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Sunday, Sep 15, 2019

Startup Saturday: Seeding medical ideas for a healthier planet

Embryyo Technologies is in advanced stages on development of BoxRx, an electronic drug adherence monitoring system

pune Updated: Oct 27, 2018 15:14 IST
Namita Shibad
Namita Shibad
Hindustan Times, Pune
Nishant Kumar (left) and Prateek Jain founder and co-founder of Embryyo technologies.
Nishant Kumar (left) and Prateek Jain founder and co-founder of Embryyo technologies.(Milind Saurkar/HT Photo)

Being clear headed is probably one of the best things for an entrepreneur. Nishant Kumar knew exactly what he wanted to do, what was required and how to go about it when he started Embryyo technologies, which is a medical devices inventions-laboratory in Feb 2014 with his IIT Bombay classmate Prateek Jain in 2014

Nishat, an IIT Bombay engineering graduate got an opportunity to go for a research internship at the university of Munich hospital in Germany and also work at Philips healthcare in Germany where he worked with clinicians and physicists

It was during this time that he observed the stark difference in resources between European and Indian hospitals. This turned out to be his calling in life. Nishat says “In Germany I noticed that the hospital there had the best infrastructure but very few patients. And the exact opposite was true of India where the patients were more and the infrastructure was lacking. So I decided that I must do something about it.”

Using his training and skills Nishat went about building medical devices. “From the time I was an intern in Germany and my stint at Philips I made notes. Whatever I observed, I jotted it down. These were problems that I experienced first-hand whilst working. I have more than 200 such issues jotted down.”


Nishat says “Like drugs, medical devices also have a well-established clinical trials and regulatory trials process; however they are very product specific. Products with new features, designs or materials need to be rigorously tested for safety and performance. The self-expandable oesophageal stent went through processes. One was the biocompatibility testing of the material with the human body. For this we sent our stent material to vimta labs in Hyderabad. The tests so far have been successful.”

The Money Calculations:

“When we started our company in 2014 we went about approaching investors. But we were told that we would need to have a working prototype first before they would think of giving us any money. No investor is interested in seeing an idea on paper, at least not in something as risky as a medical device” said Nishant. At that time Nishant realized that Embryyo is not a typical start-up that would be immediately investor friendly. So at the early stages they decided to seek aid from friends and relatives, philanthropic institutions and the Government. They raised ₹47 lakh grant-in-aid from biotech ignition grant (BIG) and ₹2.5 crore from other agencies such as the gates foundation and ₹20 lakh from family and friends.

The Challenges:

Oddly Nishant credits lack of money as a positive impact on his business. “Not having enough money was a very good thing. It made us cautious about spending and doing more with less. We focused on getting every design right on paper through detailed engineering calculations before testing the design out. Almost always, this approach helps us in thinking about a solution at its very fundamental level, which leads to more inventive ideas. Sometimes we would use open-source software, to cut down costs, in order to test a hypothesis quickly” said Nishant.Getting the right people on board was also a challenge. Nishat said “Since we did not have too much money we had to be careful about whom we chose. It was important for us to choose people who were committed had character and were competent.”

Selling Innovations

Nishat says “As a start-up we got invited to several national and international forums where not only did we get a lot of mileage but also got to meet and pitch to a lot of clients.” They are also in talks with other companies who want to integrate the pillbox hardware and take it forward.

With the bilirubin-meter they have completed a feasibility clinical study on 40 new-borns and now gearing up for a 200 patients study at Deenanath Mangeshkar hospital. The expandable stent was recently awarded as a Success-Story winner at IISF Lucknow and one of the Top 6 innovations in cancer by RICH at Hyderabad. Embryyo is talking to national and international companies to upscale it. Nishant says “the way forward for the company is to keep developing newer devices”.Meanwhile Embryyo has 15 other projects in the pipeline. A microfluidic blood plasma separator and an infant brain growth monitoring system are in advanced stages of development.

Grant-in-aid helps innovator get funds

Nilay Lakhar of SynThera shares his experience of getting funds for his new venture that is into developing bone graft substitutes used in dental and orthopaedic surgeries.

Nilay launched his startup in Jan 2015. “Till Nov 2015 I was bootstrapping, tapping my own funds. But in Feb 2015 I had sought funds from biotechnology industry research assistance council (BIRAC) as an individual innovator.

In November 2015 Nilay got an in principle approval. He had applied for ₹ 50 lakh as grant-in-aid. But the first tranche of ₹15 lakh of his grant came into his bank account only in September 2016. Nilay says, “We did not have a lab at that time. We needed a high temperature furnace and could not find any suitable one in Pune. But Prof Parag Bhargav from IIT Bombay agreed to let us use his lab.”

Nilay Lakhar, founder, SynThera
Nilay Lakhar, founder, SynThera ( HT )

The next tranche of ₹ 10 lakh came in Dec 2016. “Things got streamlined after this. The BIRAC expects you to submit various milestones at the time of your application. The aid you receive is linked to these milestones that you are expected to achieve. We had our milestones to submit in Dec, Mar, June and Oct.”

The balance money was received by Nilay between Jan 2017 to Nov 2017. “The last ₹ 5 lakh is given to innovators as a reimbursement for the money that you put in in the initial stage.” said Nilay. He further adds “Grant-in-aid is money with no expectations of financial return. It is an excellent initiative of the Government as it helps innovators at various stages from ideation to proof-of-concept.”

Talking about the improvements Nilay says “What is needed most is that all the BIRAC employees understand the challenges a biotech entrepreneur goes through. The people at the director level and upwards are all very proactive about entrepreneurship, but it would be more helpful if this attitude permeates across the board.” He further adds “For an innovator with more experience an angel investor is an option but one must remember that it comes with equity, whereas BIRAC is a grant. Although it came late it worked out very well for me.”

Webinar for mentoring budding entrepreneurs

While there are training and mentoring programs for entrepreneurs, not many programs go the whole hog. How many webinars will allow you to pitch before a panel of investors? Unlike offline pitching where entrepreneurs have to go through a long process, this program by Abdulla Thakur makes it easy and quick.

This is a free webinar to be held on Saturday, September, 27 at 6.30 pm. Those looking to start a business of their own can log onto this webinar and learn from Abdulla Thakur a strategist, mentor, CEO and co-founder of Al Dhow capital, Kuwait.

“The Indian ecosystem is like a store where Santa Claus is the salesman” says Abdulla who visits India regularly and was in Pune recently to speak at the IIT Kanpur Alumni Associations’ Startup Master Class. He further adds “India can boost its GDP if it focuses on rural areas and gets more women in the workplace. If the country lacks in innovation, it is solely because most innovators and investors are copying ideas blindly.”

After attending the webinar you may present your startup business idea. The shortlisted start-ups can attend another online session. The finalists will get an opportunity to pitch before a panel of investors via a 2 minute video clip that they can post on Abdulla’s facebook page.

First Published: Oct 27, 2018 15:13 IST