Nikhil Kurele (left) and Harshit Rathore used innovative methods to inspire startup Noccarc’s staff to deliver close to 2,700 ventilators (seen here) in just 50 days. (HT PHOTO)
Nikhil Kurele (left) and Harshit Rathore used innovative methods to inspire startup Noccarc’s staff to deliver close to 2,700 ventilators (seen here) in just 50 days. (HT PHOTO)

Startup mantra: Noccarc turns Covid crisis into opportunity in med-tech

Ventilators were not Noccarc’s original product line. The Covid pandemic created a market and this startup responded
By Salil Urunkar
UPDATED ON JUN 12, 2021 05:06 PM IST

PUNE Noccarc is not claiming it helped alleviate the ventilator crisis in Pune and Maharashtra. At least, not yet.

However, the fact is , as Pune’s struggled with ensuring enough ventilators for Covid-19 patients, especially during the first wave of Covid-19 infections in 2020, IIT Kanpur alumni Nikhil Kurele and Harshit Rathore, founders of Noccarc stepped in.

Says Kurele, “Opportunities need to be created. In a population of 1.3 billion there are lot of opportunities. In the first wave we manufactured the ventilators. In the second wave, we delivered the ventilators. When we say, delivered the ventilators, those are not normal numbers. We delivered close to 2,700 ventilators in just 50 days. There are certain Covid Care centres in Pune where all the ventilators are provided by Noccarc. These are the kind of changes we are able to create.”

Ventilators were not Noccarc’s original product line. In a classic case of market demand forcing a startup to pivot, the firm’s original avatar was a clean-tech startup. In fact even the name, Noccarc evolved on the steep learning curve, the founders were ascending, in a hurry.

Nikhil Kurele (left) and Harshit Rathore, co-founders, startup Noccarc. (HT)
Nikhil Kurele (left) and Harshit Rathore, co-founders, startup Noccarc. (HT)

Says Kurele, “We did not want a name that sounded Indian. Nocca Robotics was the name of our startup initially. We hadn’t registered then, but we also got a legal notice from a MNC company. So, we decided to change the name. The new name was Noccarc. The first waterless solar panel cleaning robot which we designed, was in a room inside our campus, but then we realised we could not take it out. So, we had to dismantle and reassemble it.”

In the beginning…

Nikhil Kurele is originally from Shahdol village in Madhya Pradesh while Rathore is from Kanpur. The duo used to stay in same hostel and participated in events of the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) club. “Harshit was interning at Tata Motors and I was with Tata Technologies. We had seen the industry from very close quarters. WWe listed some ideas which would come to India in five years’ time,” recalls Kurele.

“We ran our startup for two years (2017 – 18) at the SIIC incubation centre of IIT Kanpur. We didn’t want to rush to market. We were confident that the solar panel-cleaning robot market would grow and be as good as the automobile market. There are several players who have entered the market since, but when we started, it was only us. In Pune itself, there are now six companies working on this concept. However, eye for detailing is the differentiating factor,” Nikhil said.

Pune pivot

Kurele says, “In 2019, we shifted to Pune to scale the solar panel cleaning product. I had worked for Bajaj in Pune for eight months, so I knew the city very well. Apart from this, there are multiple other reasons for selecting Pune as our HQ. Firstly, Pune is not very costly and second, the attrition rate is very low. Three others joined our team. We had then raised funds from the Indian Angel Network, after which, our team size increased to 21.”

Then, in March 2020, the Covid-19 outbreak hit. The solar panel cleaning project stopped. A pivot beckoned.

“We had never seen a ventilator before making one. These things are science based and we had expertise with control motors. So, we could make our working model in 48 hours and when we got our factory permission, we made it in 12 hours,” Kurele adds.

Startup Noccarc Robotics private limited is into solar panel cleaning business. (HT)
Startup Noccarc Robotics private limited is into solar panel cleaning business. (HT)

Team building

Kurele says, “When the second wave hit, we knew that the people working with us are from Pune. For two consecutive months we paid them a 2x salary for the same work. We have given a 3x bonus in addition to the salary to employees working on the ventilator project. Our manufacturing capacity was 30 per day, but our team took it to 100 per day. These are some small steps we used try to make an impact, not just outside, but also inside our organisation.

“The culture which we have on our premises is something that creates positive vibes. Dr Saurabh Srivastava, a Padmashree awardee and co-founder and chair of institutions like Nasscom, Indian Venture Capital Association, TiE, New Delhi NCR and Indian Angel Network, mentored us to build this culture in the organisation.”

Pandemic experience

In the first wave period, Noccarc sold only 300 ventilators. Says Kurele, “We had confidence in our product and had established an assembly line. We moved into a Bhosari facility in October 2020. We knew that there is a market that will respect value. Now, we have started a 24x7 call centre for our ventilator products. We have displayed our number on the machine itself so, if any doctor or hospital has a complaint with the product s/he can call us directly. Our idea is not to just sell product, but to create value.”

“The beauty of the machine lies in its compactness and how well it delivers the parameters (true and accurate). The kind of accuracy which we have achieved in this price range is also one of the differentiating factors. Another important achievement is that we have been able to give access to ventilators in tier 2 and tier 3 cities – where hospitals, doctors and patients were not able to get them,” he adds.

Preparing for the third wave

Narrating his experience during the second wave of pandemic in India, Kurele says, “Desperation was very high in the second wave infection period. People thought they were prepared for the second wave, but when it actually hit, it was really bad. It was more lethal. Our entire ventilator range, including paediatric, will be available soon. We will actually make healthcare affordable.”

Future plans

Noccarc is currently working on four products for the ICUs, slated to be ready the in next two quarters.

Kurele says, “We will have 5,000 ventilators installed all over India. It will be five per cent of the total ventilators installed in India. It’s a big number that we have achieved in just one year in the critical care sector. We don’t want to disturb the market unnecessarily. We want to make a profit since we are in business, but we don’t want to do profiteering.”

Apart from the ICU products, Noccarc will be getting into high-end ventilators and transportation care. “There is deep thought which goes into each and every product. We also want to have continuous development of our products. Besides, we are also entering the automobile industry. A new factory setup will be installed in Pune closer to Hinjewadi. On the other hand, we will resume the solar panel cleaning projects in Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat,” adds Kurele.

Inside out

“The ventilator project was the hard work and ingenuity of the two innovators, who had never even seen an ICU ventilator before this. I hope that their story will inspire entrepreneurs and innovators to transform the Indian manufacturing industry and put it on par with global standards.” says professor Amitabha Bandyopadhyay, incubation & innovation, IIT Kanpur

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