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Friday, 15 July 2016

Agriculture has seen little reform in 25 years but there are crorepati farmers who have come up the hard way

It is the 25th anniversary of the initiation of big bang economic reforms and if people were asked to list the vibrant sectors, agriculture would not be one of them. It is an area that has seen little liberalisation, though in the July 1991 ‘reform’ budget, Manmohan Singh as finance minister allowed the prices of potassic and phosphatic fertilizers to float and raised urea prices by 40 percent, only to roll it back by 30 percent following an outcry. Reforms however improved the terms of trade which were adverse to agriculture, by reducing import duties (and prices) of manufactured goods. Devaluation of the rupee made agricultural exports profitable. Farmers could get international prices for their produce, so long as jittery governments did not impose curbs to tame domestic inflation.

But farming is associated with gloom and doom. It is painted as a hopeless activity that drives farmers to suicide. Yet as a category, more housewives kill themselves than farmers, according to data on the website of the National Crime Records Bureau.

Of course there is distress in the countryside, caused by weather and price risks, poor access to markets, and the non-availability of working capital at affordable rates. Cultivating small parcels, which a majority of farmers do, is not profitable, unless it is high- value agriculture done in climate controlled poly-houses. National surveys show more farmers want to leave agriculture than remain engaged and they certainly do not wish the vocation on their sons.

But travelling extensively through the countryside over the past eighteen months to report on ‘smart agriculture,’ I have come across pockets of vibrancy. Ismailbhai Rahimbhai Sheru, 63, advices graduate sons of farmers not to hanker after government jobs. Based on experience, he says, a guy with five acres of farmland can earn Rs 5 lakh a year, or Rs 40,000 a month. A resident of Rampur Vadla village in Banaskantha’s Amirgarh taluka, Sheru made headlines when Narendra Modi as prime ministerial aspirant, felicitated him at a public event in the run up to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. He had grown potatoes each weighing more than two kg. Sheru was growing them on contract to McCain, a supplier of French fries and potato patties to McDonalds.

Ismailbhai Rahimbhai Sheru
Sheru started off 36 years ago, despite the wishes of this father, who wanted his son with a first class B.Com degree to take up a salaried job. But through dint of hard work and scientific farming, Sheru made enough cash flows to turn an inheritance of debt and six acres of indifferent land into thriving agriculture spread over 400 acres.

Sheru likes contract farming because it takes care of the price risk. In January 2015, when there was a potato glut in the country and prices slumped to less than Rs 2 a kg, he got the contracted Rs 8 a kg. There are years when he gets less than spot rates but over time this evens out.

Parthibhai Jethabhai Chaudhary, 58, a police officer who doubles up as a farmer credits McCain with teaching growers the art of potato cultivation. Before the company came, flood irrigation used to be the norm, says the resident of Dangiya village in Banaskantha’s Dantiwada taluk. The amount of water used in a potato field would stack up to 750 mm by end of the season, a field-level McCain executive said. Farmers have now switched to drip or sprinkler irrigation, which not only saves water but also fertilizer and pesticides (as insects do not thrive in low humidity). Chaudhary, who has a reputation for extracting large yields from his 87-acre farm, says the trick is to be in sync with nature and the rhythm of the crop. He plants between 1 and 10 October so that the crop can make the most of the ‘bulking’ period starting 20 December, when weather ensures that potatoes add around 1,200 kg per hectare per day.

Parthibhai Jethabhai Chaudhary
Chaudhary learnt scientific cultivation through McCain, but currently supplies to Balaji Wafers which gives him a better price. He takes leave from work during sowing and harvesting. The rest of the time, he leaves the farm to his manager and 16 worker-families. Every operation, from fertilizer application to the quantity and duration of irrigation, is mapped. Workers have been trained to stick to the process. They get a bonus for targets achieved.

Chaudhary keeps potatoes in cold storage and sells them when prices are high. When met last year, Chaudhary said he had sold potatoes worth more than Rs 3 cr the previous year and had made a handsome profit.

Laxman Chaudhari
In Maharashtra’s Jalgaon district I met Tenu Dongar Borole, 62, and Laxman Onkar Chaudhari, 64, both of them crorepati banana growers. One was a tea seller at the village square and used to be condescendingly called ‘Tenya.’ He is now Tenu Seth. The other was a thwarted primary school teacher. They lease in more land than they own. They owe their prosperity to the Grand Naine variety, which Jain Irrigation imported from Israel in the 1990s. The company sells tissue cultured saplings which are disease-free and grow uniformly. Unlike local varieties, Grand Naine yields fruit every year and requires re-planting after three years. Two stump (or ratoon) crops yield fruit in between. Jain Irrigation also supplies drip irrigation equipment which not only saves water but also fertilizer, which is applied in a soluble form (called fertigation). The company’s agronomists teach farmers how to maintain the required humidity within the gardens in dry Jalgaon and get the plants to cope with heat stress. As a result, Jalgaon has become a big producer of bananas. If it were a state it would rank fifth in the country in banana production.

Tenu Dongar Borole
The point I wish to make is that agriculture can be profitable if scientific principles are applied and technology is deployed. Contract farming takes care of the price risk. If farmers band together they can engage agronomists, obtain discounts on inputs and have buyback arrangements with food processors or large retailers, who in turn can tell them what to grow and how to grow it. Sadly our governments treat farmers as supplicants to be placated with subsidies. Our policies must strive to make agriculture profitable to enterprising farmers while creating off-farm jobs for those who do not have a stomach for it.

