The Inspiring Story of An Entrepreneur Who Helps Deaf People Hear
Twenty-five year old Nupura Kirloskar is a social entrepreneur who started a social enterprise called Bleetech Innovations with Janhavi Joshi after they did a college project together.
While they didn’t score very well on the project, their HOD encouraged them to work on their project to see where it would lead them and that’s how BleeTech Innovations came into being. Here’s their story!
In conversation with Nupura Kirloskar:
Why did you first think of starting a social enterprise like BleeTech?
My co-founder Janhavi and me had a course called ‘Design for Special Needs’ in the third year of Product Design – the degree programme we were pursuing in college. For this course, we were hunting for problems that people with special needs face. During this period, we came across this technology that helped us convert sounds into vibrations. When we spoke to more people, we realized that this technology could be a real boost in their daily lives. So many sounds seem basic to us. But because deaf people aren’t able to react to these sounds, they feel like they aren’t independent enough. We started accumulating a list of basic sounds. This list led to the idea of a smartwatch for our project.
What does BleeTech Innovations do?
We develop different designs and technology solutions for the deaf community. Our first product is a smartwatch. It is called the Blee Watch. It essentially conveys different sounds through vibrations. For instance, if there is a doorbell, a deaf person will be able to feel the doorbell through vibrations. He/she will also see some icon of the doorbell and colour coding along with it.
Our second product is an app called BleeTV. Here, we choose different topics and make videos on them in sign language. From English-learning to news-related and entertainment-based, we have it all in sign language.
When Was BleeTech Innovations founded?
Janhavi and I graduated in 2015. We started BleeTech in October of 2015. This October, we’ll complete 3 years. We’ll be ready with the Blee Watch in the next 3-4 months.
As a social entrepreneur, what inspires you to keep going?
All the solutions and services that we intend to provide are need-driven. We identify the problems that deaf people face and then come up with solutions. When we test our tech on our users, their feedback is really inspiring. Seeing that our hard work has brought a smile on someone’s face is what pushes us to do more.
What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced since you founded BleeTech?
We started off as a college project. At that time, our only motive was good grades. We never dreamt of being social entrepreneurs or starting a social enterprise. It was only later that we decided to start a company. Shifting our mindset from a college project to a business was very challenging.
How were you successfully able to bring about this change in mindset?
It just happened with time. Also, luckily, we had great mentors. For instance, a guy named Shantanu, who has his own startup, shared the problems he faced at his company with us. That knowledge helped us a great deal. We were also working out of a co-working space in Mumbai when BleeTech began. Quite a few startups were operating around us. Just by being present in the ecosystem, we gained a lot of knowledge. We learnt from other people’s efforts.
How many employees does BleeTech have?
Including Janhavi and me, we are 10 people.
How far do you think you’ve come since you started BleeTech?
Personally, I feel I’m a completely different person today. When we started, I was thinking about pursuing a ‘Master’s in Design’. In hindsight, I believe I’ve learnt a lot more from my journey at BleeTech as compared to what any Master’s out there could have taught me. Had I pursued a Master’s, I would only get to hone my design skills. But because I run my own startup, I’ve learnt so much more in the process.
Who has been your support throughout your journey?
Starting BleeTech and being a social entrepreneur has been an emotional journey. My family and Janhavi’s family have been our biggest support system. Other than that, our investors and stakeholders have been very supportive too. Zone Startups were the first entity to believe in us. We’ve realised that when people are willing to fund you, it validates your idea. After Zone Startups, Tata Trust was next to invest in us. It’s a great feeling when your investors understand what you’re trying to accomplish. We never had the pressure to make money. All we wanted to do was make a tangible impact. We had some funding from IIT Mumbai as well. There were several benefits of IIT backing us. For technical support, we found some really good people from their contacts. They helped us shift our focus from project to product.
What’s the one incident that will stay with you for life?
We tested our first prototype on a group of deaf girls in Pune. That was the moment when we decided to start our own venture. Before that, Janhavi and I had no thoughts about starting our own company. We were all set to do an internship like the rest of our batch mates. The prototype we had made for our project was not nice to look at. It had wires hanging out and batteries getting discharged. But on that particular day, our prototype helped the deaf dancers perform for the first time. They could feel the musical sounds as vibrations through the prototype we provided them with. That’s a moment I will never forget. Looking back, even today we draw so much inspiration from that moment.
What has been one of the most defining moments of your life?
Recently, we decided to move our base to Pune. All the deaf members of our team live in Mumbai. We were concerned with whether or not they would be willing to make the shift with us. If they wouldn’t be willing to shift, we’d have to search for an entirely new team in Pune. But, when we asked them, they got instantly ready to make the move. That kind of support from your team feels incredible. At that moment, Janhavi and I believed that we must be doing something right! At BleeTech, our deaf members get to use all their skills. If they look for a job anywhere else, they would probably get a data entry job.
How do you push through your worst times?
Janhavi and I have similar visions. The things that matter to us are also similar. If one of us gets a panic attack, the other person is always there as a calming influence. We have a great understanding and that helps us push through our worst times.
What are you most proud of?
I’m really proud of my team. They are as passionate about this cause as we are.
What advice would you give our readers who want to be social entrepreneurs?
Sometimes, not planning things can work in your favour! Also, try not to let money be your driving force. Because we weren’t pushing for money, money found its way to us.
What’s next for you and your team?
With the launch of our app, we are aiming to get a minimum of 25,000 downloads by the end of this year. That’s Bleetech’s short-term goal. In the long-term, we want to be a go-to place for a deaf individual who wants access to information that will make his/her life easier. We want Bleetech to be that place where all their queries get solved.
There is no tried and tested formula to following your passion and becoming successful. However, these insights should serve as great life lessons for anyone chasing their dreams.
Whatever you’re trying to achieve, it’s doable. So go get it!
This article has been written based on an original and exclusive interview with Nupura Kirloskar.
You can read the original interview here.