Astrek Innovations - Removing "Dis" from "DisAbled"

Chayanika Goswami Chayanika Goswami
May 3, 2019 11 min read
Astrek Innovations - Removing "Dis" from "DisAbled"

Astrek Innovations Startup Success Story

Startup Name Astrek Innovations
Headquarter Kannur, Kerela
Founder Robin Thomas & Jithin Vidya Ajith
Sector Assistive Devices, Healthcare, Robotics
Founded 2018
Parent company Astrek Innovations Pvt. Ltd.

About Astrek Innovations
Rehabilitation Robotics Industry Details
Astrek Innovations - Founders
How was Astrek Innovations Started
Astrek Innovations - Launching Startup
Astrek Innovations - Name, Tagline and Logo
What is Astrek Innovations
Astrek Innovations - Business Model and Revenue Model
Astrek Innovations - User Acquisition
Astrek Innovations - Funding and Investors
Astrek Innovations - Startup Challenges
Astrek Innovations - Competitors
Astrek Innovations - Advisors and Mentors
Astrek Innovations - Awards
Astrek Innovations - Technology Used

Robotics is a rapidly emerging sector in India. It is being used in diverse fields like construction, manufacturing, logistics, search and rescue and also healthcare. Many pieces of research are being done in the field of rehabilitation robotics, which are helping people with disabilities to do their daily tasks. Astrek Innovations, a Kannur based startup is working towards easing the life of the disabled, through its lower limb exoskeleton developed to aid patients with walking disabilities.

About Astrek Innovations

Astrek Innovations is a Kannur based startup that has developed a lower limb exoskeleton. The exoskeleton aids patients with walking disabilities. The company is working with the vision is to create a portfolio of advanced technology enabled devices in the assistive technologies sector, thus bridging the gap between the common man and quality healthcare.

Through its product, Astrek Innovations want to aid patients with walking disabilities in their therapies and to perform simple utilitarian tasks. The company is working to make the product available at lower costs so that it becomes affordable for the economically backward class.  

We have devoted ourselves to creating technological advancements that would make life easier for a large section of the world who are looked down on when it comes to professional competence. We understand that transforming every facility to accommodate disabled people is not a practical plan while enabling a disabled person to access all facilities by himself can be a solution. Our work is focused on this mission.

Rehabilitation Robotics Industry Details

Astrek Innovations is working in the rehabilitation robotics industry. According to Technavio, Research and Markets, the global rehabilitation robots market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 27% from 641 million in 2018 to 6.4 billion USD by 2025. Here the Asia Pacific market is expected to have the highest growth values at 31.7% CAGR. The Middle Eastern market is expected to reach 1.54 Billion USD in 2023 at a rate of 22% CAGR. US-based companies like Ekso Bionics, ReWalk, etc., hold the highest market share but there is no clear dominator in this segment, owing to the variety of solutions and cost.

In India, as per the latest census (2011 census, updated in 2016), the movement disabled population is close to 53.6 lakhs of which 62% is male while the disability ratio is much more in rural areas. There are 256 District Disability Rehabilitation Centres and much more private establishments. Only a couple of facilities, like the ApoKOS Rehabilitation Centre and A4 Clinics, use robotics for rehabilitation.

Immobility due to paralysis of the lower limbs, or paraplegia, is quite common in our society. Disabled people face difficulties in everything from toiletries and getting a glass of water. Paraplegia is not just an individual’s issue and affects the whole family of the person, especially economically backward families. They also undergo a host of other diseases including cardiovascular, muscular, metabolic and paretic limb disorders. A gap exists for a device that reduces fatigue for patients, provided accurate gait cycles, tracked the patient's progress and helped with daily living situations. Spinal Cord Injury(SCI) is the leading cause of paraplegia and might be a result of accidents and falls. 500K SCI patients are added every year, according to WHO and about 60% face unemployment.

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Founders of Astrek Innovations and team

Robin Thomas and Jithin Vidya Ajith are founders of Astrek Innovations.

Robin Kanattu Thomas is the CEO of Astrek Innovations. He is a visionary leader and plans ahead for all possibilities.  

Jithin Vidya Ajith (COO – Astrek Innovations). He handles the business end of the startup and plays the devil's advocate when required to anticipate risks in the journey.

The other core members of the team are-

Alex M Sunny (CTO- Astrek Innovations)  leads the development and is somewhat of a geek in hardware technology.

Sidharth Sivadasan (Design) is the designer that makes the product appealing.  

Murshid Musthafa (PR and Productisation) is the peoples' person, going out to the field and talking to the target demography.  

Vishnu Sankar (Marketing) handles the marketing side of the startup.  

We were batch-mates and came together as a team to organize and volunteer for a program under IEEE in 2014. The event was a success and the team has been together since. Our first product idea, while in college, was a home automation system for energy conservation. Then we developed a design for wireless charging of implantable medical devices. Personal experiences with disability led us to an idea for an external device, an exoskeleton, for walking disabilities.

Astrek Innovations is currently limited to the founding team of 6 people and hasn’t begun hiring yet.

