Research of the Month #4

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The NasoFilter

Industry Day 2017 presented a platform for nearly 200 firms to assess the commercial viability of IIT Delhi’s student’s inventions. One of the demonstrations on that day was the NasoFilter, a technology developed to combat pollution. A brainchild of three IITD students, NasoFilter was designed under the umbrella of  an entrepreneurial venture, Nanoclean Global Pvt. Ltd., with Jatin Kewlani, Prateek Sharma and Tushar Vyas being the Founder Directors of this firm.

We would like to thank Jatin Kewlani for taking out his precious time to discuss the NasoFilter team’s remarkable story with us.

(From L-R) Jatin Kewlani, Tushar Vyas and Prateek Sharma

Motivation

A normal visit to a mall was where it all started. Prateek, Tushar and Jatin had gone to Select City walk mall in January’16. The pollution levels were at their peak with media creating hype of the high PM (particulate matter) levels in Delhi. In the lawns of the mall, there was this exhibition where there were stalls of companies selling products which could help you get rid of pollution while you were indoors (room air filters) and outdoors (masks). Amongst them was this company which was selling insertable nose masks which they claimed were 99% efficient against the PM 2.5 particles. They were giving away free samples so our IITD trio tried it out of curiosity. They found that it was very uncomfortable and very costly as well (Rs. 250 for 1 unit). Hence struck the idea which has now materialised into their product called NasoFilters.

The primary motivation was in the environment itself. The high pollution levels were driving the Delhites crazy and there was a reverberating hype regarding the need to protect ourselves from the pollution crisis. Analogies of living in Delhi being equivalent to 40 cigarettes a month, reducing life expectancy by 10 years on an average and so on, were spreading like wildfire. Thus, there would be no shortage of a market for a technology that could combat pollution.

Prateek, Jatin and Tushar thought of a filter which provides similar benefits to the insertable nose mask (almost invisible, easy-to-use, doesn’t cover the mouth so you could talk/eat while wearing it) but removes the basic glitches of it being uncomfortable and unaffordable for the poorer masses, who certainly required to use these more than others. The solution was a stick-on nasal filter which would be just like a band-aid. It would have to be so comfortable that you wouldn’t realise that you have worn one. If it could be made biodegradable as well, then there would be no stopping this idea from turning into a successful product.  

The Beginning

This project started then and there. Tushar started with the research part while Prateek started meeting people to get a feedback on the idea. The feedbacks were good and research did lead them to a word which today is the basis of the company. The word was NANO. They found that if Nanofibres are used to make a filter, it would give >95% efficiency against the 2.5 micron particulate matter (PM 2.5) with almost negligible breathing resistance.

The trio found a name of an expert in Nanofibres who would be very approachable for them. And this expert was none other than Dr. Ramgopal Rao, Director of IIT Delhi. Dr. Rao rightly directed them to the textile department to find all the answers and fortunately, there were two professors who did have all the answers to their problem. Prof. Manjeet Jassal and Prof. Ashwini Agrawal had been working on Nanofibres since 15-20 years and had done projects with big companies on manufacturing these at commercial level. But the problem then was how do two IIT Delhi recent alumni and a student convince these senior professors of IIT Delhi to be a part of their core startup team. That however, turned out to be very easy as the professors really appreciated the idea and thereafter, a project called “Nano-respiratory Nasal Filters” (as it was called for over a year internally) was established with 5 founding members – Prateek Sharma, Jatin Kewlani, Tushar Vyas, Prof. Ashwini Agrawal and Prof. Manjeet Jassal. The official association happened in Dec’17 with their incubation at Foundation for Innovation and Technology Transfer (FITT). However the internal terms became clear only towards the end of IIT Delhi’s summer break.

The Technicalities and The Funding

Basically there are two major parts to the project, first – the filter manufacturing (nanocoated fabric) and second – the assembly of the fabric and the adhesive to make the final product. It did take the team a considerable amount of time to finalize the exact process of manufacturing the filter media at a lab scale where filtration tests and pressure drop tests (to measure the physical aspects of the product) were done day-in day-out on different fabrics with different coatings. These were accompanied by SEM tests to understand the quality of the fibres that were being coated. The physical tests (efficiency and pressure drop) were done in Prof. Gazala Habib’s laboratory, who was extremely supportive. The SEM was done in Smita Lab (Prof. Agrawal and Prof. Jassal’s laboratory). Tushar was handling the prior and the latter was conducted by Mrs. Deepika Gupta (Research Assistant at & former PHD from IIT Delhi) who has been till date a very valuable asset for the NasoFilter project and has worked on it for over an year now under the guidance of the professors.

The team finalized the technology at lab scale in December and the next task was producing the same at commercial scales. ATIRA (Ahmedabad Textile Industrial Research Association) had a Nano Coating machine which could produce Nanofibres at a high scale. This was the first time the project would require operations and operations would require costing.

