(March 23, 2022) Sharad Ashani is not your typical entrepreneur. The 66-year-old Mumbai-based founder of Safe Solutions had an over three decade-long career behind him before he decided to start up. Except, he was looking to make a difference after his retirement in 2017. Shocked by the number of suicides by hanging in the India, Sharad patented what is called Gold Life, a range of anti-suicide rods. So far, his company has installed over 50,000 anti-suicide rods in ceiling fans across hospitals, hotels, hostels, jails, and government quarters. Recently, this year (2022) his venture received a funding of Rs 50 lakh from Shark Tank India as well.
Back in 2004, actor and model Nafisa Joseph committed suicide by hanging herself from a ceiling fan. “Soon after, an air hostess died in a similar manner. It struck me hard,” says the entrepreneur. “How were such educated and successful people taking such drastic measures? Was it so easy for one to hang from the ceiling fan? Around the same time, I came across a National Crime Record Bureau report that stated over 40 percent of those committing suicide in India died by hanging. It was time to do something about this,” says the entrepreneur in a conversation with Global Indian.
School teacher found hanging in UP classroom https://t.co/jkFvP63xpR. Use of our 'GOLD Life' Anti Suicide Fan Rod could have saved life of teacher. https://t.co/GoRnaoN8X5, See working of life saving rodhttps://t.co/VOcUUFQBn6
— Sharad Ashani (@SharadAshani) February 27, 2020
The journey of research
Sharad then began archiving news reports of suicides by hanging to work on a solution. He went through medical journals, and came up with a thoroughly researched prototype. This endeavour also took him to Nata Mallick, the West Bengal executioner to understand neck pressure, and breathing rates once the hanging process begins. “On a visit to Kolkata, I went to Mallick’s house to discuss the product I was mulling over; I wanted to ensure it was free from any loopholes,” says the Indian entrepreneur. Several trials later, Gold Life anti-suicide rods were patented in 2007.
The rod, which can be retrofitted into any ceiling fan, has an unlatching mechanism. When someone tries to hang oneself, the load exceeds the determined point, activating the unlatching mechanism, safely landing the person on the ground.
However, Sharad was still far from working full-fledged on this as he was employed with Crompton Greaves. In 2011, the entrepreneur got the opportunity to participate in Mahindra’s Spark The Rise competition where he won a grant of Rs 4 lakh as the first runner-up. This further strengthened his belief in his idea.
When Sharad retired in 2017, he immediately got to work to launch his venture. “I began working on refining my product the day after my retirement. To ensure that it was 100 percent fool-proof, I had it tested at the government’s MSME testing centre. I did not want to take any chances with the quality, and also got the anti-rust testing done,” the entrepreneur explains.
The next step was marketing. As he wondered how to market the product, a news report of another suicide by hanging in a Mumbai daily caught his eye. He wrote to the editor about his anti-suicide rod. An impressive coverage followed.
Attention HRD Ministry. There are several cases of students hanging from ceiling fan in hostel. In IITs, last six months 3 cases reported. Pl make my Anti Suicide fan pipe mandatory to save life. IIM-Kashipur has already installed my fan pipes, and made their hostels safe.
— Sharad Ashani (@SharadAshani) May 3, 2018
Soon, government institutions began placing orders; the Air Force School in Faridabad and Kota Hostel Association were some of the first to place orders, followed by IIM Kashipur, and then psychiatry hospitals, hotels, and private institutions.
The game changer
“After the Shark Tank India episode was aired, my phone did not stop ringing for five days,” says Sharad, adding, “Some were to appreciate my innovation, others to place orders. Surprisingly, most of the calls were from eastern India and Puducherry. That’s when I learnt from an NCRB report that Puducherry topped the list of states when it came to suicide by hanging,” says the Indian entrepreneur.
Following the buzz generated by Shark Tank India, Sharad’s company has been getting more orders than its manufacturing capacity. “We are working to expand our manufacturing units. We plan to begin retailing online this April,” says the entrepreneur, who finds himself working 24×7 post-retirement. “Of course, I am enjoying the entire process. I feel that just like Edison’s invention benefitted the world, my innovation will also greatly impact society. In 10 years, I hope every ceiling fan in the country will have these anti-suicide rods leading to a drastic fall in the incidence of suicides,” he says optimistically.
Reading and forgetting is not the solution
Intrigued with the number of suicides and their fall outs on the deceased’s kin, he adds, “From police investigations, stigma about renting such places, financial repercussions, the complications are huge.” He recently received a call from a woman who’d lost her husband to suicide by hanging, who admitted that if she had been aware of the rod, her husband would be alive.
Present and future
While Sharad has been contemplating manufacturing energy efficient fans with anti-suicide rods, he is currently swamped with orders following the reality show.
The entrepreneur enjoys playing the tabla, reads books by Dale Carnegie, Stephen Covey, and Chan Kim, etc. “These books have been a guide to me in my corporate as well as entrepreneurial journey,” says Sharad, whose wife Sharada and two children Gaurav and Arpita, and their families, make life beautiful. Next on agenda, are plans to innovate on more safety products.
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