When we begin hiring, we would be looking for people who share our vision to use technology for good, have a good grasp on their respective talent and have the same sense of ‘jugaad’ as the founding team.
Astrek Innovations Team at Project LEAPS with volunteers

How was Astrek Innovations Started

The idea of working in the field of rehabilitation robotics came to the founders as two of the founders Robin and Sidharth had personal experience with disability in their families. Robin’s grandfather, once a healthy man, failed to recover his ability to walk after a fall. Again, one of Sidharth’s relative also became disabled after an accident. This experience taught them how it was like to look after and care for a disabled person. They realized the difficulties that the disabled and their family face daily. The lack of awareness and care programs came into the limelight. And thus the idea of creating something that could make the lives of the disabled and their family members easier was born.  

Starting up was more of an organic course for us. Inspirational stories, books and movies were a part of our life growing up while superhero movies like the Iron Man series drove our imagination. We chose to believe that the technological advancements that are fiction now could be achieved by us.  

The idea for the product was sparked by various sci-fi movies. On further research, the team found that there are wearable robotic devices in the market and being developed around the globe.  However, there was very little awareness of this fact and these solutions were out of reach, even for many govt. establishments. This revelation motivated them to jump into the field and take on the issue head-on.  

Though skeptical at first, our family and friends have been supportive, and in some cases thrilled, that we are on this path. Our parents have begun noting news articles and headlines relating to the startup ecosystem and notifying us about them when they can. This change in attitude has been really fun to observe.  

Relevant Read: How AI and ML is changing India's Food-tech domain

Astrek Innovations - Launching Startup

Robin, Alex, Jithin, Sidharth and Murshid all are 2018 engineering pass outs from Kannur University. In the initial stage, the TBI (Technology Business Incubator) Kannur University, provided them a small space to work out of, free, for around three months.

Later, Astrek Innovations was selected to be pre-incubated and subsequently incubated at Maker Village, a hardware incubator under the joint efforts of the Kerala Startup Mission and DST. In August 2018, the Astrek Innovations team moved to Maker Village. It was during incubation at Maker Village, we found out that we needed to register our startup as a company. Our company was incorporated on the 28th of September 2018.  

In September, Astrek Innovations also got selected for incubation under a joint program by Huddle and HealthStart India. Their support, mentorship and energy have been paramount in defining the learning curve of the company as said by Jithin.

The idea about the name 'Astrek Innovations' came to Alex while he was listening to music one night.

The story behind coming up with a name is quite interesting and has lead to some fun inside jokes. Our team has a shared living situation in Kochi, Kerala, where we are based out of now. Our initial name registration forms were rejected, twice, at the time. Our CTO, Alex has this habit of sleeping with music being pumped into his ears at high volumes. At around 2 am one night, he had his ‘eureka’ moment and woke us up with the name ‘Astrek’, derived from the phrase a ‘trek to astronomical heights’. We still don’t know what song he was listening to that night. :D

Astrek Innovation’s tagline is ‘Taking First Steps, Again’ The tagline is basically a pitch to the end user, urging them to take their first steps, again.

Astrek Innovation Logo

Astrek Innovations’ logo is designed to showcase the uniqueness of the team and the startup. Zebra is one of the most unique animals and the zebra in the logo shows the uniqueness of the startup, as said by Jithin.  

What is Astrek Innovations

Astrek Innovations is a Kannur based startup founded in the year 2018. Astrek Innovation has developed a lower limb exoskeleton (UnikXO) developed to aid patients with walking disabilities in their therapies and to perform simple utilitarian tasks. The device incorporates sensors and uses the data to create a motion analysis graph to recognize walking patterns. The device is intended to provide paraplegics with comfortable walk-in indoor spaces. This reduces the terrain variations and the complexities associated with it, bringing down the cost of the product.

The data from the sensors and motion analysis systems would be fed to a cloud platform for easy diagnosis, patient tracking and personalization.

The product would come with add-on devices (XO-Cradle and XO-Crutches) and customization to fit the needs of individual users. The devices would add stability and comfort to the patient. A rolling cradle add-on would be provided to reduce stress on the shoulders by eliminating the use of crutches. This would also eliminate the requirement of any special infrastructure requirements in rehab centers.

We have had to pivot from our initial design of a standalone exoskeleton to a device supported by add-on devices owing to feedback from the target market. Currently, we are developing our exoskeleton, named Unik XO, a rolling support device called XO-Cradle and smart crutches called XO-Crutches.

UnikXO’s USP is that the device would be designed with a hands-free mode with add-ons so that patients are not subjected to constant muscle fatigue, especially due to the use of crutches. This combined with the lower cost profile in comparison with the competitors should make the products attractive and affordable for our customers. Astrek Innovations will provide the full range of post-purchase support so that the patients are always comfortable with the devices.  

How UnikXO works

Astrek Innovations - Business Model and Revenue Model

Astrek Innovations’ initial target customers would be therapy/rehabilitation centers and hospitals. The patient would need training and familiarization with the product (UnikXO, XO cradle and XO crutches) and so the product would be mainly sold through medical establishments, when suitable for individual use. However the company will offer technical support in training, maintenance and data management. End users of the products are people with immobility issues (like paraplegia and stroke patients) or walking disabilities in the geriatric community.

