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How Kerala’s startup ecosystem is staying afloat during the pandemic


During the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic, new startups across Kerala were launched and existing ones gained traction in spite of several challenges

Amidst the pandemic-induced economic downturn, new startups were launched and existing ones adapted. As per Kerala Startup Mission (KSUM), the nodal agency of the Kerala Government for entrepreneurship development and incubation activities, over 400 new companies have been registered since March 2020.

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“Although many lost jobs, many adapted to the scenario where remote working became the new normal, something we had expected to happen in the next five to 10 years,” says Ashok Kurian Panjikaran, manager (business linkages and incubation), KSUM.

Operational expenses of the startups were reduced as KSUM waived the rent for four months and gave a two month-rent subsidy. Online events were conducted to bring more business for the startups and to showcase their products. “Several startups came up with COVID-related solutions. While the hospitality industry was down, education, health and sectors that required remote monitoring were booming,” says Ashok.

Masks, face-shields, mask disposal machines, devices to avoid physical contact, robots, smart tools for recruitment and video conferencing and Augmented Reality (AR)-assisted teaching aids are in the product line.

Alappuzha-based All About Innovations (AAI), for instance, launched WOLF AIRMASK, a portable air steriliser for indoor spaces that works on plasma technology. The efficacy of the device has been attested by Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Biotechnology (RGCB), says the AAI team. The company, founded by Shyam Kurup, Sujesh Sugunan and Boniface Gasper, was born at the COVID control cell at the district collectorate in Alappuzha after the district reported one of the first COVID-19 positive cases in India. “We were already members of the volunteer network formed in the district during the floods of 2018,” says Noble Sam, head (partnerships and affiliations).

Ashwathy Venugopal and Sandeep S, founders of Avasarshala

Ashwathy Venugopal and Sandeep S, founders of Avasarshala
 
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Special Arrangement

Avasarshala, started by couple Ashwathy Venugopal and Sandeep S, is a platform for students to learn about competitions, scholarships, Olympiads, leadership programmes, fellowships, and arts, sports and literary events at regional, national and international levels. They say that 297 students got access to international competitions and growth opportunities.

“The start-up identifies interests of the students and connects them to the right opportunities through a personalised recommendation engine based on their interests, age and location,” explains the duo, based in Aluva near Kochi.

Ashwathy says that parents are unaware of many exciting opportunities. For instance, the Latvian Embassy in New Delhi, has an annual competition for students and the winners can visit the embassy and experience the life of a diplomat. “Two of our subscribers got selected and since travel restrictions were in place they had a virtual experience of the same.” When lockdown was announced, they also launched WhizKids Challenge to keep children engaged through daily tasks on art, science, life skills, cooking, finance and innovation.

Shouts and talks

HerMoneyTalks is another venture that hit the jackpot. “It aims at financial empowerment of women and will soon emerge as a one-stop financial platform for women. Although we started with a portal and workshops, we switched over to online sessions during the lockdown. We now have webinars almost daily and our target is to cover one lakh women through 300 webinars this year. Women empowerment is possible only if they are financially empowered and independent,” says the startup’s founder Nisary Mahesh, a former banker from Thrissur.

Team Infusory: Shyam Pradeep Alil, Thomson Tom, Aadhil Khan and Suvith S

Team Infusory: Shyam Pradeep Alil, Thomson Tom, Aadhil Khan and Suvith S
 
| Photo Credit:
Special Arrangement

Futuremug and Infusory Future Tech Labs were among the startups that gained traction. Futuremug, started by a group of industry veterans, identify, nurture and connect talent with opportunities.

Headed by Roopesh Rajendran, it connects job seekers with job providers through customised recruitment and hiring solutions, which include resume builder, assessment tools and video interviews to help companies ease their hiring process, says Sneha S, COO. “Since companies couldn’t go to the campuses for recruitment, we provided the platform. Early this year we assessed and delivered the results of 1,500 students from 25 colleges in the State for a company in Kochi within a week,” she says.

Achievers

  • Qkopy launched GoK Direct Kerala app for the Kerala government to provide latest health updates
  • QuikDr Healthcare Private Limited, incubated at KSUM, provided comprehensive tele-medicine solution
  • Thought Ripples came up with a web application for health officials and State Disaster Management Authority regarding COVID patients, their potential contacts and testing results
  • Asimov Robotics launched humanoid robots to autonomously dispense food, medicine and other consumables inside isolation wards
  • Aerofil Filters India, which supplies air filters, started producing N95 masks and surgical masks in collaboration with Maker Village
  • VST Mobility Solutions launched automated mask disposal machine (BIN-19)
  • (Courtesy: Kerala Startup Mission)

It has collaborated with companies such as Thiruvananthapuram-headquartered Suntec to handle their year-long fresher hiring process, ITParkJobs to build the State’s biggest free job portal and has joined hands with various companies in Technopark in Thiruvananthapuram to run an initiative called SSIT (Support & Survive IT) to support professionals who lost their jobs in the pandemic.

Digitised interactive teaching aids in Augmented Reality (AR) format was what brought Infusory into the limelight. Beginning as a campus startup in 2015, it has developed an app, TutAR, which is a digital collection of teaching aids that can be visualised in AR. There is content for various subjects from kindergarten to Class XII. “In the past six months, the app has delivered over 2,000 teaching aids to more than 30 educational institutions,” says Thomson Tom, CEO. Other members are Shyam Pradeep Alil, Aadhil Khan and Suvith S. Infusory has also installed the first-ever AR/VR lab at a school in Thrissur.

Startups from the State received close to ₹500 crores in 2020, according to KSUM. “It is true that not all startups have done well, some have put their activities on hold. At the same time, funding is coming in for ventures that have shown resilience and have adapted to the change of scene,” Ashok says.

TiE Kerala, a chapter of Indus Entrepreneurs (TiE), the largest not-for-profit global organisation that has been nurturing entrepreneurs, and Maker Village, an electronic hardware incubator and electronics system design and manufacturing facility at Kochi, which has KSUM as its supporting partner, helped startups to stay afloat.



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