[Startup Bharat] Thrissur-based Desintox Technologies wants to make wheelchairs better than that of Stephen Hawking’s
World-famous theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking was the first adopter of augmented and alternative communication. Inspired by the scientist, two entrepreneurs from Kerala set up Desintox Technologies to help differently-abled Indians lead a normal life.
The Thrissur-based startup was founded by 24-year-olds Don Paul and Sooraj Chandran to "enable differently-abled people to lead a better and self-sustaining life". While their friends Vishnu KS and Rueben Regi were also a part of the founding team, they left after the first six months.
Don Paul and Sooraj Chandran with Smartmotive, the standing wheelchair
Small town, big dreams
While pursuing their BTech from the Government Engineering College in Thrissur, the duo developed a walking device for children affected by cerebral palsy as a part of their college project.
"We gifted the device to help a child in Thrissur. I can never forget the tears in the mother's eyes when she saw her child stand for the first time using our device," says Don.
After graduation, Don followed his parents’ instructions and began preparing for civil services. Sooraj, on the other hand, started working as a design engineer at Crabwrist Technologies.
It is only when a friend got into an accident that the duo realised the need for supporting machines for paraplegic patients. Founded in May 2017, Desintox Technologies was incubated in Kochi's Maker Village in July, 2017.
Continuing on their college project, the founders developed a similar cerebral palsy walking device, called the EasyMover. The duo donated four units to Alpha Palliative Care, a government hospital in the town.
At present, the company has five members.
Desintox Technologies currently has four products - EasyMover, Hoist, Smartmotive, and electric wheelchair.
The Hoist, priced at Rs 75,000 and Rs 88,000, is a patient transfer device with a controller and safety switch. "It is mostly used to transfer the patient to and from a bed, chair and even toilets," says Don.
The Smartmotive, priced between Rs 75,000 and Rs 1.3 lakh, is a standing wheelchair that helps a patient with physiotherapy without having to leave the wheelchair.
"It helps the paraplegic patient to stand, providing the benefits of a wheelchair and a tilting table at home," says Don. The device is designed so that a patient can stand and access it without help.
The electric wheelchair comes with a battery and helps paraplegic patients travel by themselves for up to 20 km on a single charge. It has an adjustable joystick switch with variable speed options, and a reclining and height adjusting facility.
"The wheelchair comes with manual and electric movement facilities and a lying down feature, which is optional, and can be customised," says Don.
While the motors are imported from Hong Kong, Japan, and Germany, the mechanical frame of the devices are fabricated in Thrissur itself. "We have an assembling facility in Thrissur," he adds.
The basic wheelchair costs Rs 68,000, and the electric standing wheelchair is priced at Rs 1.85 lakh. The EasyMover costs Rs 14,990.
Challenges along the way
The lack of support from friends and family was the first challenge Don and Sooraj faced while setting up the company.
Initially investing only Rs 3 lakh from their own pockets, the duo soon faced a shortage of funds after the first few months.
"We did not want to be a profit-motivated startup, and never involved any investors initially," says Don.
Relief came when they received a grant of Rs 10 lakh from the Kerala Startup Mission.
Later, Desintox Technologies went on to be one of the 10 startups to be selected by the All India Council for Technical Education for National Startup Summing (IISF 2017). It also represented the Kerala State Industries and Commerce Department at the India International Trade Fair in 2017.
The startup has won an award for excellence from the Directorate of Industries and Commerce, Government of Kerala, and has been selected for funding by Ministry of MSME.
Medical device market
According to Invest India's website, India is among the top 30 markets for medical devices in the world and the market size is expected to reach $50 billion by 2025.
Startups like NeoMotion have developed solutions to enable wheelchairs to travel long distances including even forest areas. Bengaluru-based Mobility India has designed a device to help correct posture for children affected by Cerebral Palsy.
What sets Desintox Technologies apart is its product offering and the affordable pricing.
"Our Smartmotive product has competition outside India but none here," says Don.
So far, the startup has sold about 50 products, including 30 pieces of EasyMover.
Desintox Technologies is now working on an autonomous wheelchair, which the team plans to launch by 2020.
"It can be controlled by the thoughts of the patient. And it will be much better than the wheelchair Stephen Hawking had," says Don.
The company is in the negotiating stage with retailers and hospitals, focussing on B2B clients. The Kerala Startup Mission and the Maker Village authorities have offered to connect them to several Kerala hospitals soon.
"The journey has been tough, but the happiness I have got from chasing my passion cannot be explained in words," says Don, signing off.