Spinal cord injuries are categorized into complete injury (No sensory or motor functions below the level of injury) and incomplete injury (some sensory or motor function, or both). The device could be used with both types of injuries.

Astrek Innovations’ major revenue would be from the sale of the product and add-on devices. A cloud platform would be provided for patient monitoring and data analysis. This would be complimentary for an initial period and then rented out as per the agreement, similar to a freemium model.

Product customization for comfort and personalization would also be done at a premium.

Astrek Innovations - User Acquisition

Astrek Innovations’ product (UnikXO) is still in the research phase. The startup is building partnerships with various medical colleges and hospitals including the National Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Centre in Thrissur, Kerala for pilot testing and validation of devices.  

Astrek Innovations - Funding and Investors

Astrek Innovations has not raised any funds until now. However, the startup received an ideation grant of 2 Lakhs from the Kerala Startup Mission.

The process for the ideation grant consists of two sets of presentations before we can get the grant. These presentations helped us formulate our idea to achievable goals.  

The startup is completely bootstrapped and owned. To survive financially, initially, the founders had to take up freelance work in different fields. The Astrek Innovations team occasionally takes workshops and training sessions for engineering and school students in various fields including IOT and rapid prototyping to sustain the company and research.  

Astrek Innovations - Startup Challenges

As said by Jithin, the main challenge that Astrek Innovations is facing is that of a shortage of funds.

Being a medical device, we could not compromise on the quality and technical requirements of our components. This caused us to pivot our initial design to single motor design.  

Besides, lack of knowledge in research and product development was a challenge. The company’s POC (Proof of Concept) was prepared more by trial and error than systematic development, Jithin said. However, the team now has been able to adopt a more systematic approach to making developments.

As a team of freshers, we had great inertia in the starting phases of our venture. The ‘college air’ around us took some time to dissipate and this had led to some sluggish development pace. We had to start making conscious changes to our lifestyles to make time for everything, especially to overcome procrastination. One method we used was to put another person in charge of their own work. This way the person next to us was responsible to an extent for my work and I was responsible for the person beside me. This cycle of shared responsibility helped get things going.  

Astrek Innovations - Competitors

Some of the major competitors of Astrek Innovations are Ekso Bionics, ReWalk Robotics, SuitX by US Bionics Inc. and Parker Indego.

Astrek Innovations draws inspiration from these competitors in terms of product development. tThe developments being done by SuitX is quite intriguing and their vision is quite similar to that of Astrek Innovations. Their products are modular, light-weight and are one of the cheapest exoskeletons available.

Our design thinking involved the patient and their point of view. A patient cannot be expected to get used to such a device within a week. We want to be able to develop the user’s awareness and confidence in the technology they are strapping onto their body. This is why we give importance to the customization of the device and are also developing add-on devices that would be useful both in a clinical atmosphere and in home/office environments.  

Astrek Innovations - Advisors and Mentors

As said by Jithin, Astrek Innovations is lucky to find the right team of advisors and mentors who guide them to overcome challenges.  The mentors of Astrek Innovations are-  

  • Dr. Vishal Bansal, CEO of HealthStart India. He is a docpreneur, VC and mentor who has the vision, expertise and connections with which he promotes Astrek Innovations in the market as well as product validations.  
  • Sanil Sachar and Ishaan Khosla from the Huddle incubator mentor the startup in the business end. Their insights and guidance have been paramount in the way the startup presents itself to people.  
  • Dr. Suresh Nair, Founder, DesignAlpha, has been mentoring Astrek Innovations in engineering and product development.  

The startup is also supported by national institutes, hospitals and academicians in product development.

Astrek Innovations - Awards

Some of the events and contests where Astrek Innovations has been recognized are-

  • KSUM Young Innovators Program 2019 - National Finalist
  • Ventura’19 NIT Trichi - Finalist
  • Kerala Startup Mission(KSUM) - Idea Grant Receiver
  • NASSCOM ISED - Startup Award Winner
  • Startups Club Demo Day - Semi-Finalist
  • BRINC Singapore 2018 Batch - Semi-Finalist

One of the proudest achievements of Astrek Innovations in recent time was Project LEAPS (Life Enriching Assistive Products and Software Solutions). The program’s goal was independence by providing the ability to perform day-to-day activities. Astrek Innovations focussed on simple things like brushing teeth, dressing up which are the first lessons in self-reliance that have to be taught early. These products are being given to selected differently abled children free of cost after taking into consideration their specific needs. Much of the products have been made by Astrek Innovation’s team while some specific products have been sourced from external agencies.

Astrek Innovations - Technology Used

The 3D design engine CATIA by Dassault Systems has been paramount in getting the designs right for Astrek Innovations.

Our experience, starting up bootstrapped and then vying for funding, has been very intriguing and has brought about changes in our outlook of the world. We have begun to understand how the world around us works, how to move past our ego and how to push ourselves to work every day. Today, we wish someone would have told us to dream even bigger and to source those dreams with a wider knowledge base than we could have acquired from school curriculum.
Astrek Innovations Website

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