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Capture the Galaxy with this pocket sized camera

A fantastic education system combined with tremendous support for startups makes Singapore one of the best startup destinations globally. The result of this enviable combination is TinyMOS, which is a hardware and IoT startup. TinyMOS is set to launch their first product Tiny1 later this week, which is a pocket sized camera made for astrophotography and the stargazers. It’s like GoPro for capturing the galaxy.
The team behind it
For every startup, it’s their team that can make or break it. TinyMOS’s website describes their team the best “A passionate photographer, a frustrated engineer and an electronics geek”. Grey Tan, Ashprit Singh Arora, and Lih Wei, Co-founders of TinyMOS, met at the National University of Singapore. Three of them got together in 2014 to create a smarter and more economical way for astrophotography. Grey came up with this idea when he realised even his Nikon DSLR was not serving him well when he tried to capture the Milky Way on a trip to Malaysia, as astrophotography knowledge was obscure even for a seasoned photographer. He realised that there might be thousands of astronomy enthusiasts around the world who would be facing the same issue. He combined forces with Ashprit and Lih. Ashprit is a NUS graduate who spent time building and prototyping things at Sustainable Living Lab in Singapore. Lih was a star with both hardware and software, building satellite systems in NUS and proving his skills in Silicon Valley.
It wasn't a smooth road
Apart from the multiple iterations and rejections from investors, the team faced their biggest challenge last year. Hours before their flight to TechCrunch Disrupt, their manufacturing and development team informed them that one of the key features of the camera could not be delivered in time. The team regrouped and started work from almost scratch and decided to delay their product launch by six months. Hard work finally paid off as they were able to figure out a more economical technology, which meant a lower price point for their customers.
What makes their camera special
But what really makes their camera special is the Augmented Reality Star Map, which helps you search for and locate stars and planets, and Capture Presets, which automatically selects the right settings for capturing night images. This has been combined with social features to check out and share what images other users are capturing. Founded in 2014, Singapore-based TinyMOS has got great responses from their early testers and are gearing up for a crowdfunding campaign. They are looking to launch successfully on Indiegogo and become a successful hardware startup. In the long run, the team believes they could be like GoPro, which also started with a niche group of surfers and has become a multi-billion dollar company today.

It’s interesting to see that despite having some investor money, the team has chosen crowdfunding as they believe this brings them closer to their consumers and creates a community which is essential for their success. TinyMOS has been backed by a grant of $1,80,000 by Singapore Government and also raised seed investment $150,000 from a group of angel investors.

Team TinyMOS at Indiegogo

It is encouraging to see a team of fresh graduates doing the groundwork for two years to launch their dream astronomy camera. Currently available bulky and expensive equipment ensures that astrophotography is a niche, but TinyMOS is out to change that perspective.

Since we last spoke with the TinyMOS team, they have launched an Indiegogo campaign for their first product Tiny1, and smashed through their 100k USD target in 4 hours. You can check out their campaign at -

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Ninjacart enables farmers sell their produce directly to shops, and is reaping Rs 4 cr revenue every month

The bustle of a vegetable market with its farm-fresh veggies and fruits have been romanticised in books, cookery shows, and travel guides. So much so that the image created makes you want to experience the energy of the ‘sabzi mandi’ (vegetable market). However, for Sharath Loganathan, IIM-Kozhikode alumnus and co-founder of Ninjacart, a visit to the market was an eye-opener to the darker side of the much romanticised experience. He was appalled at the amount of vegetables and fruits that were being dumped as waste. Recalling that experience Sharath said-

“When we went to the market, we discovered that the market was in total chaos. A lot of vegetables were lying as waste, and people trampled over them.”

Team Ninjacart
It is hard to put a figure to how much food is lost and wasted in India today due to lack of adequate infrastructure; however, a 2011 report by a UN body, FAO, puts wastage of fruits and vegetables as high as 45 percent of produce (post-harvest to distribution) for developing Asian countries like India. In India, where over 58 percent of the rural households depend on agriculture as their principal means of livelihood, such wastage proves to be expensive.

Thirukumaran Nagaranjan, also an IIM-Kozhikode alumnus and co-founder of Ninjacart, who was accompanying Sharath, realised another glaring flaw in the system. He told us-

“Inefficiencies could be seen in almost every aspect. There were a lot of middlemen involved, there was no price transparency whatsoever. The produce of the farmers exchanged a lot of hands before reaching the eventual consumer, which resulted in farmers hardly making any money in this whole scenario. We felt this is a market which has huge potential, has tremendous scope of development and is literally untapped. We almost instantly realised there is a lot of value addition that can be done in this space by bringing technological and operational efficiencies.”

And thus was born Ninjacart, an online platform through which retailers and merchants can source fruits and vegetables directly from the farmers. Ninjacart has successfully done away with middlemen, commission agents and auction agents present in “mandis”. This startup also provides an efficient price discovery platform to the farmers. Since Ninjacart ensures that the produce reaches their clients effectively via an efficient and technologically driven supply chain, they have struck a win-win situation. Kartheeswaran KK, an IIM-Ahmedabad alumnus and one of the six co-founders of Ninjacart, explains-

“Technology is involved at every single step in Ninjacart. All the operations at Ninjacart are carried out and monitored using technology. All the information of planning, sales, and warehouse operations is stored in the system. We have an in-house Enterprise Resource Planning and Management System. Every item and and activity is tracked almost in real time. For managing all these platforms we have a web-interface and various mobile applications.”

