Heelium — an amalgamation of heel, the part of the foot which experiences most of the pressure, and helium, which is one of the lightest elements — is a startup that makes products which are light, protect the feet and are consumer friendly.
Heelium was founded by Prateek Sharma and Siddharth Jain. Sharma, who is the co-founder and CEO of Heelium, a sports engineer from Centre for Sports Engineering Research, Sheffield, UK, and a materials engineer from Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Roorkee, also enjoys playing hockey, football and tennis, and is an avid runner too. Jain, who is the co-founder and COO of Heelium, is also a mechanical engineer from IIT Roorkee, and is a runner who runs with different groups across Pune.
Sharma says that Heelium is a materials technology startup working on improving footwear and wearables. “We use advanced materials and customisation techniques to develop better user-centric products,” says Sharma adding that they are currently funded by the Department of Science and Technology (DST), Government of India, and are incubated at Venture Centre, Pune.
He says that the idea behind starting Heelium was to reduce injury risk in people who run or play sports regularly. “Impact forces experienced during running and other sports have been recognised as major sources of injuries,” says Sharma, further mentioning that in case of shoes, the idea is to absorb these forces in the midsole as much as possible. When it comes to socks, the problem is blisters due to friction between the foot and the sock. To counter this, Heelium has designed socks with a stopper on top that reduces friction by limiting movement of socks inside the shoes.
Sharma says, “Our first product in the market is premium bamboo socks which are engineered to absorb more impact, provide odour control and allow better perspiration.” He mentions that bamboo socks have several advantages over cotton. They are greener, more breathable, softer and more durable. The socks are anti-microbial which resist the growth of odour causing bacteria and remain fresh for days. “The bamboo has thermo-regulation properties which means the socks keep your feet cool in summer and warm in winter,” says Sharma. He says they’ve got an amazing response and traction on the bamboo socks and have over 1,500 orders already even though they just launched it on January 27.
REDUCING CARBON FOOTPRINT
“Our long-term vision is to become the world’s largest athletic brand with close to zero carbon footprint,” says Sharma. He explains that cotton makes up just three per cent of the total global crop production but uses up to 30 per cent of all pesticides produced whereas bamboo being naturally anti-bacterial does not require pesticides for growth and also uses three times less water and grows off old shoots thereby preventing soil erosion.
Talking about the challenges along the way, Sharma says that the footwear industry in general has high barriers to entry as the amount of cash flow required is immense. “Because of which we see very few innovative footwear companies coming up in India.” He believes that there are too many competitors and the market is highly unorganised. However, he is of the opinion that they are uniquely placed to counter these barriers as only a handful of players are focusing on customer needs or customisation of products.
Sharma mentions that their flagship product, which is currently in development, is a high performance running shoe with their novel midsole technology — Auximpro — which provides almost five times more impact protection than a regular midsole. “We will also customise the insole based on the runner’s foot shape and running style that improves injury prevention. Our design process is completely user-driven,” he says adding, “Customers are contributors in our product development process.”
Products from Heelium are available online on most e-commerce portals and through their Facebook page. They are currently setting up B2B retail partnerships across various cities.