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Optimo Loan secures USD 10 million seed funding from Blume and Omnivore

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Optimo Loan, a pioneering MSME lending-tech business for rural India, announced today that it has raised USD 10 million in seed funding. The round was led by Blume and Omnivore, with additional contribution from Optimo’s Founder, Prashant Pitti.

Optimo aims to bridge the USD 530 billion credit gap in MSME lending, by facilitating access to quick, hassle-free, and flexible financing options for MSMEs. With this investment, Optimo aims to revolutionize MSME lending in rural India by leveraging cutting-edge technology and a phygital distribution model. The startup is building a co-lending platform for MSMEs with a unique underwriting method. The novel approach allows Optimo to gain deeper insights into the financial health of MSMEs, enabling informed lending decisions and catalyzing entrepreneurship and economic growth in rural communities.

Optimo was founded by Prashant Pitti, an alumnus of IIT-Madras and an experienced entrepreneur. He is most well-known for co-founding EaseMyTrip, India’s only bootstrapped startup to achieve unicorn status and go public. Prior to his entrepreneurial ventures, he worked with prominent financial institutions in the United States such as Capital One and HSBC. The startup aims to use the acquired funds to expand its operations, enhance its technology, recruit new talent, and broaden its presence to twenty locations in rural India by the end of this year.

Speaking about the funding round, Prashant Pitti, Founder of Optimo stated“I am excited to embark on this lending-tech venture, which I am running alongside EaseMyTrip. Optimo lending operations commenced in November 2023, and we are scaling swiftly yet prudently. Our top management team comprises individuals with extensive experience of 10-15 years in MSME lending. We aim to establish an asset-light company by primarily leveraging co-lending agreements with banks and larger NBFCs.”

Ashish Fafadia, Partner at Blume Ventures, said, “We believe in Optimo’s mission to democratize access to finance for MSMEs in rural India, especially considering their significant contribution of 29% to GDP. To achieve the ambitious goal of elevating this contribution from 4 to 15 trillion over the next 15-20 years, it’s imperative to explore more effective collaboration avenues. Prashant’s rich expertise and network will be invaluable in navigating towards this mission”.

Reihem Roy, Partner at Omnivore, observed, Optimo’s innovative lending technology model holds the potential to make a substantial impact and foster enduring change in underserved communities. India faces a significant credit deficit, with only 25% of all MSMEs having accessed formal loans to date, leaving 53 million businesses untapped and holding immense opportunity”.

.  .  . 

About OPTIMO

Headquartered in Bangalore, at Optimo Loans, the team is dedicated to creating a positive social impact and fostering financial inclusion in the small business community. The company’s financing solutions are meticulously designed to empower businesses, irrespective of their size or background, to achieve their growth ambitions and drive economic progress. Through its finance solutions, Optimo Loans supports businesses in investing in new technologies, increasing liquidity, and ensuring business continuity. By empowering businesses to expand and flourish, the company actively contributes to local job creation, economic growth, and community development.

The commitment to financial inclusion remains at the core of Optimo Loans’ mission. The team understands the crucial importance of accessing finance for businesses’ success. Therefore, they adopt a customer-centric approach, providing flexible solutions to meet diverse needs and empower underserved entrepreneurs.

OPTIMO Loans is dedicated to revolutionizing MSME lending in rural India and assisting businesses like yours in thriving.

About Blume Ventures

Blume Ventures is an early-stage India-focused venture fund that backs startups with both funding as well as active mentoring. Blume typically invests in Seed and pre-Series A rounds in tech-led startups led by founders obsessed with solving hard problems for the Indian market and from India for the world.

Blume presently invests out of Fund IV, a $300M vehicle supported by leading institutional LPs and family offices. With the close of Fund IV, Blume now has an AUM (Assets Under Management) of over $600m, managed by an investment team based across Bengaluru, Mumbai, Delhi, and San Francisco. To know more, visit: https://blume.vc/  

About Omnivore

Omnivore is a venture capital firm, based in India, which funds entrepreneurs building the future of agriculture, food systems, and rural economy. Omnivore is currently investing from its third fund, the Omnivore Agritech & Climate Sustainability Fund, that announced its first close at $150 million last year. Including this fund Omnivore now has an AUM of over $350 million.

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Pros and Cons of EV Company Cars in 2024

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Businesses and individuals are switching to electric vehicles in ever-increasing numbers. Latest figures show there were more than 1 million fully electric cars registered in the UK in February 2024 on top of a further 56,000 electric vans and 620,000 plug-in hybrids.  

Now, with a government ban on the sale of all new petrol and diesel cars due to come into force in 2035, more and more businesses and employees will be trading in their polluting fossil-fuel company vehicles for a zero-emissions electric model. 