Pickup Process at Ninjacart
Though Ninjacart started its operation in May 2015 as a hyper-local grocery delivery company, after six months of operation, the co-founders including Ashutosh Vikram, IIM-Kozhikode alumnus, Sachin P Jose, with over three years of experience in UI/UX and Vasudevan Chinnathambi, SOIL alumnus, Sharath, Thirukumaran and Kartheeswaran, felt that the backend supply chain of fruits and vegetables was broken and inefficient. So, by December 2015, the company pivoted the model to become a full-fledged Business To Business (B2B) marketplace, changing the way kirana stores and supermarkets source their supply. Ashutosh says,

“As of June 2016, we had a customer base of over 400 retail stores and restaurants in Bangalore. Our average monthly tonnage is about 1.4k tons and monthly revenue of around Rs 4 crore.”

Bangalore-based Farmily, co-founded by Karthik Natarajan; Farm Taaza, founded by Silicon Valley veterans; and Gurgaon- based fresh2all, founded by Purnima Rao, are some other players in the B2B fresh produce supply chain. According to Vasudevan, Ninjacart is the only player in this space that delivers quality goods in a span as short as eight hours.

Ninjacart, which is funded by Accel Partners, Qualcomm Ventures, M&S Partners (Singapore) and Zop Smart, has two distribution centres – one near Hoskote and another in Jigani. The startup has many collection centres across villages surrounding Bangalore. Ninjacart currently serves Whitefield, Marathalli, Bellandur, Indiranagar, HAL, HSR, Koramangala, BTM, Madiwala, and Bannerghatta road, all in Bangalore.

Ninjacart with farmers
Every stakeholder who is a part of the Ninjacart ecosystem benefits.

The farmers (suppliers) are able to sell their produce at a better price than the market without being exploited by the middleman through a one point sale. The farmers receive their payment immediately via a bank transfer. The farmers are also spared from dealing with the uncertainties of price, associated with selling in markets. Ninjacart procures all the produce through a fair grading procedure. Ninjacart sends their vehicles along with crates to farmer locations to bring goods to their collection centers, free of cost.

Shopkeepers and restaurants (customers) get fresh and good quality vegetables and fruits at their doorstep at competitive prices without having to visit the market very early in the morning.

Ninjacart also holds seminars to educate farmers on the working of the market and fair pricing. Sachin explained to us how “Rythu abhivrudhi karyakrama” (Farmer Development Programme) works-

“We educate the farmers about the exact market prices and how we bring transparency in the whole process. We also discuss good varieties of seeds and suggest best practices that a few farmers follow to get good yield.”

Ninjacart Farmer Training Programme
When one is determined to disrupt a market and bring efficiencies, others firmly established in the system become uncomfortable. In the case of Ninjacart, it is the age-old marketmandi commission agents and local transport middlemen who regularly attempt at disturbing operations. The team frequently receives threatening phone calls to stop operations. But, thanks to Ninjacart’s dedicated field team and farmers, this startup is rapidly spreading its roots. In the coming months, Ninjacart plans to expand their distribution throughout Bangalore and expand to Chennai and Hyderabad.

Monday, 11 July 2016

Final-year DU students develop machine that allows residents to drop waste and pick up rewards

One day, on their way to the metro station, Ashutosh Srivastava and Pranav Manocha, students of Bhaskaracharya College of Applied Sciences (Delhi University), stumbled upon an important facet of human nature. They had been wanting to put their engineering skills to good use, when they realised people are usually goaded to do something when they are aptly rewarded.

They then noticed a bunch of vending machines, and Ashutosh (22) wondered how a machine can be made to collect waste automatically. Pranav (22) quipped that creating a machine would not be difficult, but only by rewarding people would it get used at all.

We-Convert Team
So, last August, the duo launched their venture We-Convert and introduced a machine called E-Collector. The idea was to accept the user’s waste material and in return generate some rewards by giving offers on waste materials. The price of each E-collector is Rs 1,90,000.

New Delhi-based We-Convert allows users to discharge PET/plastic, glass scrap or aluminum cans by following instructions on the machines. Then the machine will generate a five-digit code that can be redeemed by dialing a simple USSD number. And users can share their mobile number details with We-Convert and get their rewards.

The duo tied up with ‘favcy’, a third-party organisation and a standard of social connectivity coin creation for individuals, and for brands to simplify the reward system of E-Collector.

We conducted a case study at 30 locations in Delhi where we plan to place the first set of 30 machines. Our next machine placement is within the DMRC premises for which we’ve been granted the permission at eight different metro stations,” says Ashutosh.

Novices at waste management

With no knowledge of the waste management domain, the duo was unfamiliar about the capital required and the operation involved to build this product. Workplace was also another issue and therefore they developed the model at Delhi Technical University campus.

The challenge was to arrange a minimum fund of Rs 20,000 to develop a proof of concept. So they started attending multiple business plans and events in colleges of Delhi Universityand won 12 B-Plan events with a total prize money of Rs 36,000. In total, they invested nearly Rs 1.2 lakh. After four months of operation, the roped in four more technical people to develop a proof of concept.

