Gaurav Mittal never thought he would become an entrepreneur. Neither did he have any idea about how difficult the lives of visually impaired people would be. But here he is today, an accidental entrepreneur on a mission to make the lives of the visually impaired people independent.
GingerMind.ai – Founded by Gaurav Mittal, Subodh and Vaibhav Asthana in 2015
Recipient of one of 35 “National Startup Award 2020”, Government of India
Counted among “Top 15 Artificial Intelligence Start-ups in 2020” by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, Government of India
Featured in Emerge50 – top 50 start-ups of 2019 by NASSCOM
An IIT BHU alumnus, Gaurav came down to Bangalore for his first job at Citrix technologies. During one of the CSR visits to a facility for the visually impaired, Gaurav was deeply touched by how a young blind man was fascinatingly tech-savvy, but struggled to get around to do this own personal tasks. That’s when it struck him that technology could be a tremendous facilitator for the visually impaired. He went about approaching this spark of thought as a hobby project and started working on developing hardware prototypes. As he started investing himself for the cause, the cause started pulling him in more and more. He started getting grants from Microsoft, Citrix and Intel and soon he realised that it was time to quit his job and pursue the cause.
Gaurav founded GingerMind.ai along with Subodh and Vaibhav Asthana in 2015. They aim to leverage the power of technology to make words like ‘impaired’ and ‘challenged’ redundant by 2030. When they started off the team seemed to tread on the oft-beaten track of developing yet another hardware device for the blind. There were limitations to this approach. “In 2015, an intern from IIT-Guwahati made us realize that we can use a smartphone app rather make dedicated hardware for the visually impaired. We pivoted. That app has impacted 70,000 users till date, all thanks to that intern”, says Gaurav.
This smartphone app, called Eye-D, is designed to facilitate navigation and movement for its users. “The visually impaired find it hard to do small daily tasks independently – like reading a printed book or knowing which bus stop they are standing or simply moving around. Most of the public spaces in India are hard to navigate even for sighted”, says Gaurav. Eye-d incorporates Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, and Virtual Reality to help its users to solve all these everyday problems. The app acts as a constant companion for the users and reduces their dependency. The users do not have to keep asking people for directions; the app will tell them their location and the direction. When they are on a bus, the app will notify them when their stop will arrive. When there are textual instructions and notices displayed in public places, the users can just scan them and the app will read out the text for them.
In one of the most heartening interactions that Gaurav had with a person with 100% blindness, the request that came from him was, “Can you help me identify colours?” This is one very basic problem that the blind face, for example the simple task of choosing the colour combination of a shirt and a pant. Gaurav was awestruck by this request and he decided that his team will solve this problem. And they did. The users can now use the Eye-D app, point it to an object and the app will tell him what colour the object is.
Eye-D has a userbase of 70,000 people in 160+ countries and is available in 15 different languages
Like this, all the features of the Eye-D app are designed with insights from the needs of the customer. The customers an integral cog in the product development process and are also the alpha and beta testers. The organization also believes that customer needs are unlocked as they use the product and hence, they work in tandem with the customers.
Using deep-tech, AI and Augmented Reality, GingerMind.ai is making colleges and public places “accessible” for walking for the visually impaired. The team did a pilot with Barcelona City Council, Spain, in 2019 and currently doing a pilot with IIM Bangalore.
Apart from being involved in product development, the users are also the generous marketing team for the organization. To date, GingerMind.ai has not spent a single penny on marketing. It’s the word of mouth from the happy customers that has increased its user base to 70,000 people in 160+ countries till date. The visually impaired community is strongly interconnected and whenever they find something useful, they are more than enthusiastic to share it with their community. Interestingly, within just one month of the launch of Eye-D, Gaurav got a request from Brazil to have the app launched in Portuguese language. With this kind of user-generated demand, who needs a marketing budget! Also, thanks to several media reports and awards, the good work that the organization does is being recognized. GingerMind.ai was the recipient of one of 35 “National Startup Award 2020” given away by the Government of India and counted among the “Top 15 Artificial Intelligence Start-ups in 2020” by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, Government of India. They were also featured among the Emerge50 – top 50 start-ups of 2019 by NASSCOM.
One of the realities that dawned upon Gaurav and his team is that it is not just enough to develop an app if they have to truly touch the lives of the visually impaired. There are deep rooted problems. Most of the visually impaired are not financially independent. Many do not have smartphones and their families are poor. When the team started thinking about how they could help them increase their income, they found that higher education was a barrier for many. Out of 8 million people who are 100% blind, only 3000 make it to colleges. The main reason for this was that their families were worried about how their wards would go about in colleges. Having got to the root of this problem, GingerMind.ai started driving its innovations towards solving this problem. They decided to use deep-tech, AI and Augmented Reality to making colleges and public places “accessible” for walking for the visually impaired.
The team did a pilot with Barcelona City Council, Spain, in 2019 and is currently doing a pilot with IIM Bangalore. Basaviah, a visually impaired employee of IIM Bangalore, was one of the first to test this app and he completed 1 kilometre of unassisted walking using the app at the Institute. “This is a great achievement for someone like Basaviah who was otherwise dependent on his colleagues to get around the campus throughout his 30-year service at IIM Bangalore. No one has attempted anything like this before and that makes it all the more exciting”, says Gaurav.
For Gaurav and his team, the mission was born and it fuelled their innovations. Every single thing that they do is connected to the mission of bringing independence to the lives of the visually impaired. When the goal is clear, challenges like finding the best engineers as a bootstrapped start-up become surmountable. Gaurav says they have been lucky to find socially motivated people to join their team. He also beamingly says that the world is full of good people who have been greatly supportive of their initiatives.
GingerMind.ai is looking to make 10 Institutes of National Importance “accessible” using deep-tech for students with vision impairment by 2023. They are looking to raise funds in grants and donations by Feb 2021 for the same. Anyone interested can get in touch with Gaurav. URL is given below.