To the Womb of Real India
JioVio is a Singapore-based startup, with two PSG Tech alumni co-founders – Divya Krishnan (BE CSE 2009-2013) and Sunder Jagannathan (BE Automotive 2009-2013). Its Indian branch is called Olivewear; ‘Save Mom’ is the company’s main project. Jiovio is working towards providing better maternal care, and is concentrating on rural India with the Save Mom project. Their main goal is to bring in maternal care to remote regions of India.
Right now in India, about seventy percent of the population of pregnant women is concentrated in rural and semi-urban areas. After a lot of research, interviews, and visits, the founders of JioVio realised that there is a major accessibility problem in rural India, when it comes to healthcare, especially for pregnant women. Hospitals are too far, so the women, who are usually daily wage workers, cannot even waste a single day traveling to and from the hospital. Pregnant women in remote areas are getting check-ups at the hospital and twice in the entire nine-month period, if even that often. JioVio is trying to bring in at least eight to fifteen check-ups to these women in the comfort of their homes.
Here are few excerpts from the interview with Ms Divya Krishnan:
Q. What was your inspiration for JioVio? Could you give me a brief overview of how you started JioVio?
Q. It all started around a year and a half ago. One of our co-founders was working with me in my previous company. We used to compete in a lot of hackathons. In one of them, the problem statement was about trying to solve women’s problems and my colleague’s sister was pregnant then. So, we were inspired by this and we tried to create a small device that could monitor her activities.
We went through a lot of WHO reports and we found that the problem was a lot bigger than we had imagined. Most countries have millennium goals – a set of goals to achieve which is updated, say, every five years. Reducing maternal mortality had always been a goal and it seemed to be the issue that most countries could not solve. There are a lot of causes for maternal mortality. In rural areas, accessibility to healthcare is a major issue and so is the lack of awareness.
When we read about this, our plan initially was to create a wearable piece for pregnant women that monitors and alerts them. This was more of a product for urban women. We talked to doctors to understand what needed to be tracked in a pregnant woman and how issues during delivery could be prevented. That was when we figured out that there are certain parameters to be monitored to make sure pregnant women are in good health and to ensure zero complications.
Hence, we came up with a kit that could act as home-based maternal care for both the rural setting and the urban setting. The devices in the kit track the major parameters and doctors can continuously monitor this data.
What were the difficulties you faced during technology development? What do you think helped you succeed in bringing out this technology?
When we started, we were a very small team. We had a small prototype but we had no clue on how to turn it into a product for the market. In India, generally the problem is that, though people have the idea, they don’t know how to turn it into the right end product – a product that looks easy to use and in essence, a product that actually looks like a finished product. However, the one thing that got the whole process started was that we got selected by an accelerator in Singapore. So we went to Singapore and we also got to go to China. We then connected with a partner who had a lot of manufacturers. They helped us find the right manufacturing for the product. We gave them the hardware and the outer design and the manufacturer fabricated it for us. We learnt a lot and we met a lot of investors, accelerators and incubators.
If you could go back in time, is there anything in particular that you would do differently regarding the whole start-up?>
A start-up always keeps changing. For us, initially we didn’t focus on the rural population. In fact, we wasted a lot of time concentrating on the urban. With rural, you can solve the problem from the bottom of the pyramid which is where the problem actually lies. We also realised that there are many investors and organisations that are willing to help and give you the support that you need to reach rural areas with their mentorship and money. I think if we had known this 8 months prior, we would have put our energy into rural earlier. I think that’s what I would change if I could go back.
In a country like India, where Internet is a luxury, how do you see IoT based services grow? Is the present communication infrastructure sufficient for emergencies to be handled reliably?
Yes, IoT is definitely going to boom in India. Right now, India is lagging behind a little compared to other countries. IoT is fine in urban areas where people are aware. If people use IoT to solve problems in semi-urban and rural areas, I think there will be massive growth there.
We do have sufficient infrastructure. Even in rural areas, I’ve seen pretty good internet and signal. When we went to certain areas, we were skeptical about whether the device would work as it needed to transmit data. Surprisingly, it worked even in very remote mountainous areas. I think we just need the right product to be used in the right area.
The handling of pregnancy varies across different cultural and social sectors. How are these distinctions being handled by your products?
This is indeed a factor to consider. In India especially, each state has cultural and social differences when it comes to pregnancy. However, our product is more on the medical side where data is obtained, so it doesn’t really rely on people.
In the case of urban areas, we have an app where women can read about pregnancy, about baby growth and about body changes. We’re trying to develop an app where information about each aspect is presented in less than fifty words. The app concentrates on the first thousand days. Cultural and social differences are also being considered while developing this app. In certain regions, there may be a particular way of handling pregnancy, and maybe we can offer home remedies, etc. through the app.
