Prosus SICA reveals India’s most innovative assistive tech startups in 2021


India’s most innovative startups developing assistive technology (AT) to aid persons with disabilities have been revealed as Trestle Labs (Bangalore), SignAble Communication (Bangalore) and Lifespark Technologies (Mumbai). The announcement was made today by Prosus at the conclusion of year two of the Prosus SICA initiative in partnership with Invest India, Social Alpha and the World Health Organization.

Revealed on the eve of International Day of Persons with Disabilities, the top startups represent diverse themes supporting visual, speech and language disabilities and neurodegenerative disease. Trestle, SignAble and Lifespark will receive grants of INR 25,00,000, INR 18,00,000 and INR 12,00,000 respectively. The grants are intended to help them scale and expand their businesses so more persons with disabilities can benefit and lead independent, empowered lives.

The top three startups will also be inducted into the Prosus SICA mentorship programme, along with TinkerTech Laboratories from New Delhi (hearing impairment solution) and Visioapps Technology from Gurgaon (visual impairment solution), which were placed in fourth and fifth position respectively. This provides each company with access to a global network of strategic advisors from Prosus, technical advisors from WHO, AT sector experts from Social Alpha, and knowledge and partnerships specialists from Startup India, Invest India. Additionally, eligible startups may get follow-on funding and an opportunity to incubate with Social Alpha.

Launched by Prosus in 2020 in partnership with Invest India, Social Alpha and World Health Organization, Prosus SICA identifies and awards the most innovative Indian startups working on assistive technology solutions. Prosus has committed $250,000 (INR 1,65,00,000) over three years to this challenge. With more than 70 million Indians estimated to live with some form of disability* the societal impact of improving lives and empowering people by supporting the development of India’s AT ecosystem can be immense.

The top start up, Trestle Labs, aims to support the visually impaired community to avail of inclusive education and employment through real-time content access. It has developed a solution – Kibo – that translates and digitises printed, audio, handwritten and digital content in 60 global languages (including 12 Indian languages). The Kibo app is already being used by 40,000+ users in 15 countries including IndiaPakistanIndonesiaNigeria and Bangladesh.

Placed second, SignAble Communication addresses speech and language disability through a video remote interpretation (VRI) solution  that provides live interpretation in Indian Sign Language (ISL) via a mobile app. Essentially, the solution provides live human interpreters-on-demand for anyone, anytime, anywhere, affordably, and at the touch of a button.

In third place, Lifespark Technologies is a healthcare technology company building a platform for continuous, optimal therapy in chronic neurodegenerative disorders starting with Parkinson’s disease (the fastest growing neurological disease). Their product comprises a wearable device and a linked digital platform. The device provides sensory cue-based therapy to improve gait, reduce falls and improve quality of life, while the app provides data to physicians and therapists as well as emergency alerts to caregivers.

Congratulating the winners and all applicants, Sehraj Singh, India Managing Director, Prosus, said: “The quality of applicants this year was exceptional and is a testament to the promising AT ecosystem emerging in India. We are pleased that SICA is helping to identify and support the best startups and entrepreneurs in this sector. We look forward to supporting their journey as they progress to make a positive and transformational impact in society.”

Deepak Bagla, MD & CEO, Invest India, said: “I congratulate all winners of SICA 2021 and look forward to our continued association. The role of startups in developing assistive technologies for persons with disabilities will ensure a truly Digital and Inclusive India. We are  delighted that the challenge showcases made-in-India innovations to solve global problems.” 

Manoj Kumar, Founder, Social Alpha, said: Addressing market gaps in the assistive technologies space has been the cornerstone of our venture development model at Social Alpha. SICA is playing a key role in identifying and supporting social innovators and helping them create new markets by addressing the demand for high quality yet affordable solutions.”

Dr Chapal Khasnabis,  Head, Access to Assistive Technology and Medical Devices, WHO, Geneva said: “The quality of talent and the problems being tackled by participants in SICA 2021 was truly exciting and revelatory. It is heartening to witness Indian researchers and entrepreneurs are focusing on AI and Robotics in AT, especially for geriatric population and people living with neurodegenerative diseases. We congratulate the winners and look forward to supporting them in their journey.”

Bonny Dave, Founder of Trestle Labs, the startup that placed first in SICA 2021, spoke about their experience: “SICA has been a unique and enriching experience for us with a rigorous evaluation process including presentations and direct feedback from the end users and beneficiaries. We are thrilled to make the top spot and receive recognition for our efforts. We plan to utilise the grant to enhance our tech capabilities, grow our team and scale our solutions across three states in India. We are also eagerly looking forward to leverage the expertise and experience of stakeholders in SICA partner organisations through the mentorship programme.”

In the second year of SICA, over 170 startups that had built a prototype and completed user testing were evaluated by an expert jury on criteria of product readiness, market need, financial sustainability, business scalability, and future roadmap. Special attention was paid to user-friendliness of the products outside of controlled therapy and rehabilitation sessions.

For details of the winners of SICA 2020 (year one of the challenge) see here.