Project Mudra: A conversation with Sanskriti Dawle
Project Mudra is a startup that came out of an Indian university, and aims to put Braille within reach - literally - of all visually impaired people. I came across it a year or so ago, when I first mentioned it in my newsletter. I then met Sanskriti Dawle, one of the founders, in London recently as the startup is part of the current cohort of the Mass Challenge accelerator, and she kindly consented to answer a few questions about how they've been progressing since then:
Project Mudra is a project that came out of your time at university in India. What was the brief, and how did you and the team come upon a braille dictaphone as a solution? Why did you pick that as a problem to solve?
We started off as a Raspberry Pi project, an experimental prototype of a Braille alphabet song as a logical tactile analog to a visual seven segment display. What ultimately made us focus on the problem of Braille literacy was the feedback we got from users - it’s an important issue for a lot of people, and (notably) solvable by building the right technology.
What progress have you made on the device since you first launched?
We have gone through several iterations of product design. Our device can now teach reading, writing and typing in Braille via a unique audio-tactile virtual tutor.
Tell us about your work with potential users of the device. What has their feedback been and how are you using it to refine the product?
Potential users have suggested lot of basic features which we have incorporated. Our device has reached its current form factor and layout by working in conjunction with blind schools and RCBs in Hyderabad and Goa, India.
You've so far received investment from Indian businessman Anand Mahindra. Where are you in your fundraising journey now, what kinds of investors (and their corresponding skills) are you looking for?
We are talking to some Angel Networks in India and the UK. We are primarily looking for investors who can walk with us on the fine line balancing impact and ROI! Some of the specific skills we’re looking for are hardware experience, experience working with governments and large philanthropic organisations.
You recently won an award at Conquest 2016 in India. Now, as a participant in Mass Challenge UK as well, what have you learned and how will you take those learnings to improve your startup?
I have learnt to focus on running the company v/s just building the product. The product is at the core of our value proposition; however there are many other pieces of the puzzle that must be given attention. Working alongside startups in completely different spheres from my own at MassChallenge has made me realise that we are all on the same journey.
What are your market expansion plans? When will the device be able to to buy in India and what partnerships are you working on, if any?
Our initial market lies in the developed countries and hence setting up a UK base is important to us, in order to eventually expand to the EU. We are looking for partnerships with corporates that run CSR and other impact-driven activities, and with organisations working with the blind outside of India. We are already selling the device to some of our partner blind schools in India, and hope to open up consumer orders by the end of this year.
What are your thoughts on competitors in this space - how do you hope Project Mudra will help the ed-tech space evolve?
Our primary competitors are trained Braille (human) tutors. But since their penetration is so low, they view our device as a major productivity booster rather than a competitor. Our indirect competitors are companies like Perkins and Humanware that are the market leaders in Braille technology. In order for a blind person to use existing technology, it is essential that the person is Braille literate, which is facilitated by our product. Hence we will in fact increase the pipeline of customers for Braille Tech products in the market - looking forward to exciting progress in the edtech/accessibility space!