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Cutting-edge design: They created child-friendly syringes!

Last updated on: December 3, 2009 10:57 IST

Image: Samarth Mungali, co-founder, No Formulae.
Manu A B

As a child, he made innovative toys, and later tinkered with electronic circuits. The creativity in him has today turned into a fine innovation.

Meet the enterprising Samarth Mungali who joined hands with classmate Bhavna Bahri to start a design firm called No Formulae. When the Philips Simplicity Challenge in 2007 invited the most simple and innovative ideas, Samarth was quick to respond with a product that could be one of the best gifts for children across the globe.

The duo is thrilled at getting rave reviews for their patent pending product, Acceptor. The Acceptor is a child-friendly syringe, one that would distract the kids' attention and help them overcome the fear of taking injections. The syringes are brightly coloured with attachments in different shapes like a butterfly, an aircraft or a juice-bottle, which will conceal the syringes.

"As a child I was extremely scared of syringes. The Acceptor was the answer to a need that I could relate to," says 26-year-old Mungali.

The product is slated to hit the markets in the next 8 months. The company has an in-principle agreement with an Indian company and talks are on with a Sweden-based hospital, Dandreyds Sjukhus, to make the products.

The price of the syringe has not been finalised, but it is estimated to cost around Rs 10.

The firm that specilaises in strategic design to enhance a product growth, visibility and viablity, is all about identifying a need and coming up with a solution. Besides, appreciating design, they could apply the creative design principles in the business world.

"The two years spent in the National Institute of Design, Ahemedabad, gave us more than a fertile platform to pursue our entrepreneurial dream. We presented the Acceptor before ventre capitalists and networked with people in the industry. This not only gave us good exposure but also helped us understand the business concepts and dynamics which immensely helped in developing our own business model," says Samarth.

By the end of the academic tenure at NID, they had developed our business model and floated our company betting big on creativity and innovativeness that a design holds for businesses.

"We feel that the journey of entrepreneurship is like driving on a highway at night. You never get to see the end of the road, you only see a few hundred meters ahead, but as you keep moving ahead the road keeps unfolding. The only secret is to keep going, even if you do not see the destination," says a confident Samarth.

Samarth Mungali and Bhavna Bahri share their exciting experience of bringing profound changes in the business world with innovative and unique designs. further. . .

They designed child-friendly syringes!

Image: Bhavna Bahri, co-founder, No Formulae.

Tell us more about how you became an entrepreneur, the difficulties you faced in setting up your enterprise?

Samarth: I started work as a software engineer with IBM. During my college days I did a fair bit more than academics, which helped me broaden my perspective. After working for about 2 years I felt the compelling urge to become the master of my own show. I wanted to become an entrepreneur. But I was clueless about how to go about it.

I joined for the post graduate programme of Strategic Design Management at the National Institute of Design. My secret sauce from the world view gathered till then was that one could get into business by making or giving something that was of some need to someone else.

Bhavna: I started working in Dubai while I was still pursuing a Bachelor's degree in commerce. I worked in various departments like administration, finance, marketing and design over a period of 4 years. During this time I realised that I wanted to do something by myself.

I quit my job and came back to India to freelance as a graphic and web-designer for more than a year. This was my first stint of working for myself. But I still needed to learn more, I came to NID to learn more about design. Coming to NID was a turning point as it changed my perspective towards design and design business.

My classmate, Samarth, had reflected similar thoughts and our educational and professional backgrounds complemented.  So, we set sail and embarked on this entrepreneurial journey on the ship of No Formulae.

Was your family supportive?

Our families have been extremely supportive and that has kept us going. They understand that the venture we have started is something new and unique, something which is out of the realm of the tried and tested types. In spite of this they have faith in us and keep boosting our morale. We feel that having a sound personal front is an invaluable asset to our profession.

Why did you quit your job? When did you start? How has the experience been so far?

Samarth: I quit my job at IBM in 2007. Though the IT industry was booming and I had good prospects of progressing in it, I knew it was not what I wanted in the long run. I could see that the opportunities offered by life were hard to harness in a limiting 9-to-5 job. In 2007, I participated in the Philips Simplicity Challenge, where I was given yhe title of 'India's hottest entrepreneur'.

