When we think about running shoes, images of the usual brands with their trademark logos pop into our heads immediately. But how often do these mass-produced shoes focus on the comfort of the foot and an individual’s running style? Two former IIT Roorkee students and sports enthusiasts, Prateek Sharma and Siddharth Jain, have come up with Heelium, a startup that designs running shoes with a special focus on performance, injury prevention and comfort. We have seen more and more startup brands like Vessi shoes and Heelium which is great. An industry dominated by the same few brands makes the sneaker industry boring and will also slow down technological advances of footwear as there is no real competition in the market.
The name, Heelium was coined keeping in mind the core of the shoe which seeks to protect the heel, as well as be light in weight akin to the gas helium.
With a background in engineering, both the founders earlier worked in other organisations but regularly kept in touch discussing ideas of what they could do together. Prateek later completed his Masters’ in Sports Engineering while Siddharth worked in the field of oil and gas in Singapore.
Speaking about how they decided to base themselves in Pune, they add, “While we were brainstorming, we decided to pick a place that would have a good lifestyle and be convenient to both of us as well.”
From conceiving such an idea to realising it, there have been a few challenges along the way, “There is definitely an entry barrier we face. The market is filled with big players like Nike, Adidas and several more. It is a big challenge to maintain a high quality of the shoes during the production stage. We have kept several layers of checks at every step to ensure quality. The other thing is that not many people are aware of their foot type,” explains Siddharth. Prateek adds that the initial cost to manufacture shoes is a big amount, “even if we start small, we will have shoes of different sizes in three different colours. That will produce around 6000 pairs of shoes. The amount to manufacture those many units is quite a sum.”
Both the founders explain that the shoe is designed in such a way that it should fit like a sock, “The peripheral size of the laces is bigger so that the fit is right. There are arc support insoles that are customised as per your fit to strike the right balance. We have innovated with a midsole technology that provides with five times more impact and protection. There is a support counter for the heel as well. The product is very light in weight. We have the first prototype now and it will be tested mechanically and physically as well.”
The pricing of the shoes has been done keeping in mind the material and technology used, though the rates are quite competitive, “Generally when we look at the price of running shoes of big brands, they cost up to Rs 8000 also. We are looking at pricing Heelium shoes between Rs 2000-3000 at the moment,” states Siddharth.
Heelium sees itself launching sometime around December 2017 after the final model of the shoe is ready. Both Prateek and Siddharth see it as a brand firmly establishing itself in the sports market, “In terms of our vision, we want to create a brand that is the best in the sports market. Initially, we will focus only on the Indian market and sell the shoes offline at marathons, events, sports universities and gymnasiums. We will also be on e-commerce platforms. We are not in a hurry to go all out. Pune has quite a large running community which makes it a great market for something like this as well.”
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