any specific challenges. “Undoubtedly, you have to prove yourself more. You have to be assertive, but there is the danger of being perceived as aggressive. And, you have to work harder because that invisible glass ceiling does seem to exist. But, it helps, if women are flexible and smart enough to add new dimensions to their personality,” suggests Raji.
Signing off, we ask her to share some words of wisdom with other entrepreneurs, and she says without any hesitation,
If we collectively believe that a successful business can be coupled with philanthropy, we will not only come out with great products, but also create a better society.
Definitely, a thought to hold on to.