Even after getting the right team, the technical aspects were a challenge for us. Interactions with many government agencies were not generating positive results,” adds Pranav.

The testing of the detecting unit and the electronic parts was completed within a month and the machine got ready in March this year.

Monetisation phase

We-Convert sells the PET scrap at Rs 35/kg and the aluminium scrap at Rs 95/kg to the recycling industries, including The Guardian, Parth Das Sharma’s recycling portal, The, Synergy Sourcing, Rajasthan and HK industries. In total, it collects 20kg of PET scrap and 5kg of aluminium scrap per day.

The E-Collector machine acts as a platform of advertising for different brands and its 15-inch digital display aids digital advertising as well. Going forward, the other source of revenue would be through brand promotion, which is likely to generate 7-10 percent. By fiscal year 2017-18, the startup is eyeing a revenue of Rs 67 lakh and is also looking to raise funds soon.

Future ahead

We-Convert has a team of seven members and has a base of 1,400 users from four different locations in Delhi. It is currently working on a project to develop 100 machines for Indian Super league, which will be placed at eight different States in eight different stadiums. In the next three years, they are planning to expand to Mumbai, Pune, Kochi, Chandigarh, Jaipur, Gujarat, Karnataka, Kerala, Goa and Tamil Nadu.
Waste management market
According to business research organisation NOVONOUS, the waste management market is expected to be worth $13.62 billion by 2025. Indian municipal solid waste (MSW) management market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 7.14 percent by 2025, while e-waste management market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 10.03 percent during the same period.

A handful of startups seemed to have sensed the market opportunity. The players include The Kabadiwala, Scrapos, ekabadi, Kachrapatti, Kachre Ka Dabba and POM POM. With the proliferation of waste management startups in India, the domestic industry is estimated to grow over $1 billion by 2020.

Investors are also betting high on the growth of this industry. Bengaluru-based Saahas Waste Management raised an undisclosed amount from Indian Angel Network (IAN) and Upaya Social Ventures. Delhi-based Karma Recycling has received fund from Infuse Ventures and Low Carbon Enterprise Fund.

Saturday, 9 July 2016

This Doctor Invented a Rs. 50 Device To Give Throat Cancer Patients Their Voice Again

Dr. Vishal Rao, a Bangalore based oncologist, has developed a voice prosthesis that can help throat cancer patients speak after surgery. And unlike the extremely expensive ones available in the market today, this device will cost just Rs. 50.

It had been over two months since a throat cancer patient from Kolkata had eaten properly. He was depressed, unable to speak or swallow, and was being fed with the help of a pipe through his nose. His financial condition made it very difficult for him to afford proper medical treatment. It was then that a doctor informed him about a surgeon in Bangalore who could be of help. So he travelled, met the surgeon and sought his treatment. After a procedure that lasted only five minutes, he was able to speak properly, swallow his food, and was even ready to travel back home – all thanks to Dr. Vishal Rao U.S.

“That day, when I came out from another surgery after about three hours, the Kolkata patient was still standing there, waiting for me. He was so emotionally overwhelmed that he just ran towards me and hugged me saying that he had never imagined getting his voice back would be so easy,” says the 37-year-old doctor.

Dr. Rao is an oncologist and head and neck surgeon at the Bangalore-based HealthCare Global (HCG) Cancer Center. He has developed the Aum Voice Prosthesis – a voice prosthesis device that can help patients whose voice box has been removed, to speak and eat properly.
Unlike the currently available prostheses that cost anywhere between Rs. 15,000 and Rs. 30,000, and have to be replaced every six months, Dr. Rao’s prosthesis will cost just Rs. 50.

Dr. Vishal Rao

Voice prosthesis is a device made of silicone. It is used to help patients speak when the entire voice box, or larynx, has been removed. In such cases, the windpipe and food pipe are separated from each other, either at the time of the surgery or later, creating an opening between the two. The device is then placed in this opening. Dr. Rao explains that the voice box basically vibrates with the help of air provided from the lungs. The mechanism behind the prosthesis is that instead of the vocal cord vibrating, the food pipe is made to vibrate with the back end of the prosthesis sitting at the food pipe.

“If you send air into the food pipe through the lungs, it will vibrate, create noise, and that can be converted into intelligent speech with coordination from the brain. As food or water should not fall into the lungs, it is a one-way valve device,” he elaborates. The device weighs 25 grams and is 2.5 cm long.
The foundation for Aum Voice Prosthesis was laid about two years ago, when a throat cancer patient from a remote Karnataka village came in to meet Dr. Rao.
The prosthesis – Front View

“That man had not eaten since about a month and he could not speak. After the cancer surgery, his voice box had been removed, but he could not afford the prosthesis. When he came to me, he did not find life worth living anymore,” remembers Dr. Rao, who promised the patient that he would try and help.

Till then, every time he had encountered a case like this, Dr. Vishal had to contact some pharmaceutical companies, ask for discounts, raise funds, and arrange donations – but he had been able to help patients in spite of all this trouble. So raising funds was his first thought this time as well. But then, something amazing happened. “I would call it serendipity that right after the patient a friend walked in to meet me,” he says. This friend, Shashank Mahes, promised that he would try and arrange the required funds but he also asked the doctor a simple question:
“Why are you dependent on all these people. Why don’t you make something on your own?”

