A solar backpack startup

A solar backpack startup

Rajan Anandan-backed Lumos Design Technology designs solar-powered backpacks to charge mobile phones and laptops. It has applied for design patents for a circuit technology, which can charge a battery even in low sunlight, via varied USB-supported devices

Madhumita Prabhakar

What happens when a cycling enthusiast and a fabric designer come together to bridge an essential technology gap? They create a product that not only disrupts the market but also adds to the visual appeal. That, in essence, is how Lumos Design Technology, a startup that designs solar-powered backpacks, came into being.

Gandharv Bakshi, an ardent cycling enthusiast and traveller realised that often, his phone’s battery would die and despite carrying a bulky solar charger, it did not serve the purpose.  That’s when his better half, Lavina Bakshi (a designer at Flying Machine), stitched a solar charger to his backpack and the idea to manufacture solar-powered backpacks sparked off. The husband-wife duo founded the startup in 2012 and zeroed-in on their early adopter customers as ardent cyclists in Bengaluru. “Our first bag, the prototype, was very different. Manufacturers were reluctant to create the first batch because they had never heard of such an idea before. Eventually, one firm agreed and in that, they created the first 50 with the extra material they had, in order to reduce investment costs (in securing material),” recalls Bakshi.

“There are only a handful of hardware startups in India. As a result, we find it challenging to identify mentors. There’s no solution either. We just study the sector and draw lessons from how other companies in this space have been built.”

Today, the company has identified a manufacturing process wherein the material is sourced and manufactured in China, and the additional components are fitted in India. In fact, Bakshi points out that one of the main reasons behind getting manufacturers to sign the deal was because of adequate publicity and backing from Google’s Rajan Anandan. The company received Rs. 25 lakh in funding led by Anandan, which it primarily channelised towards product development and marketing. It was also backed to the tune of Rs. 5 lakh (in the early stage) by Sivakumar Ramamoorthy, Bakshi’s former boss at Tejas Networks.

Getting the right fit 

So, what materials are used in the backpack? “We use a solar fabric with solar cells fused together and a battery fitted inside. When out in the sun, the battery absorbs heat through the fabric and gets charged, which can then be used to charge a phone or a laptop via a USB cable,” explains Bakshi.  In fact, the founding duo has applied for a patent on design of a circuit technology, which can charge a battery even in low sunlight and be plugged into varied USB-supported devices.

The company is looking at a global market size of U.S. $2.5 billion (in the cycling gear space), and it currently lists Mexico as its biggest market followed by India and Europe. Its price point in India stands at Rs. 5,000 per piece. “The European price points give us a comfortable margin so our way forward will be to ensure that we grow more aggressively in this market and increase its share to 30 per cent of our revenues,” notes Bakshi.

Drawing from examples 

Among the primary challenges that Bakshi faces is in identifying a mentor or role model to help build his business. “There are only a handful of hardware startups in India. As a result, we find it challenging to identify mentors. There’s no solution either. We just study the sector and draw lessons from how other companies in this space have been built,” he shares. Of course, a second challenge is to create demand in a space that is relatively new. “Solar backpacks are a new category in itself. While this is a good differentiator, it has its own pitfalls,” he notes. Since it does not have any direct competitors, consumers are reluctant to invest in a product that operates in a unique space.

To tackle this, typically, the startup relies on a combination of word-of-mouth, social media, ecommerce and below-the-line marketing strategies to create awareness about its products. “We participate in a lot of outdoor activities as partners or sponsors. We also partner with brick and mortar outlets and ecommerce players to place our products in their shelves,” he states.

But, most important of all, as Bakshi points out, what matters is that the product delivers what it promises. “In fact, what will make or break our business going forward is the ability to manufacture products which meet the international standards. We need to ensure that our product works reliably under most conditions,” states Bakshi, on a parting note.

Lumos Design Technology Rajan Anandan Solar Power