Since we are also looking at international markets, pregnancy, maternity and postnatal care are handled differently there. There are mom-and-mom couples, dad-and-dad couples, single dads and single moms. So we have to handle these situations too and we are taking all this into consideration.
Where do you see JioVio in the next few years? Do you plan to extend your services to general medical facilities too?>
When we started JioVio, we didn’t want it to be only for pregnancy. We wanted to expand to other sectors. However, we chose pregnancy because when you create a product for pregnancy, your relationship with the customer stands for all of nine months, and this doesn’t usually happen. We decided to choose a niche segment, do it completely, and then expand. If you choose one niche, you can understand the market well, and then it’s easier to expand.
How did your products actually fare compared to your expectations? Did anything surprise you?
There were surprises. Our product actually came out very well in terms of the manufacturing and design. However, when it came to the market, the product was more welcome in other countries than it was in India. This was a surprise. Doctors were very scared about a product like this. In general, they don’t want hi-tech products. They aren’t ready for technology. However, in the international market, a few hospitals really liked the product. We’ve given them devices and we’re doing a pilot there right now. The product was also received well in rural areas.
There’s great emphasis on reaching rural areas with JioVio’s product, Olivewear. How exactly are you achieving this?
We are partnering with foundations, since they have many villages under them and access to one village will give you access to many more. In terms of accessibility, this is more efficient than going village by village.
Right now we are partnering with Amrita SeRVe and we have around 108 villages under them. We recently got selected as one of the top 100 startups in Karnataka. So the Karnataka government is helping reach villages in their state and they are also funding us. We’ve also teamed up with an NGO in Tamil Nadu. Even the government is trying very hard to solve this problem but it’s difficult because of the lack of accessibility. The government is ready to help such startups however they can.
How far did you get in the NASSCOM TechNgage Hackathon?
We got to the finals and we got a cash prize. That was how it all started.
What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?One thing that I would like to say is that no idea is unique.
When you start doing something, you’ll always find ten, or even fifty, people doing the same thing as you. The key is not the idea. The actual success lies in how you execute it. You’ll have very limited resources and you will have a hard time finding the right people to work with you. So you will have to be very smart in managing people – trying to work with freelancers, trying to collaborate with people etc.
I’ve talked to a lot of young people who have told me that they have an idea that they want to work on. I would say work it out and plan it well because the grass is always greener on the other side. People seem to think that once they drop out of college they will turn into Mark Zuckerberg. That’s not true. You have to know that patience and perseverance are essential. If there are ten people who encourage you, there will be a hundred who discourage you for what you’re doing.
I have been asked, “I have this idea but someone else is also working on it. How do I claim it to be my own?” They weren’t even willing to share the idea with me! Sharing the idea doesn’t mean it will be stolen or copied. The main part lies in the execution because that is the most difficult part. So share your idea, get comments, get feedback, get a lot of people and figure out how to collaborate. The more you share your idea, the better the feedback you receive.
Also remember, a start up doesn’t mean you have to create the whole thing. You can always partner with different people, bring different pieces together, or bring a model and work on it. For example, in JioVio, when we wanted to make a BP monitor, we didn’t start from scratch because that would have been like reinventing the wheel – there would have been no point. There are already good BP monitors in the market, so we used them and tried to sync them with our software.
Tell me a bit about your time at PSG Tech. How did it help you in your career?
One of the things that helped us recently was PSG STEP. When I was in PSG, I knew about STEP, and I knew that you could seek help from STEP if you had an idea. But I was not aware of how active they actually were. Around six months ago, I met a person who told me that there existed a college called PSG Tech which had STEP. He suggested that I try STEP, and told me that they are pretty supportive. I was like “I am from PSG Tech!”. This guy wasn’t even from PSG, but from a totally different college and he was an entrepreneur as well. I decided to go talk to STEP. So we set up a meeting, we talked to them and they were extremely supportive. They’re very active, very supportive and are rated one of the best in India for incubation. They do give you a lot of help – they gave us connections to alumni and things like that. They were very happy that PSG alumni were doing something like this. So that was something that helped me.
Apart from this, I’d like to add that when you start working, it’ll be completely different from whatever you studied in college. You might not actually use what you studied. However, the one thing you do take back from college is the networking that you do. Being in a start up, I realised how important networking is. In college, you find so many people around you working in different sectors – your classmates, your seniors, your juniors – there are a thousand people to connect with. You should have good connections with everyone, because, someday, they will be of great help in your career. So that’s very important.
Team Bridge wishes Divya and JioVio all the success in their future endeavors. Click here to know more about JioVio.
Featured image from Pixabay under free usage license