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How this startup played a major role in controlling COVID in Chennai

Updated: May 9, 2022

Atsuya Technologies is the winner of the AI for Agriculture Hackathon conducted by Google + HUL and MyGov. In this post, we go through the journey of how Atsuya used its IoT system to control the COVID pandemic in Chennai.

India Today's report on the end to end COVID monitoring system developed by Atsuya Technologies

Founded in 2017, Atsuya is an internet of things (IoT) start-up that provides innovative solutions for sustainability. The Chennai-based company started out by offering an IoT solution that enabled refrigeration asset owners to not just monitor their refrigerators’ performance real time, but also view and control them from one simple mobile app. Within a year, Atsuya had built a significant client base with grocery retailers in India, and realized that there were other challenges they could help their clients solve. In 2018, the start-up began expanding its platform to work with clients to monitor and reduce energy consumption. Treat customers as partners, and not just clients - that is one of the core tenets of Atsuya Technologies, which provides innovative solutions for sustainability.

Team Atsuya Technologies

“Early in 2019, we realized that we were not just an IoT company but a company that focuses on creating sustainable outcomes,” explained Rahul Ganapathy, founder & CEO. “We were emerging as a sustainable solution provider.”

The company continued to expand its portfolio by monitoring facility usage of water, gas, and electricity. They involved customers in every stage of their growth by explaining the technological capabilities rather than the value proposition, and had customers help imagine the outcomes that could come with the use of that technology, with many of Atsuya’s solutions custom made for specific client challenges.

Ganapathy had been interested in technology from a young age. Coming from a small city in south India, he had always seen businesses and people looking out for ways in which operations could be enhanced. “I used to wonder – ‘Why can’t this be automated? Why can’t this be faster?’ That was always there.” He completed a Master’s degree in engineering and then an MBA, and spent his early career working with large international corporations in IoT. One such project involved helping one of the largest US food retailers reduce food waste in its refrigeration system.

Ganapathy started wondering – if food loss was such a challenge for a relatively efficient economy like the United States, what must the impact be for India and other developing countries?

He discovered that in India up to 40% of food is wasted throughout the food chain, mainly before reaching end consumers, and started thinking about how he could reduce that through technology with a social impact. “As a professional engineer, I was always interested to bring in technology for good. Technology is not always good.” Ganapathy was also inspired by a professor at his MBA program, who would remind students, “You should have passion but also compassion.”

This compassion for customers has been one of the ways in which Atsuya has been able to scale so rapidly over the past few years. The company always involves customers in the process of designing solutions and helping them gain maximum use from them.

“This gives a lot of confidence to the client about our technology. We’re not just going to be giving them hardware and saying you have a 1-year warranty to replace it. We have 3-5-year contracts. We are there to help them month to month, day to day, and there to help them improve their own operational metrics.”

Atsuya initially started out offering a full-stack solution for refrigeration. In India, grocery stores in areas where power cuts are frequent can experience significant amounts of food loss. Atsuya’s initial product notified managers when a failure was detected, but refrigeration systems normally go through cycles of varying temperatures and defrost periods. Feedback from customers led to Atsuya developing platform capabilities able to identify whether there was truly a system failure or simply a normal fluctuation.

This development helped set the stage for Atsuya to be able to provide further types of monitoring to help stores manage electricity usage, water and LPG resources and other internal systems. The company uses a system it calls the C2D2 ™ framework, which stands for “Connect, Collect, Detect, Direct.” After connecting systems, Atsuya’s platform collects data, detects potential problems, and can be used to direct customers to use technology more efficiently and improve operations. Atsuya also focuses heavily on adoption, and works closely with all stakeholders to help them use the new systems. “Change will bring resistance,” Ganapathy said. “Unless it is understood by all stakeholders, it will be very difficult to adopt sustainable solutions.” The company has grown rapidly since its inception, starting with a team of 4 and now employing 65 people.

The biggest challenge for Atsuya came when COVID-19 hit. The company had already been working on onboarding additional clients in Dubai and in other countries around the world, such as Malaysia. While domestic clients in India were considered essential services, which did not stop, COVID suddenly made focusing on scaling internationally impossible. Instead, the company's employees came together and thought about how they could use its own knowledge and resources to help alleviate the COVID crisis in India.

They began by using Atsuya’s technology platform to monitor the COVID situation, starting from patient admission. Eventually, two cities that adopted the technology were entirely managed by Atusya’s platform to help track cases, contact trace, and prevent the spread of COVID. “For me and my team, it was a golden opportunity because we had a whole social angle to it. It’s helping the city where we live and do business,” Ganapathy said. “At the same time, it is an opportunity to prove we have a stable platform that can be customized for any use-case. That gave us a lot of confidence, and we are now back on track for scale expanding operations.” The initiative was a true team effort, one where every team member needed to step up and pitch in, even while working remotely.

The company's experience with Manush Labs was also different from other accelerators Atsuya had worked with.

"Right from day one [with Manush Labs], the different teams interacted. There was a lot of peer learning - we learned a lot from other businesses, even if they were doing completely different things," Ganapathy said.

The program and experience with external mentors was also helpful. Companies were taken from vertical to vertical, developing various skillsets along the way. Mentors were also helpful in sharing opportunities that the company should look at, and understanding which customer segments to focus on. Ganapathy particularly appreciated how accessible mentors were throughout the process.

In the future, Atsuya plans to continue to focus its operations around the UN SDG Goals (it currently covers 8 of the 17), and to continue expanding globally, starting with the APAC region and moving to enter the EU market in the next 2-3 years. The company is continually focusing on new areas where it can add value, and is thinking about ways it could enter the agriculture sector even earlier in the supply chain. By working directly with customers and understanding their needs, Atusya is confident that it will continue to grow, as one good customer tends to bring more. In addition, Ganapathy is proud of the impact starting a company in India has created in terms of creating employment. “There have been a lot of bright minds who support me in this journey…we always feel proud as a team. Every time we go out and see different businesses, we have a touch in all the businesses we see. It is a proud moment for anyone in our company.”

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