[Startup Bharat] How Kerala-based Pradjna is helping employers assess talent of blue-collar workers

B2B HR performance management startup Pradjna can assess and evaluate human professional skills with artificial intelligence and integrate appropriate sensors, including IoT devices, to extract data and provide efficient talent management solutions.
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There are a number of platforms that are making it easier for companies to hire blue-collar workers such as drivers, factory workers, plumbers, carpenters, etc., but assessing their skills before hiring has been a challenge. 

Kerala-based Pradjna Intellisys has created a solution using technologies such as Internet of Things (IoT), machine learning (ML), and artificial intelligence (AI), to solve this problem.

Started in 2017 by Sunil Haridas (56) and Vinod Balakrishnan (52), Thiruvananthapuram-based Pradjna is a B2B HR performance management SaaS platform that assesses and evaluates the skills of blue-collar workers by using a combination of IoT gears such as gloves, sensors, and software technologies, which are also compatible with low or weak internet connection.

Sunil says that human skills and performance are only assessed by human subject matter experts at present, which is not always feasible, objective, or cost-effective. 

“For instance, millions of driver associates of taxi aggregator companies, customers of motor insurance companies, blue-collar training and placement companies, and multiple other businesses require a platform which evaluates human behaviour and skills, which is objective, data-driven, distributed, scalable, cost-effective, and always available. Our solution is easy to use, implement, and maintain,” he adds. 

Pradjna is a part of the cohort of Shell E4programme, and is backed by Kerala State Industrial Development Corporation (KSIDC). 

The product and how it works?

Sunil explains that Pradjna essentially provides performance analytics of blue-collar workers like driver skills, risk and cost ratings for usage-based insurance, taxi aggregators, worker’s skill quality and productivity analysis, ratings for manufacturing blue-collar skills like welding, machining, industrial painting, etc., which is currently done via human subject matter experts. 

Sunil says the startup uses Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) framework of machine learning and sensor fusion using the latest technology. 

“Our machine learning platform is unique, is generic, and more flexible than industry-leading deep learning networks. Deep learning networks like Google Tensor Flow or IBM Watson require a separate training mode with huge data sets to learn the specific context and to build internal logic," says Sunil.

"But in our case, there is no separate training and testing mode, and the same data stream is used to learn and subsequently for anomaly detection. This is clearly a unique advantage in many real-life situations like driving where each driving context is dissimilar to previous contexts,” he adds.   

The team of seven at Pradjna has developed a technology that uses unsupervised online learning through the processing of data. 

For example, the startup, which is prioritising driving skills at present, uses smartphone-based sensors to collect real time data from a driver, which is then used by the engine to create models, learn patterns, and identify anomalies. The system is configured to provide contextual reports and a company-specific dashboard.

“For driving, we have integrated global industry standards like OBD-2 and Indian national standard AIS-140. Our app-based solutions are available for Android and iOS,” says Sunil. 

The back story

An engineering graduate, Sunil worked as a technology professional for more than 25 years with companies like IBM, Infosys, and Covansys. 

Someone who was always inclined towards upskilling and skill development, Sunil tried his hands at entrepreneurship with a social enterprise called Aspire Management, which was involved in training and mentoring a large number of engineering and management students and young professionals.

 

Four years into this, Sunil realised there is a greater opportunity in blue-collar skills assessment using new-age technologies like machine learning, which will also have a much larger impact, and this became a foundation for Pradjna Intellisys. He then roped in his friend Vinod Balakrishnan, a mechanical engineer with significant experience in operations in the manufacturing segment. 

They together pooled in Rs 60 lakh from their savings, and from friends and families for product R&D and initial business development and started Pradjna in 2017.

The market and competition

The Kerala-based startup can potentially tap into various markets. Sunil says the startup’s offering in the motor insurance domain has the potential to reach a large percentage of 450 million vehicle owners in India and a much bigger population globally. It is similar in industries such as manufacturing and factories as well.

In terms of competition, the founders say that Pradjna has limited competitors in the Indian market. Some of the global players operating in the space include Cambridge Mobile Analytics, a company that specialises in behaviour-based insurance segment; and Nissan Corporation’s Nissan Connect, which is a connected car solution, which also evaluates the driver’s behaviour. 

Sunil claims that Pradjna is a first of its kind common IoT-enabled platform and software to analyse blue-collar performance analytics in the world. 

Sunil adds there are some companies like SkillVeri in India which offers Virtual Reality (VR) based training solutions to blue-collar skills like welding and painting.

But Pradjna’s solution is focussed on the assessment and evaluation of employees and potential employees and their rating on the basis of skill, risk, quality, and cost, according to Sunil. He adds that the company is not targeting blue-collar skills training.

“Blue collar employment is a huge segment not just in India, but globally. Digitisation is gathering pace as part of Industry 4.0 initiatives. Also, digital models like connected vehicles and taxi aggregation are growing very fast and maturing globally. Hence, we see a great global opportunity in HR Performance Management space in the manufacturing and service segments,” says Sunil. 

Business model and revenue

The startup has a cloud-based B2B enterprise solution that is based on a subscription (SaaS) revenue model. 

“We offer it in two models – an annual model for large companies like insurance; and seat or licence-based model for medium and small companies,” says Sunil.  “We are also location agnostic and offer our solutions globally based on our cloud-based architecture,” he adds.

Pradjna has so far completed a number of pilot projects for large corporations like the Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) and Adani Vizhinjam Port. It is also working with Shell India and its partners to offer its solutions globally.  Sunil says the startup is still in its pre-revenue stage, but expects strong growth in the next two quarters with close to a million dollar in revenue by Q4, 2022. 

Funding and plans ahead

Besides founders’ investment to the tune of Rs 60 lakh, Pradjna has received additional seed funding of Rs 7 million so far from Kerala State Industrial Development Corporation (KSIDC) and Shell India Markets. It has also received grants from the Government of India under Tide 2.0, and the Government of Suzhou, China, for winning a competition. 

The startup is now looking to raise $500,000 in a Pre-Series A funding round. Pradjna has assessed around one million end-users to date, and plans to grow exponentially in India and abroad in the coming years.


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Edited by Megha Reddy