These women listen to unheard voices and tap into oft-ignored markets with their technology solutionsTanvi Dubey
From ensuring babies sleep better to helping people with disabilities find love, the winners of the Women Entrepreneur Quest 2018 are using tech to address the problems that don’t get enough attention.
We often tend to sweep the small and seemingly inconsequential issues and needs under the carpet until they are not small anymore. But technology has become a great instrument for levelling the playing field and bringing out products that promote inclusivity and leave every man, woman (and baby) satisfied.
HerStory caught up with some of the winners of the Women Entrepreneur Quest 2018, organised by AnitaB.org, a nonprofit organisation focused on the advancement of women. Picked out of 226 applications, these women will receive an all-expenses-paid experiential learning trip to the Silicon Valley, US sponsored by AnitaB.org India and Department of Science and Technology, Government of India.
This is what they had to say about technology, solutions and challenges they face as they build solutions for problems that impact us every day in different ways.
All we need is love - Kalyani Khona, Co-founder and CEO, Inclov
Started in 2016, Inclov is a matchmaking platform for people with disabilities to make friends and find love. With 50,000 users across India, Inclov promotes inclusivity. It is accessible and safe to use for people with disabilities -- those affected by visual impairment, polio, paraplegia, cerebral palsy, as well as those suffering from diseases and lifestyle problems, including people with cancer, diabetes, thalassemia, and skin diseases like vitiligo and albinism, etc
On what prompted her to set up Inclov, Kalyani says, “The internet as a network is highly inaccessible to 15 percent of the world's population i.e., 1.3 billion people with disabilities, and it hampers their social living conditions. Our two major challenges lie in ensuring people with disability are empowered and enabled enough to use technology to their advantage like you and I can do today. To ensure the same opportunities for them, we have to make sure our platform reaches the grassroots level through an offline-online engagement loop as well. Furthermore, it is our responsibility to ensure Inclov’s user interface and knowledge centre is 100 percent accessible to people with all kinds of special needs, including people with autism or visual challenges. Next is to make the platform inclusive to amputees and people living with upper body immobility.”
A SheLeadsTech Facebook India member, Kalyani sees Inclov becoming more than a matchmaking app in the future. “We want to create a peer-to-peer network to enable independent living using technology.”
And funding will go a long way for her. “Disability tech is an upcoming space. The world got its first unicorn in disability space only this year so we are very early in the ecosystem. We need to bring more people to the tribe so that investment leads to further innovation and growth. The space is highly fragmented, not just in India but across the globe.”
Privacy for the millennial - Surabhi Das, Co-founder, Ziroh Labs
Started in 2016, Ziroh Lab's focus is on privacy. "Privacy is often not an option today on the internet, but it is important for the survival of the society. At Ziroh Labs, we live each day to invent and innovate technical solutions that are practical enough to enhance the security and privacy of the data stored and processed in the cloud today,” says founder Surabhi Das.
The technology enables computing on top of encrypted text due to which data security is enhanced and information remains private. Surabhi says, “This is a deep-tech research area and we continuously optimise to meet the performance benchmarks of real-world applications. Our challenges are mostly in identifying early adopters and we use different mediums to reach and communicate.”
Waste not, want not - Suruchi Rao, Co-founder, Ossus Biorenewables
Founded in 2017, Ossus Biorenewables as the name suggests, is a bioenergy company. Their focus is on creating a sustainable circular economy, from municipal and industrial wastewater using its proprietary technology, OB bH2 Plus Biorefinery.
Their technology is in the process of being deployed at major oil and gas companies.They have received a strategic investment from the Shell E4 programme in Bengaluru and have been selected for the ONGC Startup Fund.
Speaking of challenges, Surchi says, “More than 300 million Indians today are deprived of access to clean water and electricity. Our biggest challenge so far has been to grow and scale our business at an adequate rate to supply rural Indians with access to decentralised energy and clean water, via the OB bH2 Plus Biorefinery.”
Suruchi is hoping to receive grants and suitable investors to rapidly scale and accelerate the business. She adds, “We are also hoping to establish active collaborations with other members of the ecosystem, including the government , industry stalwarts and opinion leaders to help grow our business.”
Bite-sized tales - Anushka Shetty, Co-founder, Plop chat
Started this year, Plop chat is a content and entertainment platform that creates stories that can be read like chat messages. "Storytelling evolves because we do. Plop is trying to carve a whole new entertainment category," says co-founder Anushka.
They have been incubated and funded (pre-seed) by IIM-Bangalore. “We are looking for funds and also access to US and Japanese markets,” she adds.
Calling concierge Alexa - Pallavi Gupta, Co-founder, Espresso Labs
Twenty-two-year-old Pallavi Gupta and her classmates started building the tech for Espresso Labs last year while still in college, but it was only this year that they started full-fledged operations. Pallavi says, “I am a computer science engineer turned entrepreneur who loves to solve real-life problems using the latest technology.”
Espresso Labs customises smart speakers like Amazon Alexa and Google Home so that they can act as a virtual concierge in a hotel room. “Our entire company is structured around the emerging voice technology where we sell our services to luxury hotels. Our major challenge has been in making the big hotel chains believe in a product that is developed and operated by some young college grads and getting them to pay good money for it. I strongly believe that if we have developed a product that is adding value to someone else's business and helping them make money, then there's no reason for us to stop. We have always tried to get that passion and belief across to our clients and that's how we overcome these barriers,” Pallavi adds.
The young entrepreneur is looking for more than just funding. “I feel that getting access to a network of experienced mentors, entrepreneurs, capitalist, and role models would help us better understand the startup success secrets. But we do need funding to scale our business and would help us get an international outreach.”
The hand that rocks the cradle - Radhika Patil, Co-Founder and CEO, Cradlewise
As a woman entrepreneur and a mother of two kids, Radhika Patil had her work cut out for her. “I used my own smart cradle to manage baby sleep better. This has helped me pay equal attention to both my babies - my one-year-old son and my startup.” Cradlewise was started in 2017 to make smart cradles for babies up to one year of age to ensure that they get ample and good quality sleep.
Radhika agrees with the other young women who say they are looking for more than just funding for their startup. She wishes for access to the manufacturing ecosystem and also help to understand of international markets for scaling.
The other winners include Tarusha Mittal of Ethx.co, a company that is bringing blockchain and cryptocurrencies to everyday life by creating a decentralised internet; Neha Satak of Astrome, which is developing the next generation millimetre wave satellite communication
technology to stream internet using a constellation of satellites in space; Shruthi Reddy of Anthyesti, which is a one stop solution for funeral requirements and last rites; and Shampa Choudhury of Citility, an end-to-end mobility platform that allows for better mobility of citizens by making cities connected, efficient and sustainable.
If you are a woman in tech solving small and big problems, then reach out to us with your story. We are listening at firstname.lastname@example.org