IIT Kanpur: How strong mentorship upended the low-cost ventilator project of IIT Kanpur-backed Nocca Robotics


IIT Kanpur-backed Nocca startup Robotics was recently hailed for developing a low cost ICU-grade ventilator to help coronavirus patients. Interestingly, the ventilator project came into effect responding to a call from the Prime Minister. Saurabh Srivastava, Chairman, Tie Delhi-NCR and IAN Fund, one of the leading investors of Nocca, on Friday talked about how after a letter from the PM, a task force developed a high quality low-cost ventilator in 90 days.

Nocca’s ventilator project had many hands on deck, including IIT Kanpur alumni network, doctors, biomedical engineers and the startup received tremendous support from IAN Fund.

“Most of us will face many challenges in life but they are unlikely to be as big as this pandemic. The world stops, factories and businesses are shut. We, the investors and mentors, are going around telling startups to cut costs, extend your runway, make sure you have a cash flow to survive for next 18 months,” he said at a virtual event SmashUp! 2020 organised by TiE Delhi-NCR in association with 10Times.

IAN Fund has been mentoring Nocca since its early days when the company had produced a waterless solar plant cleaning robot. When coronavirus struck India and the need for more healthcare equipment, particularly ventilators, arrived, IIT Kanpur got a letter from Prime Minister Narendra Modi asking to help with the scarcity of ventilators in the country. Amitabha Bandyopadhyaya, IIT Kanpur incubation centre in-charge and co-founder of Nocca Robotics, then sent the letters to all the incubation centres.

“By March 23, Nocca had a prototype ready and they had reached out to me. We had a projection of 90 days. Within 90 days, we had planned to produce and distribute 10,000 ventilators which will be high quality, made of indegenous components and will be affordable. Creating a medical product as such and bringing it to the market takes at least 2-3 years, we had 90 days,” he said.

At that point of time, Srivastava and the Nocca team had understood that existing business models will not work so decided to re-engineer how a product will be made and formed a task force. He brought on board many more people who had wide experience in hardware product designs, people from healthcare and medtech industry, among others.

“IIT Kanpur’s entire incubation team was there for the whole time. From March end to the next 70 days, till very recently, we would have a virtual call every day of the week, including Sunday and spend at least 1.5 hours on it. Many of us would spend another two hours after that making other calls to basically do what we have just ended. Most of the people in the task force had never even met each other physically,” he said.

Srivastava acknowledged that there were many issues during the whole project such as last minute bug in the software and unavailability of required hardware components. Manufacturing took a lot of procedures and the task force needed a lot of government help during the lockdown, especially to help us open the factory to manufacture and for testing facilities.

“Further, the government requirements kept changing, the specifications kept changing. There were companies in the market who were providing fake certificates to the government to build ventilators, we had to take care of that issue too. Everything was done by someone in the task force,” he said.

Nikhil Kurele, co-founder, Nocca Robotics, emphasized on the fact that the mentors worked more as the founding team members in the project. Kurule said he was never overwhelmed with suggestions but instead all suggestions were discussed with everyone rather than orders and enhancements were made.

Talking about building a business during the pandemic, said, “You have to keep your eyes wide open & identify the right opportunities. This was possible because everyone was clear with the end goal. Everyone knew their role in the project and every single thing was aligned.”

Nocca and IIT Kanpur have signed an agreement with Bharat Dynamics, the defence public sector company, for manufacturing the ventilators.





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