These entrepreneurs are making rural life healthier, simpler 

17th Apr 2018
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These startups are working to make basic facilities accessible to the youth by creating micro-entrepreneurs at the local level.

L-R: Nidhi Mathur, Balagopal K.V and Daniela Gheorghe

Several challenges plague rural India, most of them basic - potable water, education, and healthcare. While various government schemes are helping citizens, social startups are also working extensively to help mitigate these challenges through innovation and technology.

Below is a list of five startups that are working to make basic facilities accessible to the youth by creating micro-entrepreneurs at the local level.

1. Krishworks

Krishworks helps rural entrepreneurs set up after-school English activity centres for primary school children through a tablet-based software.

The interactive software works as an interface between a teacher and a student through ‘gamified’ content, and the teacher plays the role of a facilitator.

Students participating in the pilot project at Banjara Hills, Hyderabad.
“Today, English is needed everywhere, like for filling up forms, using computers, and for official purposes, to name a few. Every industry is trying to automate their processes and they use English. This poses a huge barrier in villages where there are no adequate quality options to enhance English language skills,” Balagopal K.V., the co-founder of Krishworks, says.

According to a study by Annual Status of Education Report, 75 percent of school-going children in rural areas do not recognise the numbers till 100. Further, from the 25 percent who can comprehend numbers, only about 50 percent can understand what they read.

The following reasons, Balagopal says, are responsible for the poor state of education in rural areas - lack of qualified teachers, low teacher motivation, lack of opportunities, and lack of English speaking skills

Balagopal, along with co-founders Subhajit Roy, Gargi Mazumdar and Kaushik Mazumdar founded Krishworks in 2015.

Krishworks has created multiple rural micro-entrepreneurs who have to invest an initial amount of Rs 50,000 for a tablet that comes loaded with content and games.

The individual then runs an after-school English activity centre using the tablet and other study materials. The children can enroll for a monthly fee of Rs 200 and each centre can host a maximum of 192 children.

The startup currently has two centres in the Sunderbans area in West Bengal, which hosts over 80 children. Earlier, it had conducted a pilot with over 400 children in three states across 17 villages. They hope to open 50 centres this year in rural West Bengal.

2. Niramai

Niramai, a startup based in Bengaluru, is an Artificial Intelligence-based pain-free breast cancer screening solution that helps detection at an early stage. This startup uses Machine Learning and Big Data analytics over thermography images to develop reliable and low-cost diagnostic methods.

The Niramai team.

Founded in 2016 by Geetha Manjunath and Nidhi Mathur, the startup has received funding from Pi Ventures, Ankur Capital, 500 startups, and Binny Bansal. The unique feature of Niramai’s screening device is that it can detect tumors five times smaller than what a clinical exam can.

“Breast Cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths among women today. Early diagnosis is critical in saving lives. Mammography, which is the current gold standard for breast cancer screening, has several issues - it is not effective in younger women or women with dense breasts and is extremely painful. Also, harmful radiations can induce cancer. As a result, most screenings in India are physical examinations, which can only detect palpable lumps,” Nidhi explains.

Considering it is less expensive and does not require heavy equipment, Niramai’s solution is ideal for small towns and villages where affordable healthcare is still a rarity. Niramai conducts free screening camps for rural and urban poor, and has screened more than 2000 women.

3. vChalk

The vChalk platform helps teachers, parents and children in learning English, both spoken and written. The platform trains teachers to help students transition from learning English as a second language to speaking it fluently.

vChalk classes in action

According to a UNESCO 2013 report, four in 10 children in developing countries can’t read or calculate after spending five years in school. In India, one in three children rural areas, and two in three in urban areas study in English medium schools.

Parents who don’t know English themselves often can’t help children learn English at home, or with their homework. Most send children to English medium schools, but often they cannot offer the desired quality, says Daniela Gheorghe, 31, the co-founder of vChalk.

To enable teachers to plan classes without dependence on Internet connectivity, vChalk also brings vChalkbox, a mini-server, into the school. Teachers can connect to the server through Ezy, an offline mobile application that describes the activities for each group of children.

As a result, in 2017-18 academic year, the company’s learning indicator for more than 2000 students across I to VIII grade indicated that 55 percent students understood English better.

In the coming few months, vChalk aims to improve the product to be able to scale and reach 6,000 students beyond Bengaluru and North Karnataka.

4. Uravu Labs

Uravu Labs, a Hyderabad-based startup, has built multiple products to 'source water from thin air', powered by 100 percent renewable energy. The company aims to create a “new kind of decentralised water infrastructure.”

Uravu designed an aqua panel to sources drinking water from atmospheric air.

Uravu is one of the five finalists, representing Asia, at the global $1.75 million Water Abundance XPRIZE.

“About 80 million of India's population faces acute water scarcity and millions others face water stress in some form or the other. Many locations, especially in rural India/ urban slums have no adequate water infrastructure and where establishing a water supply utility network would be very costly and inefficient,” says 25-year-old Swapnil Shrivastav, the founder of Uravu.

Uravu Labs has designed a product that sources drinking water from atmospheric air using condensation, and can ‘produce’ up to 200 litres a day. The product, named SWAG, is fitted with air filters that have a three-stage purification process and can filter out suspended particulate matter even of 0.3 microns in size.

The on-site harvesting of water addresses bigger challenges of distribution, logistics, and management. “This system will be an alternative source of freshwater and increase water security,” he explains.

Swapnil’s vision is to move from a water scarce to a water abundant India.

5. Chikitsak LifeSciences

Healthcare company Chikitsak LifeSciences focuses on non-communicable diseases, and provides cost-effective screening for early identification among low-income populations. Its screening solution offers 10 tests in under 10 minutes at a price not exceeding Rs 200.

‘Health of the Nation’s States - The India State-Level Disease Burden Initiative’ report, 2016, by the Indian Medical Council indicates that over six out of 10 deaths in India are due to non-communicable diseases. Factors that also impact healthcare in India include high costs, accessibility and lack of skilled doctors.

“Chikitsak's primary focus is to bring technology-enabled healthcare solutions to segments of population which are extremely underserved and constrained by lack of awareness, access and affordability,” says Milind Naik, founder of Chikitsak.

Chikitsak's solution combines a portable and easy-to-use medical screening kit with proprietary technology that is deployed through a network of low-skilled healthcare workers and entrepreneurs.

The solution can be deployed by anyone who is not highly skilled after undergoing a three-day training workshop, and this can be rapidly scaled to reach the masses, Milind explains. Field workers help adopt a preventive approach towards health and serve as early-identification agents.

The company is incubated by the Government of Karnataka under the Karnataka Biotechnology and Information Technology Services, and was earlier operating at the NASSCOM Startup Warehouse Bengaluru.


Disclaimer: These startups were showcased at the Social+Impact conclave, presented by GIZ & YourStory.

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