The first COVID19 infection in Kerala was reported on the 30th of January. Slowly, restrictions came into place. People got worried. Quality masks were in short supply, and some started stocking up. Companies were preparing for work from home. Rejin’s startup decided to start WFH early, despite being a hardware company. And like most engineers he started thinking how to fight the looming crisis. On the 16th of March 2020, nation wide restrictions started. On that day he made a list of ideas and sent it to his school classmate Dr.Praveen Pai. And started a discussion with the IEEE Kerala Section and the Kerala Startup Mission, two organisations he was connected to.
Dr.Praveen Pai responded enthusiastically and identified contact tracing as the urgent requirement. Together they made a plan, and sent out a document. Two days later they found out that a startup is doing similar work, and had progressed a lot. They turned in their documents to that team, and Praveen started helping them out with his expertise in Public Health.
Relieved of a demanding task, they turned their attention to ventilators. They setup a chat group, and brought in friends and their friends who were eager to help. Soon lockdown would come into effect, and manufacturing would be difficult. Forunately the Kerala Startup Mission offered help through its fablabs, technical skills, and connections to the manufacturing ecosystem in Kerala. The KSUM CEO Prof.Saji Gopinath was very helpful. The device was basic, and was named the RespiratorApparatus. The team called themselves the BreathOfHope. And went on to do several iterations to make the design ready for industrial production.
During this time, Rejin would talk to several people, include Unnisankar from IEEE and Michael Mathews from KSUM. These discussions contributed to many changes. A week after the first list was sent, Barker Bhaskaran, Rejin’s friend. called to discuss about a mask idea. Barker worked nearly all his career at Apple Inc, and was very concerned about air quality. Barker joined the effort, and BreathOfHope started to grow. Quickly, a few brilliant engineers and doctors came on board and we had a bunch of projects. And with these people came organisations. In addition to KSUM and IEEE Kerala Section, ICFOSS, TIMed and the Kerala Science and Technology Museum started supporting us.
Among the projects, the ShieldOfHope was the first one to reach the beneficiaries, so far we have shipped 15,000 units. A few more projects are going well and hopefully will reach mass production. The leaders of the group want several social startups to emerge from this initiative, and make a positive impact. And what they value more than the hardware they design and build is the culture of social innovation. Innovation by people from different disciplines who come together to fight a social challenge.