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Being one of the six winners at YSE Global 2021, Vembi shares plans to scale up their social business in India to make learning equitable and joyful for children with visual impairments.
In conversation, the leaders of Vembi Technologies, Ms Vidhya Yella Reddy (Co-Founder) and Mr Anshumaan Agrawal (Sales & Marketing Head) have to share about their journey as entrepreneurs. They talk about their inspiration, their views about the Indian social innovation space and their future plans.
What inspired you to start your social enterprise and tell us about your winning idea?
Vembi Technologies was started to cater to the needs of accessible education for persons with visual impairments in the Global South. Since the world’s blind population largely resides in the Global South, our aim is to address this price-sensitive market which is starved of technology-enabled solutions in education.
Vidhya Y, Co-founder of Vembi Technologies, has been visually impaired since birth and has experienced challenges in her educational journey due to a lack of content in braille. Her experiences in studying STEM-related subjects as a blind student despite several barriers propelled the Vembi team to embark on a journey to address the huge gap in the market for quality reading content in braille.
This led the Vembi research team to design the Hexis-Antara platform that combines a refreshable braille display with an accessible content management platform to convert content in various Indian languages to braille on demand.
Share your experience of participating in YSE 2021 Programme by highlighting key segments – ‘Pitching for Change’ and working alongside mentors and industry experts from different nationalities?
The Singapore International Foundation’s Young Social Entrepreneurs (YSE) Global 2021 programme gave us a chance to network with other social entrepreneurs, thought leaders, mentors and investors from other countries despite the travel restrictions.
Overall, we gathered new knowledge and skills which will help us to shape and strengthen our business models to sustain the business. It also gave us more clarity about our offerings and made us more confident to pitch to potential investors across the globe.
We were also inspired by the journey of YSE programme alumni who are currently successful business professionals and social entrepreneurs from Singapore and around the world. There was great learning by being one amongst many inspirational teams and knowing about their approach to solving challenges among various communities and their unique business strategies.
During these challenging times, we are grateful to the YSE network for providing continuous support and resources for our entrepreneurship journey. We look forward to meaningful collaborations with them to take our solutions to their countries.
What are your immediate plans with respect to the funding?
Vembi Technologies plans to utilise the grant money (up to S$20,000) from YSE for the following key activities:
Research & Development for Cost Optimisation, Product Engineering to Improve Hexis Usability, Accessibility Testing of Antara Platform, Marketing Collaterals: Impact Video, Testimonials, Posters and Brochures, and Market Development.
Funds will also be used to acquire key resources to strengthen the above activities through the in-house team and by outsourcing certain activities.
Where do you see Vembi Technologies in the next 5 years?
Vembi Technologies’ vision is to create technology solutions to empower persons with visual impairment. Vembi plans to enable equitable access to education to next-generation learners to avoid the struggles that children with visual impairment like Vidhya face even today. Through the Hexis-Antara solution, Vembi Technologies aims to bring back the joy of leisure reading which was missing for centuries in the lives of children with visual impairment.
Vembi Technologies will reach the Hexis-Antara and other technologies which are critical in creating equitable and inclusive education, especially focusing on India over the next 5 years. We see ourselves working with students and teachers in at least 500 schools across the country providing age-appropriate reading material to all students with visual impairments in these schools.
Besides being an advisor on inclusive education to the World Society for Information Systems (WSIS), Vidhya has been appointed as the WSIS Gender Trendsetter in March 2022. In this capacity, she will ensure outreach to many countries across the world to improve access to technology-based solutions for the empowerment of women and girls. In the next 5 years, our mission is to globally distribute the high-quality accessible and affordable technologies designed by Vembi.
Tell us how your products and services are different from your competitors?
Vembi Technologies offers the Hexis-Antara solution which combines a refreshable Braille Display specifically designed for children, with an accessible content management platform to convert content in any Indian language to Braille on demand. Hexis-Antara was created to be affordable and allows teachers and students to access classroom content on demand.
The existing refreshable braille displays (RBDs) in the market are not designed specifically with the school-going child in India in mind. These devices are complex to navigate, and student feedback suggests that difficult for children to learn to use them and the lack of access to age-appropriate curated reading material has led to their low uptake in India. Generic RBDs are priced between ~ INR 40,000 and INR 1,60,000 based on the complexity of the device.
Vembi’s Antara is an accessible content management platform, which plugs into the school workflow seamlessly. Antara provides a plethora of grade-appropriate curated content available in vernacular languages in braille on demand. Rich Analytics allows teachers or caregivers to track student performance. Hexis-Antara is the most affordable solution globally priced at INR 22,000.
What are your views on social innovation in India and its impact on the future economy?
Over the last three decades, the large pool of trained engineers has established themselves as expert technologists contributing to the positioning of India as the largest Information Technology solution provider in the world.
Additionally, Indian universities have focused on innovation and entrepreneurship to address the large social challenges in the current decade. NASSCOM Tech Start-Up Report 2021 – Year of The Titans reports 25,000 ~ 26,000 startups were founded over the period 2011 – 2021 addressing challenges ranging from Agriculture, Healthcare, Educational Technology, Fin-Tech, Retail Technology etc.
We envision a highly vibrant social innovation ecosystem in India, fostered by support from the government, coupled with corporations focusing on social responsibility and universities fostering a pool of passionate and enterprising graduates.
We at Vembi Technologies are excited to be part of this journey to build the foundations of a rapidly growing and sustainable Indian economy.
For more information, visit vembi.in.