Sometimes when we try and ask ourselves some fundamental questions such as what is the real purpose of technology I think a lot of us would answer by saying that – the fundamental use of technology is to make our lives simpler ! Right from invention of the wheel to the invention of Google glasses – technology has made our lives simpler. But like most things today, technology too is being created to cater to the masses without really asking the question – Are we really using our technology and innovation enough to help those who really really need to make their lives simpler ?
The question of tech innovation for those in need becomes even more important in a developing country like ours where affordability becomes the main point driving sales.Currently with 110 million elderly people, India has the second largest population of aging citizens. We have around 12 million people with loco motor disability. And still, when it comes to getting a good , comfortable wheelchair for those who need it, there are very few or almost no options available in our country today. “In our country, there is no way that a person with loco motor disabilities can live comfortably by themselves. And we know for a fact that the equipment that is available today is the reason for this. The wheelchairs that exist in the country today have been designed not even taking into consideration some of the basic needs. It is really painful for us to see this, ” says Ganesh Sonawane, Cofounder of Arcatron.
Arcatron is currently building the next generation mobility devices to make technology the best care giver for those who really need it the most ! In this article we take a look at the mobility devices market in India, the forces that the driving the current consumer choices and how Arcatron is making a difference in this hugely under served segment.
The Wheelchair Market in India
In India, there are said to be about 20 million disabled people of which 12 million are loco motor disabled. India has the highest ratio of loco motor disabled population as compared to our neighbors. About 1,046 people out of every 1, 00,000 in the rural regions and about 901 out of every 1, 00,000 in the urban population are said to be loco motor disabled.
Indian wheelchair market is estimated to be at $ 15 million and it is expected to grow at 10% CAGR for the next 3 years. Of this, the organized market is around $6 million and is also forecasted to grow at 10% CAGR for the same period.
The Indian market is said to have a demand for both manual as well as motorized wheelchairs. The motorized version of wheelchair though new to the country is expected to have a solid growth potential as it is likely to reach $ 4 million by the end of 2015. The demand for these motorized wheelchairs is likely to upsurge by 5% annually till the end of 2015. (All market data from bharatbook)
Factors Driving The Wheelchair Industry in India
As we know, India is an extremely price sensitive market and price drives the demand for goods in India. Today a lot of well designed wheelchairs are available for $1200-$2000 in US and Europe. However due to the price sensitivity, our traders never consider to import these as the Chinese products sell in the range of $120-$250 in the Indian market. Most of the market today is dominated by traders who prefer the Chinese good which sell, therefore creating a lack of availability of good quality and well equipped wheelchairs in the Indian market.
Low literacy rates, unemployment within the loco motor disabled and a lack of infrastructure are some of the other factors driving lack of supply of better quality equipment in the wheelchair industry in India.
The Problem With The Product
One of the biggest challenges in the day-to-day life of people who need locomotive assistance revolves around washrooms. The problems they face commonly range around physically getting into the bathroom, risk of injuries due to slipping in the bathroom, difficulty in getting on or off the toilet seat, lack of availability of practical support or assistance with hygiene, lack of availability of appropriate equipments/aids/adaptations, etc.
The products that are available today in the Indian market do not seem to fulfill even the basic needs of people using these products. Factors such as overall dimensions of the product to fit through doors, mentioning load capacity of the product so that users can make informed choices, waterproofing, height adjustability, stability, portability, comfort, good footrest and armrest design are some of the extremely critical and basic factors that seem to be missing in the products available today in the market.
The Arcatron Solution
Team Arcatron firmly believes that the present patient handling systems in Indian hospitals are outdated and need a recast in order to maximize effectiveness and efficiency of care. The company is determined to bring this change with their innovative range of products. They aim to build products that live upto their name “Arcatron, which alludes to ‘accelerating wheels’ and is a not so subtle nod to the Ark of Moses, which possessed unlimited power.
The company’s first product – Arcatron SAS100 launched recently is India’s first user friendly shower and commode wheelchair with retail price INR 13,600.
The Arcatron SAS100 is an attendant propelled wheelchair designed for senior citizens and individuals with limited mobility to access shower or commode in a secured and convenient manner. Their unique tool free height adjustability eases transfers to bed and allows to roll in over different commode heights. Easy to disinfect, waterproof cushions enables to maintain hygiene standards. The user friendly tool free assembly allows the chair to fit in your car for travel. SAS100 frame is corrosion resistant and designed for a comfortable and safe experience. (More about the product here )
With their product, Arcatron is hoping to strike a balance through the ability of solving the problem statement by simplifying the design. This approach has helped the company to keep the cost minimal and still achieve the desired results in their value propositions.
How It All Started
In 2011, final year of their college, 5 engineers from NIT Calicut – Kunal Kamble, Laxmikant Banjare, Ganesh Sonawane and Dewaj Baruah, Nitesh Shinoy teamed up for a competition organized by the social engineering forum in their college. The aim was to design a product for the disabled. During their project to design this prototype the five went through an emotional journey that transformed the rest of their lives. For the first time in their lives, the 5 were introduced to a completely different world. The plight and hardships that the disabled people had to face to perform basic day to day activities made an impact on their minds in a way that would change the fate of the wheelchair industry in India for ever. The 5 ended up designing a prototype for the competition which ended up getting a very positive response.
After their college, they decided to go out and get some industry experience. The thought of doing something for the disabled however never left their minds and in Nov 2012, 4 of them came back together to start working on making a fully functional product that would give independence to and liberate these guys who could not move by themselves due to the lack of affordable technology.
Till 2014, the Arcatron team was running this as a tech project trying to come up with solutions to the problems of the disabled and trying to create a product at an affordable cost. In 2014, the team got in touch with Indian Angels Network to secure some money for the project when for the first time the team was introduced to terms such as market study, customer acquisition, forecasts, competition and risks. Till this time, the team was passionately only working on their product without worrying about what the risks could be or how much money they could make out of the project.It was after this point that the team started thinking seriously of setting up a business.
It was during this time that the team met up with Nirmala Kewlani or Neenu as she is popularly known. Neenu is a disabled rights activist. When merely 9 months old, an adverse consequence of a polio dose left both her upper and lower limbs disfunctional.Not giving in to the circumstances, Neenu has continoulsy fought against her disability and today is the COO at Ravik Arts & Printers Pvt Ltd. She is also the winner of first ever Ms. Wheelchair India contest. It was one of Neenus friend- Anoop Hingorani who gave the company their first major round of funds- a cheque of 26 lakh rupees which the company is using to develop their first product.
Arcarton today is based out of Pune. The energy in the team to develop a product that solves the problem and their passion for the cause were very clearly evident during the interview.
The company’s first product – the Arcatron SAS100 – has received a very good response from the Indian market. The company is aiming to sell 50 orders per month in the month of August and plans to take this number to 500 units per month by the end of March 2016.
Besides this the company is also working on a number of innovative products in this domain.
The company is currently focused on increasing traction and will start looking for funding very soon to aid their scaling plans.