In India, there are anywhere between 40 to 80 million persons with disabilities (PwDs)— ie, one in twelve households has a family member with a disability. However, due to low literacy levels, social stigma and lack of opportunities, people with disabilities remain the most excluded members of society. A large number of children with disabilities stay out of school, disabled adults are likely to be unemployed, families with a disabled member tend to be economically weaker, and the ageing population puts a lot financial stress at both the household and national levels.
Though need for Assistive Technologies is well established, India lacks a vibrant market for disruptive AT solutions that can uplift people with disabilities. This is because the AT industry’s value chain is broken; distribution, sales and service mechanisms are poorly established, and, in many cases, non-existent. The disabled population is highly fragmented across the nation, and access is restricted due to a lack of formalized market channels. Moreover, the gap between need and affordability is huge, thus making it extremely difficult for persons with disabilities to access the latest innovations.
Social Alpha and Small Industries Development Bank of India (SIDBI) have joined hands to set up the Swavalamban Divyangjan Assistive Tech Market Access (ATMA) fund, a first of its kind inclusion fund offering financial grant to Social Alpha-incubated startups working in the Assistive Technology sector. Each start-up will have access to implementation support of up to Rs 20 lakh. The fund will finance upto 50% of product price for the initial users improving the access and reducing the out of pocket expenditure for procuring new technologies.
Assistive Technologies is an emerging market opportunity in India. Social Alpha has been playing a pioneering role in market creation through its technology incubation, venture acceleration and seed capital programmes. In addition to providing access to risk capital, Social Alpha has been building a network of clinical partners and NGOs to support the innovative startups in their lab to market journey.
Speaking about this partnership, Manoj Kumar, CEO and co-founder, Social Alpha, said: “Creating new markets in Assistive Technologies has been a big challenge and requires significant investment in ecosystem development. ATMA fund heralds a new era for the Assistive Technology sector by enabling early adoption of innovative solutions. We believe that the reduction in out-of-pocket expenditure will catalyse demand, which is essential for the long-term sustainability and growth of entrepreneurial risk taking in this sector. We are happy to partner with SIDBI as its support can help scaling this fund to include pan-India incubators while offering a much-needed boost to this sector’s research and development efforts.”
Speaking about this partnership, Shri. V Satya Venkata Rao, Deputy Managing Director, SIDBI said, “MSMEs and the development sector are the worst impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. Taking cognizance, Government, through Atma Nirbhar Bharat Abhiyan, has taken measures to boost the MSME sector to be instrumental in the economic revival of the country. With SIDBI’s vast experience in catering to MSMEs and operating various funds, developing a Social Impact fund i.e., Swavalamban Divyangjan ATMA Fund comes as an opportunity to be part of this mission.”
The startups will be able to apply for Social Alpha incubation throughout the year. Applying start-ups will go through a rigorous selection process. Social Alpha will identify the assistive technologies that need support and evaluate the business plan. The incubatees will also be eligible for Social Alpha follow-on investment, subject to further due diligence.
The ATMA fund will be an instrument to improve both the quality and accessibility of newer assistive technology products trying to enter the market. It can inspire a radical rethinking of the disability sector.
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