From salary sacrifice schemes to tax benefits, business car insurance specialists, Keith Michaels has weighed up the advantages and disadvantages of driving an electric company vehicle in 2024 and explained what this means for employers and benefit in kind (BiK). 

The Pros of EV Company Cars 

Owning a company car was once a tax-efficient benefit designed to stimulate the UK car market. That benefit soon became diluted as governments clamped down on benefit-in-kind rules, making company cars less desirable for businesses and employees alike. 

The rise in electric cars changed attitudes again thanks to attractive benefit rates for employees and tax deductions for employers aimed at encouraging uptake in EVs, reducing carbon emissions, and helping the government meet its Net Zero target. 

With electric vehicle technology constantly improving, it’s no surprise that businesses are now choosing EVs over standard motor options. Not only is this good news for the environment but there’s less maintenance and lower running costs with electric vehicles compared to those powered by combustion engines. 

The advantages of EV company cars for both businesses and employees in 2024 include: 

Emission-based tax benefits  

Businesses may offer employee salary sacrifice schemes in return for an electric company car with zero emissions as it delivers substantial savings through tax benefits. Instead of calculating emissions, tax rates are fixed for all electric company cars, so businesses won’t pay Class 1 National Insurance contributions on the salary given up, but 1A National Insurance on the lower amount of benefit in kind instead. 

Unlike other so-called benefits in kind such as mobile phones or health insurance, income tax charges for electric cars aren’t based on foregone wages, but rather a percentage of the car’s list price as defined by HMRC. For fully electric vehicles, the rate is 2% until 2024/25 rising by a further 1% each year until 2027/28 when it will freeze at 5% which remains substantially less than the taxable value of a petrol or diesel car.  

VAT savings 

Another tax benefit of electric company cars is that employers can recover any VAT incurred for employees who charge vehicles at work or at public charge points. At present, HMRC states that this doesn’t apply to employees who charge their company EV at home, and they are not entitled to recoup any VAT for business use. 

Purchase price discounts 

Employees who enter an EV salary sacrifice scheme in the workplace can take advantage of potential discounts on the purchase price compared to buying the car outright. Most dealers and manufacturers are crying out for guaranteed buyers for their electric fleets and are likely to entice new customers with significant cost savings and attractive packages. 

Zero congestion charges 

Any employee driving an electric company car will be exempt from paying congestion charges in the UK where they apply. Similarly, company EV drivers don’t have to pay Clean Air Zone charges which are currently in force in Birmingham, Bristol, Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh, and Glasgow and will soon roll out across other towns and cities. Company EVs are also exempt from London’s ULEZ charges which currently stand at £12.50 per day for vehicles that don’t meet the strict emissions criteria.  

The Cons of EV Company Cars 

Electric company cars provide many benefits for businesses and employees, but there are also disadvantages to consider. From a reduction in take-home salary to limited vehicle options, the drawbacks to driving a company EV include the following: 

Lower take-home salary and pension contributions 

While salary sacrifice schemes can be financially beneficial for employees, they also mean a reduction in take-home salary. This is because the cost of the EV is deducted before National Insurance contributions and taxes apply, potentially leaving workers with less money and a smaller budget at the end of each month. Similarly, salary sacrifice schemes can also negatively impact workplace pensions as a reduction in gross salary means lower pension contributions. This could have long-term implications for an employee’s retirement pot and affect their future financial security. 

Mortgage and loan challenges 

Any reduction in take-home salary resulting from a salary sacrifice scheme could harm an employee’s ability to secure a mortgage and limit their borrowing capacity for loans. Mortgage providers generally base their rules around lending on an employee’s income and monthly expenses. Therefore, a lower take-home salary could be detrimental for employees looking to secure a mortgage or loan or affect the terms of interest they are offered. 

Limited electric car selection 

Those who enter an electric company car salary sacrifice scheme are unlikely to have an unlimited choice of vehicles. Most employers will have a contract or arrangement with specific manufacturers, giving employees a smaller selection of makes and models of EVs to choose from. Not only that, but some employees may also find they are responsible for the upkeep of their company electric car under the terms and conditions of their salary sacrifice scheme. As a result, the employee could be liable for all servicing, repairs, insurance fees, and ongoing costs which could reduce the financial and tax benefits of a salary sacrifice scheme. 

Penalties for early scheme exit 

Many EV salary sacrifice schemes offer limited flexibility when employees leave the scheme early or do not meet the pre-agreed terms of the agreement. There are many reasons why this may happen such as workplace changes or new business ownership, but employees are often charged fees or penalties for exiting a scheme early. Also, when an employee changes jobs they may want to transfer their salary sacrifice scheme to their new employer. However, this solely depends on the agreement in place between the employer and the scheme provider and may not always be possible. 

