As reported by Malavika Velayanikal, TechinAsia, 22 July 2015
The roti is a flatbread that’s ubiquitous in India and increasingly popular around the world. A pan-fried version of it is called parotha in India and roti prata in Singapore.
The roti or chapati in its simplest, most rustic form is made of stone-ground whole wheat flour, roasted on a tawa or griddle. It accompanies meat, vegetables, or lentils in most meals in northern and western India. And now the versatile roti is showing up all over the world in different forms – as wraps in the US, quesadillas in Mexico, egg prata in Singapore, or the roti canai sweetened with condensed milk in Malaysia and Thailand.
The low calories and glycemic index of the plain roti make it a healthier alternative to bread. But rotis should be had fresh and can be cumbersome to make at home everyday. Kneading the dough, rolling it out, and making the roti is a time-consuming affair – one reason why the Indian diaspora around the world have made bread or rice their staple.
India-born Singaporean, Pranoti Nagarkar, decided to do something about this.
The mechanical engineer from the National University of Singapore, who worked on product design at Amtek after graduating, came up with a prototype for an automatic roti maker, which won the Start-Up Singapore competition way back in 2009. But her startup Zimplistic, and its flagship rotimaker, really became a commercial proposition after husband Rishi Israni came on board as a co-founder a couple of years later.
Software engineer Israni was a co-founder of TenCube, a mobile security startup in Singapore which got acquired by McAfee in 2010. With his programming expertise, he made the rotimaker a smart device called Rotimatic and helped raise US$3 million from private investors.
Long waiting list
By the time the new roti maker was launched last year, it was smart enough to use its 15 sensors to figure out the ingredients put in it and the measures in which to combine them, making it fully automatic. All you need to do is put in the flour and any dry additives in one container, the water and soluble flavoring items like salt in the wet container, and the ghee (clarified butter) or any other oil in a third, small container. And voila! A flat, circular roti slides out of the machine – much like a sheet of paper would come out of a photocopier. You get one roti a minute.
Within a week of its launch, US$5 million worth of rotimakers, priced at US$599, were sold, and Zimplistic closed pre-orders. Today, there’s a waiting list for rotimakers amounting to over US$72 million and over 5,000 requests for distribution partnerships around the world.
Now, finally, the wait for the robotic rotimaker, which has been on an extended beta testing mode, may soon be over. Zimplistic today announced series B investment of US$11.5 million from NSI Ventures and RBVC. With this funding, Zimplistic plans to finish the Rotimatic beta, accelerate manufacturing rollout, and set up operations in international markets to fulfill the big demand. “It has been an amazing year for us and these new partnerships will only help to improve what we see as a revolutionary product that enables families to eat healthier,“ says Rishi Israni, CEO of Zimplistic.
Hian Goh of NSI Ventures, part of the Northstar Group, a Singapore-headquartered private equity firm, who joins the Zimplistic board of directors with this investment, says:
Zimplistic is a rare combination of a project with huge revenue potential and also social impact by increasing the productivity of millions of men and women around the world who still make flatbreads by hand.
The US$999 price tag at which it is expected to retail when orders are re-opened will put the robotic roti maker out of reach for most Indians. But for the well-heeled Indian diaspora in Singapore and the US, where the Rotimatic will first become available, it may soon be a must-have kitchen appliance.