Indian startups win big in bid to scale technology for persons with disabilities

On the eve of International Day of People with Disabilities on 3rd December, Prosus, the global consumer internet group of Naspers, is pleased to announce that Sohum Innovation Labs, NeoMotion Assistive Solutions and Stamurai from Demosthenes Technologies, all early-stage Indian ventures developing technology to aid persons with disabilities, have been selected as the top three startups in the inaugural Prosus Social Impact Challenge for Accessibility (Prosus SICA). Prosus SICA identifies and supports talented entrepreneurs who are developing and deploying assistive technology. Prosus has committed INR 16,500,000 over three years to the initiative. Sohum Innovation Labs founded by Nitin Sisodia and based in Bengaluru was awarded first place for the ingenuity and impact shown by a highly accessible device that has been designed to detect hearing impairment amongst infants and small children. The Sohum device allows for a non-invasive procedure that captures a child’s response to sound stimulus in just 90 seconds. Sohum Innovation Labs embodies the theme of this year’s International Day of People with Disabilities (IDPWD), which is that ‘Not all disabilities are visible’. In second place is Chennai-based NeoMotion, which makes bespoke wheelchairs, designed to ensure accurate posture, energy conservation, and compactness to enhance accessibility and mobility.

Founded by Swostik Sourav Dash, NeoMotion wheelchairs have a motor-powered clip-on which converts into a safe, roadworthy vehicle, eliminating the need for the user to transfer into other vehicles. Third place has been awarded to Stamurai, a highly cost-effective and easily accessible mobile app which addresses speech and language disabilities. Stamurai, co-founded by Meet Singhal and located in New Delhi, automates speech therapy and serves as a personalised, digital coach to guide the user. Sohum, NeoMotion and Stamurai will receive grants of INR 2,500,000, INR 1,800,000 and INR 1,200,000 respectively.
In the fourth and fifth place are Cogniable and Thinkerbell Labs. Cogniable, co-founded by Manu Kohli, is an autism management tool which has aids with early automated screening and remote guided treatment. Thinkerbell Labs, led by Sanskriti Dawle, was chosen for Annie, a Braille literacy device that helps the visually impaired learn to read, write, and type in Braille independently through interactive audio-guided content. Annie allows for easy monitoring and evaluation of student progress via analytics. It is interactive and gives instantaneous feedback and continuously evaluates the user, making the learning experience engaging. All five startups will be inducted into a new Prosus SICA mentorship programme, which entitles them to business advice from Prosus, technical guidance and support from World Health Organization (WHO) and an opportunity to incubate with Social Alpha, a group focused on strengthening impact innovation and entrepreneurship across India.

According to the World Report on Disability by WHO, 15 per cent of the world’s population, or more than 1 billion people, are living with disabilities. WHO, a technical partner to Prosus SICA, says that in many low-income and middle-income countries, only between 5 per cent and 15 per cent of those who require assistive devices and technologies have access to them. Chapal Khasnabis, Head, Access to Assistive Technology and Medical Devices Unit, WHO, Geneva said: “The jury saw diverse ideas from talented startups across India. They reflected a wide variety of capabilities and proficiencies that are existing in the Indian startup ecosystem today. The top startups have incorporated expertise and effective insights into the designs they submitted.” Deepak Bagla, MD & CEO, Invest India, said: “Congratulations to the top startups. This challenge has been aimed at promoting innovation and ensuring inclusivity across the country. The challenge brings to the forefront the excellence of our innovators in developing impactful solutions for global issues.”

Manoj Kumar, Founder, Social Alpha said: “Social Alpha has been a huge proponent of high-impact startups that are committed towards enhancing the quality of life of persons living with disabilities. The top startups have made commendable efforts in developing promising assistive tech solutions and addressing the issues of accessibility, affordability and equal opportunity. I congratulate the top startups of SICA and wish them the best in their journey.” Sehraj Singh, Director, Public Policy and Corporate Affairs, India, Prosus, said: “We would like to congratulate Sohum Innovation Labs, NeoMotion, and Stamurai who braved competition from more than 200 startups across India. Prosus is thrilled to work with these transformative entrepreneurs and support them in building sustainable businesses. We are equally excited to be creating social value for people who will benefit from these technologies. This journey could not have been successful without the support of our eminent jury and partners, Invest India, Social Alpha, Startup India and WHO. Together, Prosus SICA is advancing India’s assistive technology industry.”

Nitin Sisodia, Founder and CEO, Sohum Innovation Labs, said: “Sohum devices have the potential to screen millions of babies and young children in low-income countries for hearing impairments, ensuring timely and suitable medical intervention. Support from Prosus SICA will not only help us pursue this potential, but will also demonstrate the importance of technology in supporting inclusive growth in India and beyond.” The top startups were selected by a specialist and expert jury which evaluated a range of attributes, such as the underlying issue being addressed by each startup, product scalability, market feasibility, outcomes of clinical trials and accessibility for the ultimate beneficiaries. 2020 was the first year of Prosus SICA, this initiative will take place over the next two years.

About Prosus Social Impact Challenge for Accessibility
Prosus Social Impact Challenge for Accessibility (Prosus SICA) is a Prosus-backed social impact investing challenge. Prosus is committing INR 16,500,000 over three years to Prosus SICA, and each year will award grants to the top three winning startups working in the area of accessibility. First place will receive INR 2,500,000, second place INR 1,800,000 and third place INR 1,200,000