Over the past few years, Pakistan has built up a very vibrant startup community. If you are ambitious and want to build your own business, there are incubators that can help you with anything ranging from honing your presentation skills to helping to secure funding.
However, hardware startups are still a rare breed. Manufacturing in Pakistan has its fair share of challenges and that means a product based startup will either pay a hefty amount for local manufacturing or cede a fair bit of control if they outsource to China or another country.
That hasn’t stopped Trequant, a startup focused on helping tremor patients. A neurological disorder that results in uncontrollable shaking of the hands, legs and neck, tremors affect 1 in every 24 Pakistanis. Over 300 million people across the world suffer from two types of tremors, Parkinson’s Disease and Essential Tremor, with the latter being far more common.
One of the challenges to effective treatment for tremors is diagnosing the severity and judging impact of prescribed medication
One of the challenges to effective treatment is diagnosing the severity and judging impact of prescribed medication. In a country like Pakistan, doctors have to rely on asking the patients themselves about perceived improvement. Since tremors are common in patients above 40, it starts to become clearer why a simple diagnosis and customized drug regimen can take months to fine tune.
Fawad Bhatti (CEO of Trequant), who has seen the challenges faced by tremor patients first hand due to it being a hereditary disease in his family, decided to do something about it in true engineering fashion. What started as a final year project in NUST SEECS is now a multi award winning product on the verge of a Kickstarter campaign that could propel the team to the forefront of hardware startup success stories in Pakistan. Meet Trequel, the first smartwatch for tremor patients.
The six available styles for the Trequant watch
Trequant is a ‘Tremor Quantifying Device’ disguised as a svelte watch. It tracks tremor patterns via kinetic sensors and transmits the data to a smartphone through Bluetooth. In turn, the phone can sync the data with cloud storage. This data is critical in identifying the severity of a patient’s tremors and judge their response to prescribed medication. Not relying on anecdotal proof, doctors can now finally have hard data to guide a patient’s therapy.
The utility doesn’t come at the cost of style. I’m a fan of minimalism so I love the design choice for Trequant. There’s a ring around the watch-face that can tell you the remaining battery at a glance. On a single charge, it can last two days while the watch itself can keep a backup of data for 24 hours in case you don’t have a smartphone with you. Other features include notifications for incoming calls, messages as well as sleep monitoring and alarms.
Trequant has received 13 awards and won 1.3 million rupees since its inception in June 2014
Interestingly, Fawad didn’t really have plans for a startup going into his final year in university. However, pitching at Jumpstart Pakistan and the wide appreciation the idea received motivated him to pursue Trequant as a startup rather than just another FYP.
Starting the project in June 2014, the Trequant team had an early prototype ready in two months. Extensive testing at Military College Rawalpindi followed. Early 2015 saw them become an external incubatee at The Nest I/O. Even more testing of the product took place at the Shifa Hospital in Islamabad.
However, getting to this stage wasn’t straightforward. Fawad says:
There wasn’t any data set available for this kind of disorder, we had to manually accumulate the data set ourselves by visiting hospitals and having diagnosed patient wear our device. Convincing them was hard work.
Even then, Military Hospital had OPD for only 2 days a week and there would only be 2 – 4 patients on a daily basis. In SHIFA, all the patient population was concentrated over Parkinson.
Testing our product and collecting data was a process that took well over 3 months.
Their good work hasn’t gone unnoticed. Since its inception, Trequant has gotten a steady stream of press, awards and recognition from outlets across Pakistan. Till date, the startup has gotten 13 awards at BITA, [email protected] ICT Awards 2014 and APICTA among others. While the startup hasn’t been formally funded yet, the PKR 1.3 million earned via winning awards has helped development a great deal.
Right now, the team is incubated at Plan9’s in its sixth cycle and is working hard to get the supply chain in order for a Kickstarter campaign. The early models of the product were manufactured in Pakistan but for large scale manufacturing, Trequant is looking to outsource to China. However the process is proving to be arduous.
Talking about the difficulty of being a hardware startup in Pakistan, Fawad says:
There aren’t really any hardware oriented incubators in Pakistan. There isn’t an established mass manufacturing facility for hardware in Pakistan, specially ones who would not only make your internals but would also develop your casing, boxes and accessories locally. There are many such facilities in China but there isn’t really anyone who can guide startups about how to and whom to approach for mass manufacturing in China.
There has been a recent trend in Pakistan where startups are looking to Kickstarter instead of VCs to get that initial boost. Here are Fawad’s thoughts on the phenomenon.
My personal belief is that Kickstarter isn’t just about the cash and funding, Kickstarter has lately become the new way of marketing your product. Kickstarter gets you the reach to your potential customers, boosts your marketing and if you make a good enough video/product to get on the ‘big’ blogs and media channels, you get a lot of traction a young startup needs to grow.
Once the watch does go live, early birds will able to get it for $200 while the regular pricing will be set at $250. It’s hard to explain the kind of positive impact Trequant can have for people suffering from tremors. The improvement in quality of life that can result from a faster and more accurate diagnosis can be life changing for tremor patients.
While Trequant team has its fair share of engineers, they seem to have a penchant for flair. Earlier this week, the team sent more than 100 personalized letters to industry heavyweights across the world to spread awareness and get votes of confidence in the work they are doing.
Trequant sent personalized letters to industry heavyweights all over the world
From the gorgeous design of the watch to the smart marketing on top of the meaningful work being done, we are convinced Trequant is on the path to a successful Kickstarter campaign in 2016. We can’t wait to see where they go from here.