Five youngsters dreamed big and started a company. Now, they are a name to reckon with in the field of artificial intelligence.
Nelvin Joseph calls from Bhubhaneshwar, where he is about to address ‘around 3000' employees of Infosys, to apologise for not sending photographs of the Artin Dynamics team. He is just back from Helsinki, where he had gone to attend the World Bank Fourth Global Forum on Innovation and Technology Entrepreneurship.
International recognition is not new to Artin Dynamics, the Technopark-based company selected by World Bank as one of the top 50 innovative SMEs (Small and Medium Enterprises) in the world.
Coming back to the photograph in the beginning. The rest of his colleagues-cum-partners team, will be landing up back in Thiruvananthapuram later and therefore the delay in the photo shoot. The other four, in alphabetic order, are Avinash Prabhakar, Nitin Prabhakar, Sanjay Menon and Sharon Jose.
Something about Artin Dynamics (Artin being an acronym for Artificial Intelligence). With a motto ‘saving is generating', the company aims for better energy efficiency through their products based on Artificial Intelligence. One of their products, SPARA, has already earned rave reviews for its highly efficient technology for power management and distribution. The user-friendly technology is green, that is environment-friendly.
All electronic devices, including computers consume power when they are in a standby mode. In that condition, though the computer is not being used, it consumes electricity, which is called ‘Phantom Power'. On a large scale, this kind of power consumption leads to around 26 per cent of the total electrical losses globally and 57 per cent of these losses are from computers. SPARA claims to cut short the ‘phantom power' by 97 per cent, thus drastically reducing power consumption by around 50 mega watts per hour (MW/hr) for an average of 1000 computers per year.
Artin's clients include TATA Power and E-Gain. In between all the talk about clients, tie-ups and awards, Nelvin lets out that Artin is an ISV partner with intel and they develop technology to work with their new processor, called VPRO.
How Artin Dynamics happened sounds like that old filmi formula of five friends dreaming big and making it even bigger. But this one deviates from the script, slightly. The Artin team is busy in different parts of the country/globe and getting all the team members together in one place is next to impossible. So, Nelvin, chief executive officer, Artin Dynamics, plays sutradhar of the Artin story.
They were not childhood friends who grew up on this dream of creating a company. Nor are they classmates or even college mates, for that matter. They had all ‘heard' about each other, they had not even met each other.
Nelvin and Sharon did their engineering from Federal Institute of Science and Technology (FISAT), Sanjay from KMEA Engineering College , Nitin and Avinash from Amal Jyothi College of Engineering, (different years). “Each is a whiz in his own right,” he says. There is no algorithm that Nelvin can't write; Nitin is the organiser; Avinash is the electronics man, Sanjay's strength is marketing and Sharon is good with people. Avinash incidentally is the only non-Malayali in the team. He belongs to Bihar.
“All of us got together on January 26, 2008. Till then we were just names to each other. I was the only one who had met the rest at different times,” Nelvin goes on flashback mode. The casual get-together resulted in the ‘five-some' forming a company a week later.
They hired a house in Kalamaserry where they set up an office and a business; in fact by April 8 they had a registered company in their names. Then it was the ‘what next?' phase after the first flush of entrepreneurship. These are first generation entrepreneurs, so proving themselves was a big factor. They were ‘youngsters with a dream' and they wanted to show that they could make those dreams come true.
“We were clear on one thing, whatever we did would have to be Artificial Intelligence-based.” By youngsters, we mean really young, they were fresh out of their respective engineering colleges, they were all in their very early 20s (average age : Around 21-22). So didn't any one of them at any point dream the great American dream?
“For higher studies maybe, but working had to be back here in Kerala.” The Artin Dynamics founders are mentors to budding talents in their field. On a lighter note Nelvin adds that Avinash probably knows every kid in an engineering college in Kerala! “When we were students if you nurtured dreams of being an entrepreneur finding encouragement would have been tough. But now things have changed and how! We are invited over to deliver talks on our brand of entrepreneurship.”
They applied for Technopark's ‘incubation' and got in within two weeks. An incubation in Technopark refers to the small space (on subsidised rent) given to budding entrepreneurs/businesses on the Technopark campus. They now had a four-seater incubation there. Within three months they asked for an eight-seater space, then 16 and then some more and now they have around 30 employees and are still hiring.
In 2008 something else was happening elsewhere in the world, the dreaded ‘R' word – recession hit, big time. It was not a good time for a business in its infancy which was just planning its inauguration. But “we turned it to our advantage. We did a concept launch of SPARA, a power saving product which was suitable given the situation where businesses were trying to save money.” That was how it all began.
They now have an office in Bengaluru and are looking at starting another in West Asia besides the US and the United Kingdom. Everything sounds hunky dory, and seems to be getting better…that's when Nelvin says, “but last year (2010) February to December, specifically till December 29 it was bad. For three months our ‘employees' went without salary, that includes us too. It was a decision that the company took that went terribly awry. But we were hell bent on bouncing back the same year. On December 29 we signed a multi-million dollar deal…….we beat it.”
Probably it is the resilience of youth that makes Nelvin talk so easily about the bad year and the great ‘six months after that'. He agrees that because the team is young they were able to do a lot of things and experiment. However, in the process, they learnt the value of money as also to manage and control the same, he adds. “We just keep throwing ideas around. It is more along the lines of ‘can this or can that' be done or if something seemingly impossible/improbable could be done. That inevitably results in some product or the other,” says Nelvin.
Since SPARA has been accepted with more than open arms globally, what is the response to green technology like? Not too good as far as some companies in India are concerned. “Research focused on green technology is still in its infancy here. Prospective clients listen to everything, we will show them proof of the concept. There will even be a power saving of anywhere between 10 to 30 per cent. There has been an instance where there has been 47 per cent power saving. They get all excited but when they hear the price they say, ‘maybe next time'.”
Curiosity and confidence make a heady recipe for success. And about the photographs, in case you are wondering why there are only four guys in the photographs, only four of the team got into town in time.