Both Anand and Ashwini have more than a decade of experience working in cutting-edge technology scenarios in the Bay Area of the U.S., the hotbed of technology and innovation.

by Common Creativesby Common Creatives

“We can proudly say we are entirely a ‘made in Madras’ product,” says Ashwini Asokan, co-founder and CEO of the curiously-named Mad Street Den, a city-based start-up that works on the premise of redefining artificial intelligence (A.I.) and ‘computer vision’.

“But we do have one engineer from Vellore Institute of Technology,” Anand Chandrasekaran, co-founder of the company and Ashwini’s husband, corrects her.

“But Vellore is not all that far away. It is almost a part of Madras,” she laughs. Spirits are high at Mad Street Den’s office in Abhiramapuram.

Mad Street Den? “It is sadly not as interesting as you might think,” Ashwini intercepts. “MAD stands for Mind Abled Devices. We are into computer vision and artificial intelligence after all. Mad Street Den just had a good ring to it.”

The start-up was in the news last month for having received funding to the tune of US $1.5 million (roughly Rs. 9 crore) from two venture capital firms.

The money will accelerate its vision of enabling companies harness ‘computer vision’ intelligently or what the cameras in smart devices capture.

Both Anand and Ashwini have more than a decade of experience working in cutting-edge technology scenarios in the Bay Area of the U.S., the hotbed of technology and innovation.

Anand is a neuroscientist, whose research was related to how the brain’s visual system wires itself up. He also has technical expertise in neuromorphic engineering — translating neural algorithms into hardware design. Before he came to Chennai, he was consulting on neuroscience and machine learning projects. He drives the creation of a computer vision platform that currently has five modules, and more are being planned.

Ashwini has worked for Intel in several roles and business groups and her expertise is in driving new product categories and experiences out of mobile technologies. She drives the product and applications of the A.I. modules.

In one of the ‘proof of concept’ demonstrations the couple shows, the photo of a person’s shirt is captured by a smartphone, and it is shown how the A.I. engine can help an e-commerce website show search results of shirts that have similar colours or patterns.

Ashwini and Anand’s vision for the company takes it beyond just specialising in one or two specific A.I. components. They want to build an entire stack of computer vision-related A.I. on the cloud that will help their company work in the B2B space as an A.I. service provider.

Madras connection

Both Ashwini and Anand went to college in the city. Ashwini did her graduation at M.O.P. Vaishnav College for Women, and Anand graduated from IIT-Madras.

They moved to the city a year back, to bootstrap their start-up with their savings and also raise their young family of two children together.

“One of the main reasons to come back to Chennai is family,” says Ashwini. “We are just five minutes away from where we went to school. It is an important yet underrated aspect of being an entrepreneur.”

“We are not conventional start-up people, in the sense of how the term is used even in the U.S.,” says Anand.

“There is a lot of talk that start-ups are a young people’s game and is not for the married or those with children,” says Ashwini. “But that’s nonsense. I think Chennai is terrific in this aspect as I know plenty of married people who are working for start-ups.”

In the ‘university city’, as they call it, they have also found engineers with the skill sets they look for. Right now, they are a ‘one of everyone’ company with one software engineer who takes care of the servers to host the company’s software on the cloud, one senior design and creative strategist, one application developer and one machine learning engineer.

But soon, with the funds they have recently raised, Mad Street Den will be expanding its presence in the U.S., where the couple hope to go back and recruit top-notch talent.

“Whatever happens, we are surely going to continue to be based out of Madras,” says Ashwini. “This is home. But yes, there will be a lot of going back and forth to the U.S.”