As the coronavirus began spreading across India in March, Mumbai-based entrepreneur Suhani Mohan realized that there was a dire shortage of face masks. The 30-year-old cofounder and chief executive of Saral Designs, which manufactures machines that make low-cost sanitary pads, decided to quickly re-tool one of her machines to make disposable face masks. She is also manufacturing the mask-making machines.
(Covid-19) But Mohan and her cofounder Kartik Mehta—both engineers from the elite IIT Bombay and IIT Madras, respectively—knew they couldn’t do it alone and needed help. So they reached out to Indian auto billionaire Anand Mahindra, who immediately responded to their email and connected them to the Mahindra Group’s engineering team. Mahindra’s engineers helped the duo with procuring parts, fabrication and assembling. Within 100 hours, Saral’s mask-making machine was ready to roll.
(Covid-19) Saral has produced a million masks to date. These masks, made of non-woven polypropylene, were sold to hospitals for seven cents per piece. The startup has now developed a faster, fully-automated machine that can churn out 80 masks a minute and is looking to produce nearly one million masks a month. “The machine parts are all locally sourced,” says Mehta, who is also the chief technology officer of Saral.
The $55,000 cost of developing this upgraded machine was provided by a grant from Indian billionaire Harsh Mariwala’s Innovate2BeatCOVID initiative. The consumer goods tycoon announced the initiative in March through his Marico Innovation Foundation, calling for sustainable, affordable and “built for India” solutions to address the Covid-19 crisis.