Interview by Marija Butkovic @MarijaButkovic
Chakshu Saharan is the founder and MD of Ignius. Being an IoT enthusiast, Chakshu is passionate about bringing the advantages of connected technologies to address some of the most compelling 'use-cases' primarily in emerging markets – where the need is greater but resources fewer. Based in London, she has over 10 years experience as a Management Consultant in the UK, Europe and India for leading multinationals.
What is the idea behind Ignius and how did you come up with it?
Ignius was set up with the purpose of using tech to solve real world problems, women’s safety being one of them. As is evident from the #MeToo movement, the issue of sexual harassment and violence is a global one, but in countries like India, it is at critical levels. The fear of violence is pushing women out of public spaces, education and employment to the extent that nearly 20 million women have left the workforce in the last 8 years, citing safety as one of the primary reasons for this decision. 97% feel unsafe in cities like Delhi and nearly 900 are assaulted, kidnapped or killed everyday. As an Indian woman myself, I say we’ve had enough and I decided to embark on the journey to tackle this problem which I’ve had first hand experience of on numerous occasions!
We are building an alerting solution that includes a wearable device to mobilise help in emergencies. We aren't focussing on keeping women 'safe' but actually working towards making women have an equal right in enjoying their lives without the threat of sexual violence. Whilst, the only way to do this is through change in societal mindsets, which as we know will take time, we believe that advances in digital connectivity, wearable devices and location technology can help address this issue right away.
Whilst India's public infrastructure is still improving, we are putting this responsibility in the hands of the private sector. Our first target audience are employers who would put this security ecosystem in place for their women employees.
When did all start and do you have other members in your team?
We started in 2016 and I have my co-founder, Rajeev Nandan along with a team of advisors. I look after product development whilst he leads Commercial partnerships.
How long did it take you to be where you are now?
It took us two years to get to where we are now. Our goal has been to build a solution that meets specific needs of our end users and for this purpose we took time to conduct user tests right from the beginning, even with the very basic ‘proof of concept’.
What was the biggest obstacle?
Biggest obstacle for us was to convince our target audience that our solution isn’t yet another smartphone app or a device that looks promising but fails to deliver and rightly so, as many products especially safety apps have been launched that lack user insight. Getting them to understand how our solution is simpler yet different has been a challenge.
What are your biggest achievements to date?
For Ignius, the biggest achievement was to travel to Shenzhen to meet potential manufacturing partners all thanks to our amazing Accelerator CRL, who organized the trip!
What are the challenges of being an entrepreneur in the niche you are in? How about being a female founder / entrepreneur?
As they say, hardware is HARD and I couldn’t agree more. Investment is a big challenge as hardware startups require considerably higher investment and ROI could take time whilst the product goes through sometimes lengthy development iterations. Wearable tech and especially the kind of tech we are developing also has the challenge of ensuring reliability within the constraints of the size of the product.
As a female founder, I haven’t experienced particular challenges as such. In fact, this is great time to be a woman entrepreneur with the upward trend of active encouragement for female founders. There is an increasing emphasis on encouraging women to pursue careers in the technology industry.
What are your projects you are currently working on?
At the moment, completely focussed on getting the Ignius solution in the hands of our customers.
Is #WomenInTech movement important to you and if yes, why?
Not only tech, I believe diversity is crucial for any business’s success, purely because you need different perspectives and fresh ideas. Research indicates that companies in the top quartile for gender, racial and ethnic diversity are 33% more likely to have higher financial returns (McKinsey & Company, 2018). Being a Talent Practitioner in my corporate life, I think the answer is not in just aiming to recruit more women, but in encouraging girls in schools to take up technology so they consider pursuing it as a career and then creating conducive environment for better work life balance at mid career stage for women to stay in the industry and in time take up leadership positions.
What is the most important piece of advice you can give to all female founders and female entrepreneurs out there?
I would say, be ambitious! As women, we tend to go conservative on everything from forecasting revenue, company valuations to asking for the right level of investment because we worry we might have got it wrong or our idea isn’t investible. Don't let self doubt hold you back, go out there and don't be scared to fail.
What will be the key trends in the wearable tech industry in the next 5 years and where do you see it heading?
If we talk about fitness trackers, I think enhanced biometric monitoring and use of AI in early detection would be some key trends in future. Being able to provide medical data in real time to manage emergencies is where I see the future of these wearables.
With relation to smart fabrics, we are already seeing applications in sports and I think the trend would be for this technology to become more integrated in everyday clothing such as your gym gear to keep you cool whilst giving you fitness data so you sweat less and pump more! Technology such as Google’s Project Jacquard with yarns that can interact and communicate with smartphones and other personal digital devices will get widely adopted.
With VR and smart glasses, I’d say my prediction is for it to become more immersive, widely adopted (for advertising/education) at lower cost.
Who are your 3 inspirational women in wearable tech?
Hadeel Ayoub of BrightSign, Tania Boler of Elvie, Francesca Rosella of CuteCircuit.
Linkedin: Chakshu Saharan