Overall, electric company car sacrifice schemes can deliver many benefits for both businesses and employees including tax savings and discounts on purchase prices, lower running and maintenance costs, and zero emission charges. However, EV salary sacrifice schemes can also cause a reduction in take-home salary, penalties for early exits, and limited vehicle choice. Therefore, it is essential to weigh up the pros and cons of any electric company car salary sacrifice scheme to fully understand the obligations and limitations involved with switching from fossil-fuel vehicles to EVs. 

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DeepTech Startup AVGARDE Wins the DRDO Dare to Dream 4.0 Contest for National Level Innovations in Counter Drone Technologies

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AVGARDE

Deeptech startup AVGARDE was declared the winner of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) Dare to Dream 4.0 Contest for national level startup innovations in ‘countermeasures for drone and swarm of drones’. Incubated at IISc Bangalore and IIT Guwahati, AVGARDE is building a cutting-edge AI-driven object sensing platform for low-altitude airspace management. Founded in Assam, AVGARDE has offices in Bangalore and Guwahati, with Pan-India operations and associates supporting customers across the country.

The prestigious DRDO Dare to Dream competition provides a unique opportunity for startups and innovators to address key challenges in emerging technologies that can help boost India’s aerospace and defence capabilities, while contributing towards the country’s Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) ecosystem to achieve technological self-reliance.  

Manash Bhuyan, Managing Director & Co-Founder of AVGARDE said: “We are honoured and proud to be a winner at DRDO’s coveted innovation contest, Dare to Dream 4.0. This award is a testimony of our globally competitive technology developed by our amazingly talented team. With this recognition, the innovation journey of AVGARDE is further validated as we continue to develop our best-in-class AI-driven airspace management platform for various applications, including drone countermeasures. With the proliferation of drones, the low-altitude airspace is confronted with many potential risks and threats for civilian and military dual-use cases. As we address these new-age challenges, AVGARDE is motivated to develop pioneering indigenous technology and contribute effectively towards a self-reliant India.”

Currently, the AVGARDE DeepSense platform offers three product lines – (1) DroneSafe – an AI-enabled Counter Unmanned Aerial System (C-UAS) to detect, classify, mitigate and report aerial risks/threats from drones, UAVs and other aerial objects; (2) DIWAR – an all-band GPS Jammer for tackling drones and inhibiting its airborne motions; and (3) BirdsEye – an intelligent Bird Detection and Monitoring Radar (BDMR) for dual-use aviation safety and preventing Bird Aircraft Strike Hazard (BASH). 

Nilutpal Choudhury, CEO & Co-Founder of AVGARDE said: “This award is a phenomenal milestone for AVGARDE and I have immense admiration and gratitude for our diverse and great team. DRDO’s Dare to Dream is a great platform to validate innovations as it’s a multi-stage screening process with various selection criteria considering aspects of novelty, applicability, implementability, technical merit and maturity. Therefore, it is a great honour to be recognized by DRDO, our country’s esteemed R&D organization for aerospace and defence. Our team is further encouraged to innovate continuously to develop advanced home-grown technologies to fulfill our commitment towards Atmanirbhar Bharat.”   

About Avgarde Systems

Avgarde Systems Private Limited (“AVGARDE”) is a radio frequency, wireless technology and artificial intelligence focused deeptech startup building an AI-driven object sensing platform for low-altitude airspace management. With the proliferation of drones, AVGARDE is reimagining wireless technologies to innovate the next generation products for the drone airspace and allied operations, with applications across  airports airspace safety, critical infrastructure protection, drone fleet operations, unmanned traffic management, aerospace and defence.

Founded in India as a private limited company, AVGARDE has offices in Bangalore, the world’s fastest growing tech hub, and Guwahati, the gateway to the Northeast – India’s land bridge to Southeast Asia. AVGARDE has incubation and research partnerships with some of India’s top institutions, including Indian Institute of Science (IISc) Bangalore, and Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Guwahati.

About DRDO – Dare to Dream Innovation Contest

Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO) is a premier agency under the Indian Ministry of Defence, which is responsible for the military’s research and development. DRDO technologies have been adopted by the Indian Army, the Indian Navy, the Indian Air Force and others. DRDO also promotes R&D though it’s Technology Development Fund (TDF), which is focused on supporting Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) and the development of indigenous technologies. To promote startups and innovators, the DRDO Dare to Dream Innovation Contest was launched in honour of Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam, a renowned scientist and former President of India.

The DRDO Dare to Dream Innovation Contest intends to scout and promote individuals and startups for innovations in Defence & Aerospace. With such initiatives, the Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO) provides a unique opportunity for startups and innovators to solve some key challenges in emerging technologies that can help boost India’s defence & aerospace capabilities.

