How the lightbulb moment for UtopiaTech founders was about making streetlights smarter

13th Aug 2018
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The Mumbai-based startup installs a tiny device into light boxes, and tracks and analyses electrical data on custom-built software.

UtopiaTech was a concept in the minds of Ayush Jain and Shashank Shah — both employed at Godrej Group — until May last year, when the two former engineering batchmates got together and gave it direction.

Ayush and Shashank were joined by Mitesh Bajaria, a software engineer and the latter’s schoolmate, and their collective interest in “internet-enabled outdoor lighting” led to the creation of UtopiaTech. Almost a year of ground research on India’s street lighting market, connected technologies and their impact on urban development had preceded that.

(L-to-R) Shashank Shah, Ayush Jain, and Mitesh Bajaria, Co-Founders, UtopiaTech

The founders discovered that while close to 30 million street lights are switched on in India every night, their management is largely manual leading to delays in fault detection and repair, electrical theft, unnecessary usage, and so on. “Very few Indian companies were working in this field. The requirements were there, but the solutions were generic, and awareness was low,” Ayush tells YourStory.

UtopiaTech had identified a pain point, and in the course of on-ground research, they encountered 8-10 “prospective clients” who helped refine the core solution: management and automation of outdoor lights with IoT technology.  

How it works

Ayush explains,

“We install a device in the junction boxes of street lights, collect electrical footprints, and track and analyse the data with the help of software. So, not only can the lights be turned off/on remotely, they can even be automated with alarms. It reduces energy consumption by 10-15 percent, improves electrical fault identification and quickens escalation.”

UtopiaTech’s offering is actually two-pronged: one is a hardware product that is installed in the lightboxes, and the other is the custom-built data-tracking software and mobile app given as a service to clients.

The software presents data graphically and in real-time, thus improving decision-making. The app allows electricians and linemen to set daily alarms, alerts, and reminders on their phone. “Our app ensures if there is an outage, alerts are sent immediately,” Ayush says.

The hardware product developed by UtopiaTech is known as Smart Time Switch. The device USP is it does not require any infrastructure changes in the light boxes. “We can retrofit STM in any billboard or outdoor light. It makes us a plug-and-play solution,” says Ayush.

Commercial launch and projects

The startup officially launched the Smart Time Switch in March 2018, and applied for a product patent through the Startup India programme.

Its first pilot was in Palava City, a smart city located 50 km from Mumbai. More pilot installations followed at Reliance Corporate Park in Navi Mumbai, Hiranandani Estate in Thane, IIT-Bombay, NIT Raipur, and ISB Hyderabad. Sunrise Publicity, a large billboard advertising agency, came on board too.

In under six months, Smart Time Switch controls about 2,000 street and outdoor lights. The startup claims each device can manage 30-40 lights in an area. At present, campuses, streets, housing societies, private parks, etc. are being targeted. “Because we do not have access to government spaces,” says Ayush.

UtopiaTech has signed a MoU with ACS Technologies in Hyderabad to sell the product in the international market, starting with Southeast Asia. It is also in consultations with the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) for state highway projects as well as with Zee Group-owned EsselWorld (one of India’s oldest and largest theme parks) for a renovation project.

By the end of 2018, the startup aims to control 20,000 lights, and expand to locations beyond Mumbai. Ayush reveals,

“We have generated a good number of long-term orders from the pilots. Over 150 devices have been pre-booked, and three have even been shipped to Bangkok. In India, we are focusing on four hotspots - Mumbai, Delhi, Gujarat and Telangana, which have a lot of campuses and industries.”

Ecosystem support

UtopiaTech says being a part of Zone Startups India (a Mumbai-based tech accelerator) and Palava Accelerator (set up by Lodha Group in partnership with Zone Startups) gave it “direct access to core customers”. Ayush says,

“For a B2B startup, getting the first client is always difficult. The bigger the client, the more challenging it is. Our Palava pilot helped us gain customers and shortened the growth cycle.”

Palava Accelerator not only connected UtopiaTech to the Lodha Group, a key real estate player in Maharashtra, but the feedback from its engineers helped the startup “fine tune” its product for end users. 

Ajay Ramasubramaniam, Director (India), Zone Startups, tells YourStory:

“Palava helped UtopiaTech with pricing, pitching the idea, mentoring with B2B IoT founders and in cracking the first big customer, which led to other big customers. We are now connecting UtopiaTech to more townships, corporate parks, etc. in a few more cities.”

What is it about UtopiaTech that is exciting infrastructure clients and tech accelerators alike?

Ajay says, “It is a simple product idea that aligns perfectly to a smart city use case. The solution is ready-to-fit, it brings down the cost of electricity consumption and increases operational efficiency.”

Riding the ‘smart city’ wave

Given the Modi government’s thrust on smart cities, UtopiaTech seems to be doing the right thing at the right time. According to Infoholic Research, India’s smart street-lighting market is estimated to be worth $1.8 billion by 2022. The growth, it says, is being fuelled by rapid urbanisation, from roads and highways to smart cities and smart homes.

The report states,

“In India, smart street-lighting is at the nascent stage and is expected to grow rapidly over the next two years. New installation projects for smart street-lighting have been launched starting 2015 and many more projects for replacing street-lights are expected in the coming years in urban and rural areas of India.”

But, UtopiaTech is not the only startup in this sector. Goa-based Tungsta, a cloud-based wireless system for street lighting, and Delhi-based Li-Fi startup Velmenni Research & Development are a few other players looking to grab a share of the connected outdoor lighting market.

However, UtopiaTech, insists Ayush, scores because it is a retrofitted solution and doesn’t demand a change in existing infrastructure. “It just improves ease of use. We take 30 minutes to install the smart switch and it’s done,” he says.

Bootstrapped so far, the seven-member startup is content with the “confirmed orders” that have come its way. Co-founder Ayush says, “We’ll probably look at a seed round towards the end of the year. Now, we are looking for strategic partnerships and have even approached the government.”

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