Tapping Solar Energy and New Touchstone to Innovators

By Gandharv S Bakshi, Co-Founder, Lumos Design Technology

Gandharv S Bakshi, Co-Founder, Lumos Design Technology

Founded in 2012, Lumos Design Technology is headquartered in Bangalore and specializes in solar energy, research and development, apparel design, accessories design and electrical design. The company has raised Rs.25 lakhs funds from Google India.

In 2012, we started Lumos Design Technology, which is probably India’s first wearable technology company. We started Lumos with a mission to tap a majority of the 500W of energy that falls on us every day, and use it for various purposes. Our first commercial product is a Solar Backpack (that can charge phones) but we are also working on a range of Solar Jackets (that charge phones in your pocket) and Solar T-shirts (that can play videos). Some of these products are being made for the first time in the world, right here in India. While it is a satisfying journey, it is also a very challenging one. Some of these challenges might be specific to innovating in a Start-up in India.

Fundamentally innovation and uncertainty go hand-in-hand. This uncertainty could be at multiple levels – would you be able to create the technology, would you be able to manufacture the product and would you be able to sell it? An innovator requires the eco-system to adjust to this uncertainty.

To be able to create the technology (i.e., perform the actual Research and Development) you need three things – talent, guidance/mentoring and the raw material. Finding talent is a significant challenge for our ecosystem since very few engineers/scientists have worked in Wearable Technology before. This can be dependent on the sector – for example, Bangalore now boasts of significant talent in Internet and Mobile technologies and R&D talent may not be as big a challenge in those sectors. Finding guidance can be another significant problem – as an innovator, you are looking for mentoring from someone who has a broad knowledge of all the technological developments in this field and has also perfected the process of converting ideas to usable technology.

To be able to make the product (or prototypes), you need support from two external parties – suppliers and manufacturers. A new innovative offering is unlikely to provide the volumes that some of the best suppliers and manufacturers demand. Hence, the innovator can be stuck with a below-par manufacturer or supplier. At Lumos, in order to work with the best, we have not only provided financial incentives (like higher margins) but also soft ones (like telling them the Lumos story and the exciting road-map). Public Relations and being backed by a well-known entity (the Managing Director of Google India, in the case of Lumos) helps tremendously in these aspects.
Additionally, we have had to procure components from all across the world – innovating close to a manufacturing base (like China) has proved to be helpful. Yet, importing a majority of the components usually affects the innovator financially.

The final part involves the commercialization of the product. Occasionally, innovative products (like wearable technology) are often unhindered by regulation since the regulators have not started working on this sector yet. However, this can also add uncertainty about the future. Finally, an innovator wants to be close to a market with a large number of early adopters. This is especially important since significant improvements (in terms of making an innovative product more usable) come from feedback of the first set of customers. In B2C or B2B markets, early adopters exhibit different traits from mainstream market; more excited about trying new technology, they are more forgiving, and generally are risk-takers.
In the context of Lumos, we have been blessed to be in Bangalore. Bangalore boasts of a large number of gadget-enthusiasts who are willing to try new products like Solar Apparel.
Additionally, by being close to Tirupur, Lumos is also close to a good manufacturing base for apparel and accessories. Finally, in terms of talent, Bangalore boasts of a large number of Electronics R&D companies (like Cisco, General Electric) and Apparel design companies (like Arvind Mills, Madura Garments). Hence, I believe that location plays a very significant role when it comes to building a new innovative product company.

One issue that usually troubles innovators is Intellectual Property protection, which can often be a double edged sword. Typically, innovators are free-thinkers and dislike closed or overly protected markets. However, once they have created their own IP, they also want it to be protected. In India, the confidence on patents as a protection mechanism is low and yet, is an important investment that an innovator must make. Patents, along with other forms of IP, help improve the monitory value of the invention and the company, and are powerful tools for both marketing and protection.

If you are an entrepreneur-cum-innovator, you also have a very specific problem. Entrepreneurship, in the Indian context, is a general management role. An entrepreneur handles product development, R&D, sales and marketing, finance and administration. This diversity can place a significant burden on an entrepreneur and often, an entrepreneur-innovator would struggle to maintain focus on the innovation. Hence, an entrepreneur-innovator must also develop skills in being able to switch contexts rapidly and maintain the discipline to focus on the important (and not just urgent) issues in a company.

To conclude, a few locations in India do offer a helpful eco-system for innovation and Lumos is fortunate to be in one such location. The world has seen several innovations come out of the work done by Indians. It is time that the world also sees innovations from Indians come out of India and, given the growth projections over the next 20 years, we are quite likely to see this happening. It is this excitement that motivates us to work through all the above challenges and we are looking to be accompanied by several others in building India into an innovation hub.

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