Dr. Rao felt that something like this was beyond his capacity. He was familiar with the technical side but didn’t have the industrial expertise to turn his idea into a viable product. Fortunately, Shashank was willing to help him with that. They decided to collaborate for this cause – Dr. Rao got the entire technical plan ready and Shashank helped him convert it into reality using his expertise as an industrialist. They put in the required funds from their own pockets and developed the device.

“I never want to donate torn old clothes to the poor because they deserve more dignified donations. That’s why I didn’t want to create a medical product of cheaper quality only because my patients are poor. Don’t they deserve the best? So we brought in the best materials,” says Dr. Rao.

The duo has filed for a patent for the device; it will be available in the market by next month. They have also received approvals from scientific and ethical committees at HCG to start using the product on patients. Testing will begin on 30 patients initially.

Most voice prostheses are very costly because they are imported. Dr. Rao and his friend took two years to come up with the final product. But in order to keep it affordable, they decided not to charge for their time and effort.

“We believe that speech and communication are not a privilege but a right. We cannot hold them back from a patient only because he/she is poor,” he says.
Dr. Rao has used the device on three patients so far. His aim is to study and fine tune it further, in the hope that its use will soon become widespread in every cancer centre in the country.

Side view
“My first patient was a watchman from Peenya. Two years ago, we arranged for his prosthesis with the help of donations. While the shelf life of the device is only six months, he used it for two years because he could not afford a replacement. Eventually, the device led to many complications. When he came in, I felt that he deserved the Aum Voice Prosthesis. And after the procedure, he happily called me in the middle of the night from his duty to tell me that the device is working well. That call gave me immense satisfaction,” says the doctor, with pride.

Why is the device called ‘Aum’?

“In older scriptures, ‘Om’ was written as ‘Aum.’ ‘A’ stands for creation, ‘U’ for sustenance and ‘M’ for annihilation. These are the three basic principles of our universe. When a person speaks again after losing his voice box, for me it is more like rebirth, like Aum being recreated, because it is the origin of all sound,” concludes Dr. Rao.

Friday, 8 July 2016

Meet the 14-year-old coder who has coded 22 apps, right from healthtech to women empowerment

Contrary to what you may think, a genius isn’t always the product of the availability of world-class education, state-of-the-art equipment and rigorous training – more often than not, he or she may be born out of circumstances that exhibit a dearth and banality, and pose an opportunity to build and overcome. That is the story of Naman Tiwari, the 14-year-old self-learned app developer from the small UP city of Shahjahanpur, who has coded 22 apps of a mind-boggling range.

“I started learning about development technology about three years ago. No one knows about Android development here, so I work alone and find it a bit difficult.”Naman doesn’t have access to any fancy devices, in fact, here’s some trivia on the young whiz kid‑ he does not even own a mobile phone!“I just have a laptop and internet.I haven’t joined any tuitions or classes. I have coined a saying, ‘Don’t ask for more until you make the best use of the things you have.’”
Backward is ‘code’ for unrealised

A student of Takshashila Public School, Naman started coding when he was in the 7thstandard, aged 11. “I picked it as a hobby because I thought it is the only way through which I can solve real world problems without a multi-billion dollar startup. I made many entertainment apps, but after seeing the problems in the medical industry in our country, I shifted from entertainment to social awareness apps.”

Besides the internet, his uncle mentors him through his journey of self-exploration. Patiently and relentlessly, he kept at it ‑ creating apps that were entertaining and useful all the same – and that range is mind-boggling. Straight from his brewery are apps like the AiO Converter that converts units in seconds with a few clicks, or the app that helps one swiftly calculate tips at a hotel. One is a trivia app loaded with fun facts, and another’s a tool that helps measure the frequency of your voice in decibels. There’s one to help children with their cognition of colours or even learn state capitals in the United States. Or, how about the one that provides sample interview questions to aspiring developers to make them job ready?

He even whipped up some educational apps, like “HTML Cool Learn” that helps developers learn HTML language with examples of webpages, or the one that helps kids learn all about the solar system. Another one of his concoctions helps Spanish connoisseurs learn the language, or Audiophiles learn any song by looping or selecting any part of it, and one that helps toddlers learn alphabets. Another app facilitates education, by helping school children organise the notes they make on their subjects.

The little genius also combined his imagination with his skill to code some games, like Man Pong Fight, Maths Quiz, Tic Tac Toe (Classic), Vector War – or Shahrukh Man Pro, a guilty pleasure for SRK fans.

This number amounts to a whopping 22. The ones that were more than seven-day wonders. But he has favourites, the ones that gave him a much more triumphant sense of eureka, are the two apps that are achieving the purpose that he got into app development for in the first place – Malaria Defender and Secure Girls.

His most complex and popular application Malaria Defender is an app that helps detect malaria in seconds, and Secure Girls is an app for women’s safety. On average, he takes about three to four days to code an app, but “Malaria Defender” warranted a month’s research and development.

“My most successful app is malaria defender, as it is solving a real world problem.It takes just few seconds to check the symptoms of malaria in a person and gives them a prescribed health report. It is ane-solution for those who cannot afford the doctor’s fees – and I designed it in a way that it can even work offline.” A user can also get a doctor’s advice through the app. Malaria Defender got selected in the Facebook Start Bootstrap Programmme, and Naman was awarded Rs33,000 in Facebook ad credit.

