Gandharv and Lavina Bakshi with their solar backpacks on the outskirts of Bangalore Photo: Nilotpal Baruah/www.indiatodayimages.comem>
The idea struck Gandharv Bakshi after he graduated from IIM Bangalore (IIMB), which was after he had worked for four years with hardware technology company Tejas Networks. While at IIM Bangalore, Bakshi ran a small performance management consulting firm with friends. He had to travel frequently, and what got his goat was his phone battery dying on the way. He would carry a solar charger, but it was bulky and had to be constantly kept exposed to the sun. Offering a way out was his spouse Lavina, a NIFT graduate who worked as a designer for fashion brand Flying Machine. She stitched the solar charger on to his backpack. That was the germ of the idea that led Bakshi to opt out of placement at IIM Bangalore and focus on designing and building backpacks that could be charged using solar power. "A backpack that could merge with one's lifestyle," thought Bakshi.
Watch video :How mobile technology inspired Lumos' business plan
Working on their start-up Lumos Design Technology in late 2012 (Lavina had quit her job by then), the husband-wife duo started designing solar backpacks. The components included a rectangular piece of solar fabric, which has a thin film of solar cells fused together, and a battery fitted inside. The battery takes in solar energy from the fabric and stores the power, which can then be fed to a phone or laptop through any USB. However, getting the backpacks manufactured was a tough task. "We had to invest in training backpack makers on how to go about the whole process," says Lavina, who initially lost 10 per cent of the bags manufactured due to manufacturing defects.
|NAME: Lumos Design Technology|
AREA OF bUSINESS: Wearable Technology
YEAR OF INCORPORATION: 2012
COOL QUOTIENT: Designs lifestyle products, especially solar backpacks
The start-up started with seed funding of Rs 25 lakh from Google India MD Rajan Anandan, Rs 4.5 lakh from Siva Ramamoorthy, COO, N S Raghavan Centre for Entrepreneurial Learning (NSRCEL) at IIMB, and Rs 1 lakh from their own savings. Currently, Lumos targets a small market - bikers and cyclists aged between 20 and 35 - as these backpacks can fit into their lifestyle. These are people who travel long distances without access to power to charge their laptops, phones or tablets. "Though the overall backpack market is roughly around Rs 6,000 crore, we decided to focus on bikers and cyclists which would be a Rs 12 crore to Rs 15 crore market in Mumbai, Bangalore and Chennai alone," says Bakshi. "For a start-up, reaching the mass market can be incredibly costly." Having made their first sale to Mukund Mohan, Director, Microsoft Ventures India, and Vineet Sharma, Technical Head at OWS Technical Services, in an early sales experiment, the start-up sold five bags through BumsOnTheSaddle - a bicycle shop in Bangalore.
Although solar backpacks are not new, there aren't many manufacturers in India. Andhra Pradesh-based Suntek Energy Systems stopped making solar backpacks a few months ago. There are US-based companies like Voltaic Systems and Innovus Designs Inc, which makes solar backpacks under its brand Eclipse Solar Gear. Besides, there are a host of Chinese manufacturers making solar backpacks as well.
One of Lumos's differentiators is the lightness and stretchability of the bags as per the contents inside. "We achieve this by using solar fabric instead of solar panels stuck to the bag," says Bakshi. The start-up has also filed a patent for the trickle charging technology, which enables a device to be charged even using natural light in a room.
Carrying a price tag of around Rs 5,000, the company has garnered sales worth Rs 1.9 lakh since the product's commercial launch in January this year. Lumos is trying novel sales channels like tying up with employee rewards companies like Kwench and Loyalty Rewards. "Employees that earn points on their performance, can redeem these points for our solar backpacks," says Bakshi, who recently listed on online marketplace Snapdeal and is also talking to other marketplaces to drive sales.
In the longer run, Lumos wants to be a wearable tech company and is designing a range of such products. Targeting people who drive their car to work, Lumos launched solar-fitted briefcases that can be kept at the back, receiving sunlight to charge devices. The company is testing its products in strong backpack markets like Malaysia, The Philippines and Australia, and is developing a range of prototypes - solar-powered jackets, backpacks that can lift their own weight and backpacks fitted with music speakers.
It is early days for Lumos yet, and the company will face sizeable challenges in terms of carving out distribution channels and business models. At Rs 5,000, solar backpacks from Lumos are not for the mass market, so sales taking off with a niche segment will depend a lot on marketing and brand building efforts, which will need loads of capital.
Kranthi Vistakula, an MIT student, had developed a patented technology Climacon to make jackets that could adjust temperatures on need. The specialised jackets were at least three times costlier than other branded jackets, and Vistakula stopped manufacturing them in 2010. "Scaling a product that is not mass market is extremely tough for start-ups unless they have the capital to spend big on branding and promotion," says Vistakula, CEO of Dhama Innovations. His company has now carved out a new application of the technology with other products such as coasters and pain relieving braces, which are used by patients to warm or cool a body part.
"For us, Dhama Innovations is yet a role model, not a competitor," says Lumos's Bakshi.