Back in March 2020, when the nation was going into the lockdown phase to contain the virus, digital/online became the buzzwords. Scenes of people sitting across the table got replaced by video conference, including at government level, and existing technology players like Zoom gained traction. Soon the concerns about privacy arose. In April, the Indian government announced Grand Challenge for Developing Video Conference Solution with a ₹1 Crore prize.
Cut to August 2020. India achieved an Aatmanirbhar moment with desi solution for Video Conference. Where did the solution come from? It is from Kerala’s small-town Alappuzha. The jury declared Vconsol, a product from Techgentsia Software Technologies Private Limited as the winner.
PM @narendramodi's appeal for #AatmanirbharBharat finding powerful resonance. A start up from Kerala village Techgentisa led by Joy Sebastian wins the first prize of ₹1 Crore in the Grand Challenge for Indian Video Conferencing solution. pic.twitter.com/VdntYZkfE4
— Ravi Shankar Prasad (@rsprasad) August 21, 2020
The takeaway is clear. India has the capability of achieving self-reliance in technological solutions. The Union Minister for Communication, Electronics and IT acknowledged that the other three runner-ups are also from first generation entrepreneurs hailing from small-towns. That is precisely the glimpse of New India.
A Great Enthusiasm
A total of 1,983 applications were received and evaluated and subsequently supported through a three-stage process: Ideation, Prototype and Product.
Out of these, 12 applicants with innovative VC solutions were shortlisted and given ₹10 lakh each to develop/mature the prototype. The prototypes so evolved were further evaluated by eminent Jury comprising of senior officers of the Government, reputed academicians and eminent members from the IT industry to shortlist five applicants for building a ready to market product. The five shortlisted applicants were further provided financial support of ₹20 lakh (for three) and ₹15 lakh (for two), mentorship, testing and onboarding onto government’s National Informatics Centre’s cloud. Jury and Mentors comprising of eminent experts from Industry, Academia and Government provided extensive support to the Challenge on a pro bono basis. Finally, a winner was picked among them.
Moving forward, the three runner-up firms will also get technical support from the government. The winner of the challenge will be provided financial support of ₹1 Crore with additional ₹10 Lakhs towards O&M for next three years and will be adopted for use by Government through a contract. It has also been recommended that all four products will be hosted on the NIC cloud and NIC will facilitate for adoption of these products for Government use through GeM. All teams including winning team shall also be free to market the product globally.
A Spark from a Small-Town
The Indian Express has profiled Joy Sebastian (44), founder of Techgentsia. Eleven years back he moved to his village near Alappuzha where the state government had set up a 66-acre Info Park to start an R&D centre for video-conferencing solutions. His classmate, who was in the founding team, later moved to Australia but Sebastian continued with his task and acquired a few clients in US, Europe, and India. Presently, his start-up employs 65 people.
Speaking to The Indian Express Sebastian said, “Security has been pointed out as a problem with Zoom. Vconsol has addressed it with tighter measures. Each participant will have a different password. And, to ensure that only those expected or invited are able to join the video-conference, an OTP verification code will be sent to mobile phones of participants.”