Secure Girls provides important helpline information, a panic button which can be used to send an emergency message, and is otherwise loaded with the latest news and motivational quotes and sayings.
(Na)Man with a Plan

He has never worked for a client professionally, though. “Currently, I make apps for people to entertain. I work as a public developer. I don’t want to get bounded by a personal client, I will have a lot of time to do that later. I am too young, so I work for my passion.”

All his apps are live on Google PlayStore, under his publisher name “Naman Tiwari Spn”. Overall, he has about 2,500users on all his apps collectively, “without even spending a dollar on marketing.”

Naman has found his ultimate calling even for the future, and surely enough, it is tech. “In the future, I want to create something bigger and more impactful so that people could remember me even after my death. I want to become a successful entrepreneur and want to run my own software company,” concludes Naman.

Thursday, 7 July 2016

How Delhi-based Turannt intends to capture the Indian logistics market

With the growing world of on-demand and e-commerce, logistics has become the key, ensuring quick deliveries and a smooth operational flow. Over the past year, several startups have ventured into the space and transformed an otherwise unorganised segment with technology. According to YourStory Research data, in 2015 alone, the amount of funding pumped into logistics startups was believed to be $617.7 million.

Three broad categories have emerged in the growing logistics market – inter-city, intra-city and hyperlocal. Delhi-based Turannt, previously known as Turant Delivery, was founded in April 2015 and is among the startups with inter and intra-city plays.

The logistics startup provides intra and inter-city logistics services in the B2B segment and operates a plethora of commercial vehicles ranging from a mini truck to a 34ft high cube container. Turannt had begun their journey by providing on-demand hyperlocal intra-city logistics solutions as a light-commercial vehicle aggregator.

Team @Turannt
Aggregating the team and idea

The three co-founders Ankur Majumder, Siddharth Arora and Satish Gupta were batchmates at ISB. Ankur had experience in capital markets with UBS AG and Yes Bank, Siddharth had worked in various IT and Product Manager Roles with AMEX and Snapdeal, while Satish had work experience in P&L and in operations management with Baker Hughes and Halliburton as Country Manager.

The trio got into a discussion on how the e-commerce sector was growing and booming in the India. They realised that while the on-demand market was growing, the truck industry wouldn’t be able to match that growth and demand without the right technology in place. This was an opportunity to take advantage of, and thus Turannt came into being as a one-stop logistics solution provider.
The intra and inter-city play

It was after stabilising their intra-city operations that Turannt ventured into inter-city logistics at the beginning of this year.

Ankur adds that like every other player who was present in the market, the team initially focussed on the intra-city play, but with time and traction, they realised that the real problem that needed to be solved was on a B2B level, where logistics play needed more structuring and streamlining.

The team also realised that in the intra-city space, the existing competition was already quite strong. Each customer would closely compare the new player with the old ones before making any change in their current choices.

“We started off with a vision to solve a problem that the unorganised logistics sector faces, streamline the same and make it accessible and hassle free, with the use of technology,” says Ankur.

The supply and demand chains both had loopholes and were not mutually complementary in the logistics sector. The team decided to closely monitor and study the target market and customer and vendor pain-points, and the solution was shaped based on these.

Turannt first started in Mumbai and Delhi. While they found both these cities competitive, it became apparent that each had its challenges.

In Mumbai, for instance, the unions would play an important role, making it difficult to onboard wary vendors. But when they found that instead of taking away orders from the unions, Turrant was working with them to complete orders and re-organising the demand in a way that would prove to be beneficial to them, onboarding the vendors became easier.

“In Delhi, on the other hand, due to permit windows for commercial vehicles in certain sectors, our hyperlocal model came into play, ensuring a good conversion rate,” says Ankur.
Pre-fixing the model

Following a hyperlocal model, Turannt partners with local vendors, thus helping clients get a logistics service close to them. This, Ankur adds, helps them lower costs, maximise inventory utilisation, lower fuel costs for vendors and reduces pricing for the clients.

Turannt has a pre-fixed pricing model, the clients in turn get complete visibility from the placing of the order to dispatch and delivery. “As this price is fixed, the price becomes independent of the route the driver takes or the time that is consumed during the execution of the order,” says Ankur.

Once an order is received from a client, the same is forwarded to the vendor closest to the pickup location.

A mobile app allows customers to place, track and manage orders with ease. Corporate clients get customised services and based on their requirements, the most cost effective and time-saving plans are developed.

All orders get updated on the Turannt Admin real time, which helps the Turannt team monitor operations remotely at all times. All the platforms and applications ensure complete records of order history for both customers and drivers, which further helps in detailed invoicing and digital PODs, and creates a hassle free experience overall for every party involved.
Breaking the market

After bootstrapping for nine months, Turannt closed a round of seed funding this year, from Rupinder Singh Arora, an entrepreneur with 40 years of experience and MD at Par Solar Ltd and Arora Fibres, Hari Balasubramanian, a startup enthusiast, Rajan Manchandana, founder of PAFEX, which was sold to Fedex. The team is looking for their next round of funding.

The logistics space is fast growing in India. ‘Logistics Market India 2015-2020’, a report by Novonous, suggests that the logistics market is close to $300 billion and is poised to grow at a CAGR of 12.7 percent by 2020.

