BlueSemi, a CIE-incubated startup founded by IIITH alumnus Sunil Kumar Maddikatla has received an impressive funding of USD 69 million from Luxembourg-based investment group GEM Global Yield LLC. The infusion is set to fuel the growth of its soon-to-be launched disruptive healthtech product that is inspired by ikigai.
It was the Consumer Electronics Showcase 2020 in Las Vegas that set the ball rolling for Sunil Maddikatla. CEO and Founder of BlueSemi. His meetings with several Silicon Valley investors and entrepreneurs got him thinking about building products that can impact end-users directly. “The systems that we were building until then were directed towards a better quality of life either in healthcare or clean energy but it was all at the back-end chip level,” he says, referring to the firm’s low-cost and extremely low-power consuming miniature chip designs ideal for IoT devices as well as smart wearables. With the general global investor sentiment indisposed towards Indian-based OEMs, it only pushed him towards that very route.
They had just started deliberations on creating an end-user product when the pandemic struck. Far from allowing it to take a toll, Sunil used it to his advantage. “Covid-19 actually helped us. We channeled our technical know-how to build an OEM product of the highest quality standards,” he says. The product was the world’s first wireless and contactless thermal scanning device, called SENS. The Artificial Intelligence (AI)-enabled SENS obviates the need for human intervention in checking body temperatures, typically seen in the traditional hand-held thermal guns that are deployed at malls, offices and other public spaces. “We had every opportunity to build it in China but were committed to a ‘Made In India’ vision,” remarks Sunil, adding that there’s an equal emphasis on high quality coupled with design and aesthetics in all their products.
Disrupting The Healthtech Space
The success of SENS found the 4-year-old startup repositioning itself as a revolutionary consumer healthtech company. “We’ve been building sensors from the start, but high accuracy sensors are required predominantly in healthcare,” explains Sunil. While Covid-19 has claimed many lives since its first outbreak, mortality figures due to the virus are but a blip when compared to those from lifestyle diseases. “A lot more people die due to diabetes or other chronic health issues such as heart ailments and so on. Our way of living has changed,” he says. Quoting statistics from a survey conducted by the Govt of India, Sunil says that in the last one year alone, Indians on an average have gained 8 kgs of weight. With the development of a healthcare product in progress, it only gave them confidence that something that could get people to change their lifestyle was a must. Drawing inspiration from Ikigai, the Japanese concept of improving work and life, the soon-to-be launched revolutionary device seeks to measure 6 vitals such as blood glucose, ECG, heart rate, blood pressure, SPo2 and temperature non-invasively in less than 60 seconds. “The idea is to create awareness about your body, eating habits, and activity. Through this product we hope the body will be more mindful about how it’s feeling with each activity or food it eats and prevent a host of lifestyle diseases,” says Sunil. With its USP on sleek looks, ease of use and portability, the product is available for trials at the firm’s Experience Centre at Hyderabad. “Right now it is open by-invite only to a known set of influencers in the industry. Soon we will be setting up Experience Centres at Bangalore, Delhi and Mumbai too,” remarks Sunil.
In 2017, when BlueSemi launched itself as an R&D company aiming for a better quality of human life, it received seed funding from the top executives at consumer electronics giant Samsung, as well as Google and other industry leaders. This greatly helped in the fabrication of cutting-edge sensors that were used in a host of IoT devices. Last year, under the Department of Science and Technology’s NIDHI-PRAYAS (National Initiative for Developing and Harnessing Innovations – Promoting and Accelerating Young and ASpiring Innovators and Startups) scheme, BlueSemi was awarded 10 lakhs to enable translation of its innovative idea of an IoT thermal scanner to a prototype. In addition to this, it also received 40 lakhs from the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) under its scheme for accelerating startups around post-Covid technology opportunities (SASACT). “This funding was purely used for SENS,” says Sunil.
With the recent USD 69 million infusion from Global Emerging Markets (GEM), the plan is to utilise the investment in scaling up the new product. “GEM is an alternative investment group that manages a diverse set of companies in its portfolio, all centered around emerging markets of the world. Apart from the investment itself, they will add strategic value thanks to the 40-odd healthtech companies in their mix whom we can complement,” says Sunil, adding that their funding requirements are going to be greater going forward. “That’s because we want to democratize this product and make it available in every nook and cranny of the country”.
The Institute Matters
Fondly recalling his former professor Dr. Srivatsava Jandhyala who was his guide and mentor at the Centre for VLSI and Design during his MS by Research days, Sunil says, “When we first joined under him, he famously said, ‘I don’t want you all to just write research papers and graduate. I want you to build products and companies.’ That is happening now. He was such a great mentor and supported me in the initial days.”
Founders of tech startups from top institutes possess key advantages in the entrepreneurial world with access to mentorship, investors and seed funding. Acknowledging the alumni network and the strong startup ecosystem at the Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) at IIITH, Sunil also mentions the edge gained by the presence of the Makers Lab. “The Lab is a great setup because we can get quick prototypes of multiple iterations of any product. The thing is we are obsessed with the vision of how our product has to be. So even if a 2-3 millimetre corner is missed, we can’t go ahead. CIE was a boon because we can’t get that many iterations from external vendors; they just don’t understand us. We had access to and used the 3D printing machines, laser cutting machines, CNC cutting machines, and even painting!” he exclaims.
Of Growth and Brand Value
The 9-member core team that is spread out across various locations in India is currently focused on the new product. It is scheduled to be formally launched in the next two months. “The idea is to position it such that it will make more sense to invest in this one product versus multiple products that people are currently using. We are currently building an ecosystem around the product,” says Sunil. With the company in the process of inking several strategic partnerships to widen its market reach and achieve its ambitious growth plans, there are definitely more radical products on the anvil.