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AFFF Exposure Leads to Chronic Ailments: How to Alleviate Health Risks?

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AFFF exposure

The job of a firefighter is not just stressful but also dangerous. The risks associated with their health and lives are real. This danger is not over once a firefighter walks out of a site that had previously caught fire. The flames might have been extinguished for good, but the firefighter foam, or AFFF, results in major harm.

Firefighters get exposed to AFFF daily as a part of their occupation and training. This toxic foam leads to several life-threatening ailments that hurt a person’s quality of life and even decrease their lifespan. 

In December 2023, dotnews.com reported that most of the Legislature in Worcester had signed a letter to Andrea Campbell, an attorney general. The letter was a plea urging the state to join the firefighters detected with cancer in the lawsuits they have filed against manufacturers of firefighting gear. It’s because these gears have harmful ‘PFAS’ (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) or ‘forever chemicals’ that are detrimental to health.

This news emphasizes that AFFF exposure is fatal for firefighters, and they need to be secured from it. In this article, we will discuss the dangers of AFFF to human health and how firefighters can mitigate the health risks.

Understanding AFFF and its Health Hazards

AFFF (Aqueous Film Forming Foam) is a firefighter foam that has fluorine and is used in training Class B materials like jet fuel, oil, and gasoline, for the shore or shipboard facility fire suppression systems. The foam develops a barrier that diminishes the fire by taking off the oxygen supply and allowing the fuel to cool down. 

TorHoerman Law states that AFFF is very effective against some critical fires. 

However, many states are planning to ban the use of AFFF because of its toxic chemicals, which affect both humans and the environment. The U.S. military, in October 2024, intends to stop all the uses of AFFF. The Federal Aviation Administration will follow this initiative soon after. 

The latest studies highlight that PFAS persists in nature. It can also enter the human body through water, air, and soil contamination. Leading organizations such as the IARC (International Agency for Research and Cancer) and the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) consider PFAS to be carcinogenic. Therefore, other than restricted use, there is also a need for secure practices for handling and disposal. 

The researchers with the EPA and Department of Defense state that AFFF exposure can result in: 

  • Asthma
  • Fertility problems
  • Immune system changes
  • Issues in fetal and child development
  • Problems related to cholesterol
  • Liver damage
  • Higher chances of kidney, testicular, and various other cancers
  • Thyroid disease
  • Preeclampsia induced by pregnancy
  • Ulcerative colitis
     

Firefighters who have witnessed such health hazards should file a firefighter foam lawsuit to seek legal compensation. The money that they get can be used to cover all the economic and non-economic damages that they have endured because of this toxic foam exposure.

Safe Handling Is Crucial for Alleviating Health Risks

Once you are affected by AFFF exposure, you have the choice of making a legal claim under the guidance of a lawyer. However, it is also necessary for firefighters and other safety professionals to practice security measures to reduce the health hazards linked to this foam as much as possible.

The following guidelines are useful:

Using PPE (personal protective equipment)

The workers who have to deal with AFFF should wear the correct PPE, which comprises face shields, goggles, and gloves, to avert splash hazards. They also need P2 respirators to ensure that any harmful particles are filtered out. Also, if the safety gear has PFAS, companies must look for safer alternatives.

Implementing Correct Awareness and Training

Executing in-depth, regular training sessions that focus on the risks of AFFF and secure ways to manage the same is necessary. It will help firefighters learn about emergency response measures that will help to bring down the harm caused by the foam. Training should also focus on spill response, correct use of PPE, and correct disposal methods to make sure the staff is safe.

Following Correct Disposal Methods

It is necessary to dispose of AFFF correctly, or else it can cause much harm to nature. Companies should adhere to environmental regulations to avert any hazards. It is necessary to get in touch with a toxic waste disposal service provider because they have the necessary know-how and tools to dispose of AFFF without causing additional harm.

Storing AFFF the Right Away

It is also necessary to store AFFF correctly. The Department of Ecology has shared a few regulations that can help. 

1. Refrain from giving away or selling AFFF to any other fire departments.

2. Secure the AFFF tanks and containers from the elements.

3. Store the containers strictly inside a shed or building.

4. Make use of secondary containment to avert AFFF release to the environment when there is an accident or a spill in the storage area.

5. Make sure to label the tanks and containers with the manufacture date, contents, and any hazards that the contents might pose.

6. Keep the tanks and containers clean to check whether there are any signs of leakage or any other issues when you check them.

In conclusion, firefighter foam, though effective in extinguishing dangerous flames, poses much harm to human health. Once affected, firefighters and others have the option to file a lawsuit and seek the fair compensation they deserve by following the guidance of a lawyer. However, it is also essential to adhere to a few safety practices that will go a long way in alleviating health risks at work.

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