“Between finalizing the association to finalizing the technology we shared our idea with many contacts we had in the IIT Delhi Alumni. We even put our product on display at the India-UK Tech summit held in Oct’16 where we got a lot of appreciation for our product as Diwali had just gone by creating a havoc almost 5 times greater than last year. We got covered on National Television, newspapers, media blogs, etc. and just when we thought nothing could be better than the situation we were in, we met someone who made our lives even better. Mr. Sanjeev Jain was an alumnus of IIT-Delhi from 1982 batch with his B.Tech in Civil Engineering and is the Director at a construction firm called Arvind Construction. Prateek and I had known him since our previous startup which involved engaging alumni and students. We pitched the idea to him and Sanjeev sir, who is an investor worked with us to materialize the project to a commercial one. Referring to him only as an investor wouldn’t be justified as he worked with us days and nights even after his tight schedule at work. “                                                                                         – Jatin Kewlani

Now that the funds were in place, the team finalized their filter media at the manufacturing level in ATIRA in May’17. The assembly part of the product had been looked after by Tushar and Jatin after an year-long process of laser cutting and manual assembly with human testing being the sole basis of selecting/rejecting a design of the adhesive. After 3 iterations on the adhesive and countless iterations on the design, they finalized the product which could last for 10-12 hours on human skin and had easy application while sticking. Mr. Yadav Chandna, another IIT Delhi Alumni and a friend of Mr. Sanjiv Jain, was the final piece in the puzzle. He is currently heading a self created empire of Sai Products & GrafiQ which is established across states and cities into various sectors. Mr. Chandna knew how to manufacture the product the first time he saw it. He knew the exact grade of adhesive to be used and the precision required in the manufacturing of the product. After a few meetings, the NasoFilter team finalized a consolidated association with Mr. Chandna that would enable them to commercialize their product.

“Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much”

The project was interdisciplinary, not only because of the technical knowledge required to successfully pull it off, but also because the project was on the verge of being commercialised. Although maximum of the research burden was on the shoulders of the Professors and Deepika ma’am yet  Jatin, Tushar and Prateek had to study about medical grade adhesives, various types of films on which adhesives are coated and testing procedures for physical testing of the product.  Apart from the Textile Engineering Department Professors, Prof. Gazala Habib and Prof. Mukesh Khare, both of Civil Engineering department were also constant sources of guidance for the NasoFilter team. Apart from studying various subjects relevant to the field of engineering, a very important part of their consumer-based venture (which this project had transformed into) was studying the user. For this,  the team had a very valuable asset in Mr. Pawan Kitchlue, a branding and advertising expert with over 2 decades of experience. He had been mentoring the team since the start of the venture and his understanding of the human psychology was crucial to the product’s communications, branding and various other business-related aspects. Studying humans was a major part left to do for our engineering trio and they had managed to find the perfect guy for helping them with this. The remaining, which was taking calls on marketing strategy, distribution strategy, supply chain management, operations management, future plans, etc. was done effectively by our entrepreneur-engineers.

Where does the project stand now?

Ever since the NasoFilter project took birth in a lab in IIT Delhi, it has gone on to achieve a lot. Here we have handpicked some of them:

  • National Startups Award by Hon. Ex-President of India Shri Pranab Mukherjee on Technology Day’17 in May this year
  • Top 50 Global Tech Startups, recognised by the Govt. Of South Korea, selected from over 15000+ startups from 118 countries; 1 of 3 in India; 4 months fund support to expand operations and business in South Korea (currently in progress)
  • Among Top 100 Startups in Hong Kong Elevator Pitch
  • Funded by BIRAC, DST under the SIBRI scheme
  • Recognised by the Govt. Of India under the Startup India scheme
  • Funded under NIDHI scheme, DST

Future of the project

The immediate future of the project lies in the market. Adapting the product as per the needs of the consumer is definitely in the agenda for the future and there is even a possibility of upgrading the technology to achieve better results for applications other than combating pollution . Other products using the same nanotechnology are also possible and their applications are remarkable to say the least. However, the primary focus for the team is ensuring proper marketing and manufacturing of the NasoFilters. They are set to launch in Delhi-NCR at Rs. 10 a pair, which is nothing compared to facemasks of similar efficiency costing Rs. 2000.

Words of Wisdom

“Although I’m no expert to advise you regarding anything,  if I had to give one advice, it would be a generic one – If you have ever dreamt of being an owner of a billion-dollar company and impact lives of billions, this is the right place to start. And the right moment to start would be the earliest you can. IIT Delhi has the technologies which can have serious practical applications. The professors are not only  about lectures, tutorials, laboratories, grades, etc. You should have a look at the technologies available to be commercialized at IIT Delhi from FITT’s website and trust me you will be fascinated. Fund support, marketing alliances, manufacturing alliances, you just name the field and IIT Delhi has a solution for you somewhere. Please don’t let someone tell you that you need to have experience to start. All you need to do is to START and take ownership of whatever work comes your way.”                                                                                          – Jatin Kewlani

BSP would like to congratulate Nanoclean Global Pvt. Ltd. for their successfully launched product and salutes the team’s dedication towards solving real-world problems through application of engineering and technology. Hope that you are even more successful in your future endeavours and continue to make the IITD community proud.

 

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