Mumbai: Kranthi Vistakula is one of those people who don’t like feeling too cold or too hot, a feeling familiar to anyone who sits under an air conditioning vent in an office with poor temperature control.
Unlike the long-suffering desk jockey, Vistakula, now 29, decided to do something about it.
Business strategy: Kranthi Vistakula, founder and chief executive of Dhama Apparel Innovations. Ashesh Shah / Mint
The bio medical engineer’s concept of a jacket that would adjust itself according to the ambient temperature came into being between degrees in technology policy and mechanical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
“The problem was that it used to get very cold in Boston and I used to like it but we had to wear multiple layers and as soon as I entered the building, which was all heated up, it used to (get) hot really soon,” he said in an interview. Thus the idea of a jacket that keeps the user hot or cold, or a scarf that cools the blood before it reaches the brain, was born.
The US and Indian Armed Forces, both of which are seeking his products, are just two of his potential clients. He wants to target industrial workers and sports people as well. Vistakula’s products include ClimaGear, a battery-powered jacket that “keeps the user comfortable and increases productivity by either heating or cooling the user depending on his need”, according to the website of Dhama Apparel Innovations, the firm that he started in 2007.
The company, which also sells scarves and helmets that perform the same function, was recently selected as one of the top 100 start-ups in Asia by Red Herring, a weekly technology magazine.
Still, it took a while for Vistakula to realize that his original idea could be turned into a business. It was only when his inventions won competitions that he realized the value of the product and started focusing on it.
“After working (for) two years on it, I became so attached to it that I left my master’s, came to India and started working on this,” he says.
During an event called Investor Pitch conducted by the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Bombay, in April, Sasha Mirchandani of Mumbai Angels, a forum for entrepreneurs, invited him to speak about Dhama’s work.
Vistakula not only went on to receive funding from Mumbai Angels but also from Reliance Technology Ventures Ltd in June. This was not, however, the first time that he had received funding. In March 2008, he received a grant of Rs12 lakh from the department of science and technology, followed by another one of Rs45 lakh in April 2009.
The funding from Reliance and Mumbai Angels has helped bring discipline to the way he functions.
“I am an entrepreneur and am going by my gut feeling but they are going by their strategy,” says Vistakula. “While I am impulsive, they are very structured and that balances out the dynamics.”
The government money helped Vistakula tide over the dark days of the slump but there were times when he wondered whether he had done the right thing.
“We were making a lot of presentations to a lot of VCs (venture capitalists) and everyone was like ‘it’s a good idea’ but nothing was going forward. I was very aggressive in meeting different people and trying to convince them,” he says.
After the tide eventually turned, he was offered incubation at IIT Delhi. He chose instead to seek incubation at the National Institute of Design in Ahmedabad as he found a freer climate there.
The US army has shown interest in Dhama’s jacket as it weighs about half their current system and has no moving parts. The US army uses a compressor-based system that weighs around 4kg while the ClimaGear jacket weighs 1.5kg.
While two trials with the US army have taken place, Dhama has entered into agreements and started sample sales to Indian and Korean companies. It has begun trial sales to the Greyhounds, the counter-insurgency security force based in Andhra Pradesh.
As far as military requirements go, Vistakula expects a demand of about 100,000 jackets from India and a similar number from the US over the next three years. It expects demand for helmets to be around 700,000 in the same period.
Vistakula’s dream is to develop an energy-efficient localized cooling system, which would mean that instead of applying temperature controls across large areas and wasting energy, it would focus on just the chair and table of the worker.
Meanwhile, he has another bright idea to work on—shoes that don’t make your feet sweat.