In the intra-city logistics space, the other major players are TruckSumo, Blowhorn, which raised seed funding from Unitus, Shipr and TheKarrier that raised Rs 1.5 crores from Sol Primero in May 2015 among others. In the intercity logistics space is Blackbuck that raised $25 million in Series B funding from marquee investors like Accel Partners, Flipkart, Tiger Global, Apolette, and Yuri Milner’s Founder’s Fund – DST Global.

Eyeing the $300 billion market are also giants like Mahindra and Mahindra, which launched SmartShift and other players like Rivigo.
Future plans

Apart from foraying into different metros like Bengaluru and Kolkata, Turannt has also entered Tier II cities like Ratnagiri, Surat and Bikaner. Starting out from a team of three along with two customer care executives, today Turannt has over 30 members.

The team claims that from August last year, when they made a turnover of Rs 4 lakh with over 30 intra-city transactions per day, they have grown to the point where, today, they make a turnover of over Rs 1 crore a month. They say that they are on track to their projected revenue of Rs 20 crores for this year, which they expect to achieve through their inter-city operations, which are beginning to pick up. Turannt has partnered with the likes of Furlenco, Chaayos and also work with Jaycee, Godrej, Aditya Birla Retail Group, Vijay Sales and Snehanjali.

“We have ambitious plans for the inter-city operations, and are looking at a 5x growth touching close to Rs.100 crores. We have a unique advantage of both intra and inter-city operations, realising the synergies across both verticals. This synergy helped us immensely in our bottom-line growth in an environment where the focus has been only on the top-line,” says Ankur.

The venture is currently at 40 percent month on month growth and the team is looking at 50 per cent MOM CAGR in the next three months. The team is also looking to raise funding and carry out aggressive marketing plans.

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Turkish Man Creates Glasses That Conceal Phone Screen from Anyone but the Wearer

Don’t you hate it when you’re using your smartphone on public transportation and notice strangers looking at it over your shoulder? Those people are the worst! But thanks to Celal Göger special glasses, you won’t have to deal with them ever again.

Göger, a 42-year-old mobile phone repairman from the Turkish town of Bismil, Diyarbakır province, has invented special glasses that interact with a smartphone’s screen so that only the wearer can see it. He said he came up with the idea for the glasses four months ago, when, while checking his emails on the local tram, he noticed people on the packed vehicle were staring at the screen of his phone. He realized it was a serious privacy issue that surely other people were facing on a daily basis. So he went back to his phone repair shop and started working on a solution.

The experienced repairman, who has been fixing phones since 1999, came up with a system that turns the screen of any phone, tablet or laptop completely white for everyone looking at it, unless they are wearing a special pair of glasses that allows them to see the screen normally. The exact details of how his invention works are not very clear, as the story has not yet been covered by western media, but from what I could make out from Turkish websites, Celal programmed a small chip to turn the display white and installed it on the smartphone. He also came up with another chip that can be mounted on any pair of glasses and connect to the chip on the phone via Blutooth, to bypass the white screen.

The best part about Celal Göger invention is that he claims it only costs around $10, including the Bluetooth system which switches the mechanism on and off. He adds that his privacy protection system works on any electronic display, even television sets. For example, if you want to watch a program, but don’t want anyone else knowing what you’re watching, you just put on the glasses, flip a switch and the screen goes white for everyone but yourself.

The Turkish inventor says he first tested the effectiveness of his system in a cafe, and people started asking him if he was ok, because to them, he was just a guy staring at a white screen. It was only after lending them the galsses that they realized his genius.

Monday, 4 July 2016

Why the tech world cannot stop talking about 12-year-old Tanmay Bakshi

Tanmay Bakshi is nothing like the average child you would meet. The twelve year old was first drawn to programming languages, when he was but five and wondered how his name could be displayed on his dad’s computer screen. He set out on a quest to solve simple mysteries that intrigued him and started programming with his father’s help, and he is now one of the youngest app developers in the world today.

The hits and misses

Tanmay lives in Brampton, Canada, and built his first app for the iPhone when he was only nine years old. He might be jet-setting around the world today, delivering key-note addresses and demonstrating his apps before awestruck audiences, but recognition and success didn’t come easy. The whizkid faced several rejections before his app finally got published on the app store on Valentine’s Day 2013, marking the beginning of what seems to be Tanmay’s promising love story with tech.

Since then, he has continued to develop at an astonishing rate as he acquired more programming languages. He is fluent in most, if not all, of the major codes in use today.

In his address at IBM DeveloperConnect in Bengaluru on Friday he demonstrated his algorithm called ‘AskTanmay,’ which he described as “the world’s first web-based NLQA system, built using IBM Watson’s Cognitive Capabilities.” The eight-step algorithm can solve queries related to a ‘PERSON,’ ‘ORGANIZATION,’ ‘LOCATION,’ or ‘DATE’ answer type.
Not your average 12 year old

The 12 year old is currently studying in the seventh grade and is being home-schooled to optimise his time better. Going by his repertoire you might assume Tanmay to be coding away in a secluded corner at home but that is far from the truth!

“I code in my free time and love it so much that it helps me take my mind off things,” the little man explains.

An avid reader and sports enthusiast, Tanmay loves biking and playing table tennis with his friends, and has also authored a book called Hello Swift, which is about iOS programming techniques for kids and developers.