Bhavna: My regular job came with several constraints and there was very little room to to do something different. The idea of starting a business based on design started brewing during our academic tenure in NID and officially No Formulae was launched in April 2009. The experience has been extremely enriching, with every passing day we are learning and experiencing more.

They designed child-friendly syringes!

Image: A butterfly-shaped syringe.

Tell us more about the designer syringes for children.

World over children are scared of syringes, the trauma and fear associated with the visual appeal of the syringes is a medically accepted fact, which is often termed as belenophobia.

Doctors have their own smart ways of tackling with it like distracting the patients or promising them a not-so-painful experience.

The Acceptor comes to the rescue of not only the patients but also the doctors. Based on the principle of distraction therapy; it changes the visual semantics of the syringe.

It is an attachment to the existing disposable syringe that comes in various involving shapes. It is more than a mere distraction tool: for the patient it's an involving product that takes away his/her mind from anticipating the syringe and needle and the associated pain.

For children, a cute toy like Acceptor is a saviour and a small reward as they would be given to children after usage.

The Acceptor has been developed keeping in mind the ergonomics, medical norms, hygiene and other considerations. Since the Acceptor answers a strong global need, its market is immense and international. Design happens to be a process of identifying a need and then answering it in a creative and responsible way.

Most people find finance a major constraint to start a venture. How was it for you?

Our business model for No Formulae did not involve any capital intensive investments. We work on a lean strategic model where our team is our biggest asset. We got the basic infrastructural support from the National Design Business Incubator at the National Institute of Design which was of great help to us.

We once read somewhere, 'You aren't crazy -- there are good reasons why starting a business feels hard. Like any big changes in life, like getting married or having a baby, entrepreneurship has its ups and downs'.

Have you received funding? Do you have plans to approach VCs?

We haven't sought any funding for No Formulae till date. At the moment we do not see the need for a VC funding in our company. But in future with our expansion plans we would approach investors. For our product innovation, the Acceptor, we have support of a research grant from the central government.

How much have you invested so far?

We have invested about Rs 800,000 on the Acceptor till date. On No Formulae, the initial investment was minimal as we were supported by the business incubator at NID.

They designed child-friendly syringes!

Image: It's all about the power of design.

What are the different services that you offer?

No Formulae practices designful innovation, brings in creativity and innovation in business domains which translates into better customer experience, lower costs and higher revenues.

We specialise in using design and design thinking to conjure up tailor-made creative and innovative strategies and solutions for businesses.

Our organisation aims at giving the strategic creative advantage to businesses. It helps business come up with fresh and innovative products, services and processes which not only help the business grow in terms of revenues but also create a place of its own in today's crowded marketplace.

We believe that design has moved from creating beautiful products to creating efficient systems and experiences. As the economies grow they become more service oriented which calls for a strategic and future oriented approach in developing services.

Is there a good demand for these services?

Businesses need to prepare for change and create their future using their present. And this cannot be done with the methods of yesterday. We help businesses attain deep understanding of the customer and the market to create new solutions.

We believe that every problem is unique and thus requires a unique answer and unique mix of methods to attain it. We have a human-centric approach with which we can create new services, processes and brands.

Businesses are waking up to the power design holds and the innovative advantage it can offer. The potential is immense as it is not possible for every company or business organisation to have such an in-house strategic design department. More and more people are approaching us and we see this demand only rising.

They designed child-friendly syringes!

Image: Samarth and Bhavna at work.

What kind of challenges do you face?

The biggest challenge till date is to change the cliched perspective of companies and people towards design and make them visualise that it can indeed be an integral business function.

Our past projects help us quote direct examples to prove our point. We think only results that are clearly visible can help us change this outlook.

How many people are there in the company? How difficult to convince people to join a start-up?

No Formulae was conceptualised over a period of one year before it was officially launched in April 2009. Since then the company has been executing projects across various industries.

The team, which initially had just the promoters, now has 10 members on board. Each member has a diverse background and experience which adds to the richness of the organisation.

Talks are underway to expand and include more members from different geographical locations.

