In India, a sexual assault occurs every 22.5 minutes.
It’s a startling statistic from India’s National Crime Records Bureau.
“The public doesn’t read about most of these incidents in the newspapers,” said Manik Mehta, cofounder of startup Leaf Wearables. “But this fact shook us to the core.”
Mehta and four of his friends became obsessed with finding a technology solution to help keep women in India safe.
The five men were engineering students at India’s top colleges, including Delhi College of Engineering and the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi.
In February 2015, they launched smart jewelry startup Leaf Wearables.
At the heart of each specially-designed pendant, bracelet and key chain is a small circular device called SAFER.
SAFER works in two ways.
When a threat is perceived, the user double clicks the SAFER device that’s attached to the jewelry, which triggers the corresponding app.
The app sends an alert to the wearer’s network. “They can be family and friends who will get the alert through the app or as an SMS on their phone,” said Mehta.
The app also has a GPS function. “It’s your constant companion,” said Mehta. “You enter your destination and the time you are leaving, and your network can track your movement the entire time.”
Other features include a map showing the nearest hospitals and police stations.
The jewelry costs between $52 and $74 and takes just 15 minutes to charge for a week of use.
The 22-year-old cofounders debuted their smart jewelry in January.
“We’ve sold almost 5,000 pieces, including 1,000 to customers in Turkey,” said Mehta.
The goal, he said, is to get the jewelry in the hands of 1 million families by the end of 2017.
Mehta said an incident in 2012 became their call to action.
On December 16, 2012, 23-year-old medical student Jyoti Singh was gang raped and killed in New Delhi. The brutal nature of the attack shocked the nation and struck a nerve around the world.
It especially hit home for Leaf Wearables’ cofounder Paras Batra.
“Paras lived in the same neighborhood as she did,” said Mehta. “A year after the incident, Paras said nothing had changed in terms of improving women’s safety.”
The friends bounced around ideas and decided that their solution would have to be rooted in technology.
“It had to be tied to a mobile phone because most people have one,” he said. “And most women in India wear jewelry.”
They connected the dots and came up with SAFER in 2014, their senior year of college.
To date, Mehta said the startup has raised $300,000 through outside investors, prize money and family and friends. The company now has 12 employees.
Mehta said the team is happy with the early traction — they’ve already had inquiries from people around the world.
“We’re often asked why five young men want to tackle this issue,” Mehta said. “Our answer is that this isn’t a male or female issue. This is a problem that is confronting us as human beings. It shouldn’t matter who creates the solution.”