Detect is a rare company in the Indian startup ecosystem - a deep-tech startup aiming to maximize industrial efficiency and productivity. IIT Madras alumni Daniel Raj David, Harikrishnan A.S, Tarun Mishra and Karthik Rajesekaran co-founded Detect in 2016. In just 5 years, the startup has become a leading Industrial AI company.
The Chennai-based enterprise SaaS startup harnesses advanced robotics, IoT-enabled sensors, computer vision, VR and AI to connect and unify data, manpower, equipment and processes. The team has built three flagship products, including Noctua, Gumps, and T-Pulse. Detect’s real-time insights help companies save lives in hazardous industries and prevent potential failures.
One of the first questions I posed to Daniel, CEO and co-founder at Detect, was about how the idea came about.
Detect’s is quite an unorthodox story. The story began when Tarun invented a technology called Drops alongside his professor mentor Prof. Krishnan Balasubramaniam. Together they hold the patent for the first sensor in the world to monitor pipe degradation in real-time. But even with the patent, the two were still uncertain of the real impact their technology could have.
It’s only when they got shortlisted for the India Innovation Growth Programme, that things began to change. Under the programme, Tarun and Prof. Krishnan were taken to Stanford where they got exposed to the concepts of entrepreneurship and startups. After getting a job with Reliance, Tarun realized that his idea can have a massive impact in the real world, especially in the world's largest refineries and similar industries around the globe.
Back then, Daniel was in his second year of college, working with Professor Krishnan on building a technology for pipe systems to manage pipeline integrity at high temperatures. Tarun, while on a visit to his alma mater, got introduced to Daniel and could immediately see how the two technologies could be integrated to bring value to the steel sector. Not only steel, the team now realized that the technology could bring safety, reliability and efficiency to industries from the chemical sector to the oil and gas sector to construction and so on.
These were legacy industries that had not been touched by cutting edge digital technology before. Detect’s team saw themselves as the best people to make the most of this opportunity. So with the support from the IITM ecosystem and initial funding from Reliance, the team perfected this technology which culminated in them incorporating a company in 2016.
Daniel sums it up as:
”We had grown from being an ultrasound detection technology company to someone who was using machine vision, AI, and artificial intelligence to predict all kinds of violations and efficiency losses that were happening in this industry, things that the industry had never seen before.”
Back in 2016, the Indian market was not exposed to this kind of technology nor had investors ever heard of anything like this. So the initial fund raise was hard for the Detect team. But the team wanted to wait for the right investors who could resonate with their vision. In 2017, the team got the first funding check of $830,000. With this, they were able to retain 25 of the 30 employees and interns. By 2018, the Detect team had built enough traction within the Indian market as they were able to execute a lot of pilot projects and had a few smaller players as clients as well.
“If there was anything unique, interesting or difficult to be done, Detect became the company people would reach out to.”
Given the slew of problems in the legacy industries, in terms of safety, efficiency, and reliability, the team was clear that there was a lot of scope ahead of them. But they needed focus. It took them two years to test waters across inspection, safety and efficiency technology, measure market and clients’ reaction and figure out which technology would reap the maximum benefit for customers, before concluding to focus on safety.
Today, 85% of the company’s revenue comes from safety-tech. Along the way, Detect has shown a 90% decrease in safety violations in industrial sites, maximizing their safety and efficiency, which also helps lower their clients’ insurance premiums.
The team met Shekhar Kirani of Accel in 2019 to explore further investment opportunities. Shekhar didn’t invest right away but helped the team dream bigger by sensitizing them to their opportunity in global markets, especially the US and Europe. He challenged the Detect founders to bag a few key international clients. By then, Detect held a near monopoly in India with clients like Vedanta, Aditya Birla, Adani, Reliance, and Tata.
With a new challenge at hand, Daniel spent time at Pennsylvania Chemicals in Houston in order to identify potential clients. Backed by strong technology and demonstrated differentiation, Detect soon onboarded companies like Shell, Exxon, and BASF - some of the biggest names in the global industrial ecosystem. An international funding round with Accel’s participation soon followed.
“Having seen the transformation of the founders and the business over the years, Accel came in. Since then, we’ve scaled even more across ecosystems, and we're looking at a consistent 4x growth, year on year”
Right from the start, the founding team was clear on what the company wanted to become - an AI-driven, deep-tech solution to solve real problems for the global industrial space.
What started as a four-member team in 2016, currently stands at 390 people. Each of the co-founders has their specific expertise, with roles and responsibilities set accordingly. However, this wasn’t enough on its own.
To create revolution within the target market, credibility had to be built. And that came from industry champions who saw both the value of the technology and what it could potentially do for this industry.The right kind of energy and enthusiasm, coupled with the wisdom of industry experts was crucial to really penetrate the market.
Daniel expressed that people like Ramamurthy Ramachandran, ex-director of BPCL, joining their vision to build and bring this technology to the industry has been a huge impetus.
“Such industry experts, who have also done ISO certifications for their organizations, brought a lot of weight to our company, with decades of experience in running a process-driven organization. Their experience has added on to the much needed credibility. We already have advisors in the West. Shell’s (global) digital head is currently our technical advisor. Perfecting the culture in the international market, however, is a work in progress”,
Seeing how far they have come, that Detect will pass this exam with flying colors too seems inevitable.