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Prosus scouts for innovative assistive tech startups in India via SICA 2021

09:21 PM Aug 30, 2021 | PTI

Prosus on Monday announced the commencement of the second edition of Prosus SICA initiative that aims to find promising solutions in the assistive technology space.

Created last year by Prosus - in partnership with Invest India, Social Alpha and the World Health Organisation - the initiative invites Indian startups with the most promising solutions in the assistive technology space to compete for an annual grant and access to the Prosus SICA mentorship programme.

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With more than 70 million Indians estimated to live with some form of disability, the societal impact of improving lives and empowering people through assistive technology can be immense, a statement said.

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"For Prosus SICA 2021, an expert panel of judges will assemble to identify innovative startups with the most potential to positively impact the lives of persons with disabilities. Eligible startups can submit their applications from now until October 19," it added.

The top startups will be announced in December to mark the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, it said.

Prosus has committed Rs 1.65 crore to the initiative over three years, and each year awards grants to three successful startups.

Partners, including Invest India and Social Alpha, provide additional mentoring and financing opportunities, while WHO supports the programme with technical assistance, the statement said.

"Here in India, the needs of 70 million persons living with some form of disability have remained under-served despite a vibrant startup ecosystem. We believe that there can be a thriving market for assistive technologies and last year's excellent response to our inaugural Prosus SICA initiative validated this belief," Prosus India Managing Director Sehraj Singh said.

The top three startups will be awarded grants of Rs 25 lakh, Rs 18 lakh and Rs 12 lakh, respectively. Eligible startups will also get the opportunity to work with Social Alpha, an incubator that promotes innovation and entrepreneurship across India. As an incubation partner, Social Alpha can also provide up to $40,000 in equity to the top startups.

The top five finalists are also inducted into the Prosus SICA mentorship programme where they will benefit from Prosus' experience in supporting entrepreneurs and helping them to succeed.

In the inaugural edition in 2020, Prosus SICA received over 200 applications from India. The top three startups recognised for their ingenuity and impact across a range of assistive technologies were Sohum Innovation Lab (Bengaluru), NeoMotion (Chennai) and Stamuri (New Delhi).

In addition to the top startups, two other finalists - Cogniable (Delhi) and Thinkerbell Solutions (Delhi) - were enrolled on the SICA mentorship programme.

Sohum Innovation Lab manufactures a device to detect hearing impairment in infants. It used the grant money of Rs 25 lakhs ($35,000) to expand beyond India to African markets. It has partnered with state governments, private hospitals and NGOs, and has now sold over 200 devices across India, Tanzania, Uganda, and Guatemala.

NeoMotion creates bespoke wheelchairs with a motor-powered clip-on to convert them into a safe, roadworthy vehicle. It used the Rs 18 lakh ($25,000) grant money for marketing to enhance awareness and reach.

Stamurai, a mobile app to address speech disabilities through automated speech therapy, utilised its Rs 12 lakhs ($15,000) grant money to make app enhancements.

"The excellence of Indian ingenuity has been at the forefront. The ability of our entrepreneurs to pivot and develop impactful frugal solutions is India's strength. This challenge will lead the way in transforming assistive technologies in the country and propel India to become a world leader in the field," Deepak Bagla, MD and CEO of Invest India, said.

Manoj Kumar, Founder and CEO of Social Alpha, noted that assistive technologies are a $25 billion market globally.

"...but affordability and user experience issues hinder the market development in India, despite having a large population that needs access to high-quality assistive solutions...I am optimistic that Prosus SICA 2021 will unlock more opportunities and resources for innovators and help them go to market as they create world-class solutions," he added.

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