“The world needs more developers,” says Tanmay and is doing his bit to help increase the number. To everyone’s surprise at the IBMDevConnect, Tanmay open-sourced his app on stage, a move to make it more accessible to the developer community. Through his YouTube channel ‘Tanmay Teaches’, he also imparts programming knowledge and clears tech doubts of over a thousand of his subscribers who are as young as fifteen and as old as forty!

So, from whom does this wonder kid draw inspiration? “I look up to Steve Jobs never giving up on his passion and I want to get my book signed by Mr. Amitabh Bachchan,” he says.
What’s next?

Tanmay is currently trying to figure out how to get the Apple Watch to work independently from the iPhone, a few apps for iOSX, and an app to help college students and developers look up algorithms. However, he holds hope for a “really powerful answering system” in “many years” with “100 percent accuracy.” He is also working on updates for ‘Ask Tanmay,’ including different question styles, higher accuracy, improving its engine and making it faster.

Tanmay prefers working on IBM Watson’s API and wants to develop an app that will allow businesses to analyse social media better and target better audiences, and is looking to get into the B2B side of things.

Having accomplished so much in so little time, what is Tanmay looking to do next?

“I want to become a better developer, write more books, deliver more keynote addresses and share my knowledge through my YouTube channel,” he quips.

And as he continues to take the world by storm, he also has some advice for his contemporaries,

Follow your heart and passion. It could be anything, just practice and get better at it!

Saturday, 4 June 2016

Meet the IIT Roorkee grad who wants to become the next big thing in the Indian comic scene

The first lesson on barter for every kid is mostly through comic books. Researching carefully on what comic to read, painstakingly finding out which kid in the neighborhood has it and convincing him/her to exchange it with a comic you’ve got. Those were the days!

However, the craze of comics is no longer limited to children as adults are also equally hooked onto them these days. Case in point is the Comic Con. While the number of people who attended the Comic Con in 2015 in India was lesser compared to the previous year, the buzz isn’t dead. With the growing number of Indian writers, artists, and publications in the scene the market space is poised to grow. 

Twenty-six-year-old Rajeev Tamhankar, a 2012 silver medalist from IIT Roorkee had always been a comic buff and an avid writer since childhood. After graduating from college, he joined Flipkart to work on private label brands. During this stint, he authored the book Get corporated before you get fired!, a corporate satire. Post it’s launch, he received feedback from a lot of the book’s readers about how it would have been more interesting if the book was in a graphic novel style. Around the same time, Rajiv was also working on a script around the mysteries of the submerged city of Dwarka, under the title ‘Varun,’ which was being written in the format of a novel. Rajeev realised that there was so much happening in the script that it seemed much more fun to present it using graphics. That’s when the idea of a comic books startup struck him.

He decided to build a platform called Thought Bubbles Studio (TBS) and wanted it to stand for imagination, creativity and freshness. Since he wanted TBS to be a complete planet of imaginary heroes, villains and events around them, he also came up with the brand

“Comic book business is quite complicated to start. You need to get the right stories, the right sketching, inking, colouring, printing and top this with the regular business requirements of sales, distribution, marketing, logistics, finance and operations. For me, getting the first team to sketch and colour was the biggest challenge. I searched for over four months but was unable to find quality work,” says Rajeev, speaking of his initial challenges in starting up in the comic space.

Setting things up

But when you really want to do something, things automatically seem to fall into place. It so happened in Rajeev’s case that a school friend with a studio in Gujarat agreed to work on his first project, ‘Ved’. Armed with design help and his own writing prowess, Rajeev then started working on building the in-house team, which now has five members.

The team is working on a range of comic books and graphic novels projects, which include creating Indian superheroes, corporate humour, political satires and household comedies. “From conceptualisation to getting the actual product on shelf is a complicated process,” says Rajeev, while explaining how the entire business is heavily dependent on ideas, hence making it a lengthy process. So how does the team go about it?

Once a concept is ready, the writers get to script it. This is followed by a preliminary edit. The edited script is then followed by story-boarding. Based on these storyboards the illustrators get to sketching, inking, colouring and lettering. After this process, the book goes in for a final edit and is then submitted for a sample print. Once this sample gets approved, it goes for mass printing.

The Indian comic scene

But the speculation around the Indian comic industry is aplenty, with many questions being raised about its lost sheen and the end of the era of Amar Chitra Katha, Tinkle and Chacha Choudhary, all beloved and iconic indigenous comics.

The graphic novel as a genre is taken very seriously in the West, raking in hundreds of millions of dollars in sales every year. It has repeatedly attracted the fancy of Hollywood, where comic book crossover movies are box-office hits. In India, however, despite the large fan following for international comics, indigenous comics have only now begun to shed their Tinkle-AmarChitraKatha-ChachaChoudhary shell.

But Rajeev is hopeful.

“I believe as long as there is fresh content coming up, the industry will keep flourishing. After all, we all love to read good stories. And that’s why it has been flourishing in US. The Indian comics industry had seen a spike in eighties and nineties, with popular characters like Chacha Chowdhary, Pinki etc., which connected with the Indian masses. I think it is always the content which is important. Movies, social media, videos, books are all just different mediums of communicating content. Thanks to the advent of events like Comic Con and movies around action superheroes, comic books are gaining popularity once again,” Rajeev says.