How do you manage expenses? Do you take a salary?

Our company is still in the growing stage, where we as promoters are yet to reap the fruits. We do not take a stipulated salary from the company as of now. Most of our revenues are invested back in the company's growth.

They designed child-friendly syringes!

Image: A design from No Formulae.

How many projects have you done so far? How many clients do you have?

No Formulae has successfully completed about a dozen projects in domains of travel, real estate, food, lifestyle and well-being industry.

All these projects were highly appreciated and have even resulted in long-term collaborations with the client companies. We started with one project in hand and at the moment we are design partners of three of these clients. Apart from this we are in talks on collaborating with new clients.

How different are your services compared to others that already exist?

Till date there are not many firms in India which are offering design as a strategic business element.

The majority of design and advertising agencies that are present in the market focus on one or few of the elements of design like graphic, web, product, etc. and do not use design in a holistic way to bring in innovation in businesses. This is a fairly new and unexplored territory that holds immense potential.

No Formulae specialises in catering to start-ups and small- and medium-sized industries, which find it difficult to have their own design departments or hire services from multiple design agencies.

How do you see your company's growth?

We see No Formulae growing in an organic manner with the future growth in our team and revenues. With our current networking with similar firms abroad we are also planning to extend presence internationally in the coming years.

They designed child-friendly syringes!

Image: No Formulae team at work.
Is this a profitable business? What kind of revenues do you expect?

Yes, this is a profitable business. Considering the initial investment that it was started with, it is emerging as a venture with an astounding return on investment in the conventional sense.

We are expecting a turnover of about Rs 1 crore (Rs 10 million) in the first two years.

How does it feel to be an entrepreneur? How important is innovation for an entrepreneurship to succeed?

Entrepreneurship is full of all kinds of uncertainties. It is about accomplishing something you desire despite all odds. Being an entrepreneur is like to hiking in the wilderness. It is exciting, adventurous and challenging everyday. It is about finding your own way to get around things, ways which have probably never been tried by others.

That's where innovation comes in. It's not just what you deliver that must be innovative, but innovation can be involved at any level. You must know which is the most efficient point where innovation is required which would bring maximum effect. Innovation requires a forward looking attitude to create something new, for which design is the most appropriate tool.

Did you have any role model who inspired you?

The world is full of examples of men and women who have made significant contributions by their sheer determination and efforts. Harping from their stories, we are constantly motivated to stay buckled on this rollercoaster ride.

They designed child-friendly syringes!

Image: The web of designing.
Tell us 5 things that entrepreneurs must do to succeed.

Take risks: Becoming an entrepreneur itself is a major risk one would take, and this path is sprinkled with many more. One needs to be open to opportunities, challenges and risks. It is always advisable to fail early to success sooner, as Tom Kelly puts it.

Be self-driven: A proactive attitude is a pre-requisite. Nobody would push you or guide you. You need to make yourself work harder and keep doing new things.

Network: It is extremely important to network with people. Every business is people-oriented. Get to know as many people you can. The more you interact, the more opportunities you would discover and more clarity you would gain.

Be like a zoom lens: One must have the capacity to understand and grasp the minute details and at the same time jump out to visualize the bigger picture really helps in the entrepreneurial journey.

Have faith: There are times when things don't go the way you have planned, there are even times when everything feels wrong. One should have faith in one's plan and action. By faith we mean a rational belief in one's plan.

They designed child-friendly syringes!

Image: No Formulae logo.
What are your company's future plans? 5 years from now?

We plan to expand No Formulae to have a global presence. We plan to bring about a massive change in businesses with the tools of design. We would be design partners of several companies, advising them on a strategic level.

Our highly creative team keeps churning out many innovative products, services and business ideas, like the Acceptor. In five years, many of these products and services designed by us would be seen thriving in the market.

 How do you spend your leisure time?

Samarth: I have a deep bond with nature being born and brought up in Naintal. I like travelling and exploring the wild scapes. I do trekking and kayaking, and love photography.

Bhavna: I love reading and travelling. With books one can gather tremendous amounts of information about human nature and various cultures around the world. Photography is also a passion I like to pursue.