03 Jan 2017 20:01 IST

Filling the white space

Pic credit: faithie/Shutterstock

What it means to tap into opportunities that lie at the intersection of technology and people’s lives

Vikas Gupta, the founder and CEO of start-up “Wear n Secure”, was pitching his idea to a seed fund. After he presented his products on screen, in came an 80-year-old woman, who walked across the screen casting a stooping shadow.

The PowerPoint presentation was replaced by a single line skeleton, that mimicked the woman’s gait. It flashed red dots at some joints when it looked like she would lose balance.

After the woman sat down safely in her chair, the real-time skeleton display was replaced by an analytics graph. This graph showed the frequency and severity of her off-balance walk and the odds of her falling that might lead to a debilitating bone fracture.

Another animated skeleton video followed this, in which the red dots were preceded by alarms, through which she received vibrator alerts. These warned her when she was about to lose her balance, prompting her to take support immediately. The display on the screen was replaced by: “Wear n Secure”.

“We found a white space in the market for elder-care. And we are in a position to exploit it,” the CEO concluded the pitch.

All three in the investor team applauded the idea enthusiastically. Vikas said his father and father-in-law had both fallen while getting up from bed to visit the bathroom. Both had undergone hip-joint replacement surgery, and the recovery was painful and long drawn out.

Meeting unexpressed needs

A large number of elderly people suffer from falls. There are products like special diapers that cushion their falls; there are also joint replacement technology and surgical procedures which have been developed to significantly cut down the recovery period and improve the quality of post-recovery life.

But the space for preventive solutions had not received much attention. The tech enthusiast in this engineer prodded him to take up this ambitious project. “Can you explain why you call yours a ‘white space’ business?” one of the investors asked.

White space basically denotes unidentified opportunities that usually lie at the intersection of technology and people’s lives. ‘White Space’ thinking thus involves insightful thinking about existing situations and fashioning products or solutions using a combination of technologies to meet unexpressed needs.

Tech advances

Vikas explained that his innovation depended on many technologies. The rapid advances in wearable sensor technology and IoT have made it possible for such devices to be worn all the time. Low power Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, smartphones, and cloud technologies can be combined with gait analysis software running in the cloud. Finally, big data analytics and machine learning have brought predictive capabilities.

Gupta combined his own observations with studies on elderly people, which provided the following insights.

~ Most of them don’t wish to be dependent or treated as invalids.

~ They hate using walking sticks or walkers. They prefer staying in their own homes rather than shift to a son’s or daughter’s place.

~ They like their smartphones, learning gadgets, cool-looking watches and other ‘modern’ gadgets .

~ They are curious about new technologies and predictions.

The data showed an ironical correlation — that active elderly people (such as the curious-about-life ones mentioned above) suffered the most falls. Vikas Gupta spotted the ‘white space’ in the lives of such ‘active elderly’ people and used various technologies to create safe products for them.

In the process, white space gets filled and is then known as a market.