Deep tech start-ups are the need of the hour

The start-up scene has considerably improved in the past decade.

Published: 08th December 2018 03:50 AM  |   Last Updated: 08th December 2018 03:50 AM   |  A+A-

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The start-up scene has considerably improved in the past decade. Many institutes have incubation facilities; industry associations like NASSCOM have much larger “start-up warehouses”! The funding scene has improved and with successful unicorns like Flipkart, Ola, Oyo and PayTM dominating the scene, starting up is the “in thing” for many youngsters. 

Many industry veterans are now jumping into the start-up bandwagon and there are success stories there. From bigwigs like Google to social enterprises like Akshaya Patra, “hackathons” are being organised that gives youngsters a “feel” for starting-up. Media houses have start-up awards and, finally, governments are supporting start-ups.   

What is missing, however, is the arrival of “deep tech” start-ups. FlipKart, MakeMyTrip,  BigBasket, Ola Cabs, Oyo Rooms and RedBus are great examples of using technology to scale and sustain. However, at the core, their success can be attributed to a “business model”: cab aggregation for Ola, bus aggregation for RedBus, hotel room aggregation for Oyo, retailer aggregation for BigBasket, and e-commerce for the rest.

They bring efficiency and reach, but do not create products and services that did not exist before. That is one area we must focus on from 2020! 

It is not that we do not have such start-ups. Aravind Eye Hospital in Madurai, through its subsidy Aurolab, makes very high quality intraocular lenses at a fraction of cost to those manufactured in USA. For over a decade, SMT has made coronary stents and 14,19,153 have been successfully implanted as of October 26, 2018, as per the counter in SMT Headquarters in Surat! 

What we need now is a deluge of start-ups that focus on deep dive technology abundantly available in the labs of DRDO Labs, CSIR Labs and premier institutes. We do have a large population of scientists, who are generally forced by circumstances to work in isolation, and industry in general looks for technology outside. Unlike governments in advanced countries, both Union and State governments in India have practically excluded sourcing from start-ups in the high technology area and investors have been “short term” focused.  

Luckily, the situation is changing. Many fresh PhDs from IISc and IITs are exploring the start-up route, funding agencies are at least talking of “deep tech” start-ups and incubation facilities are realising it takes at least a decade for these to be “market ready”. Scientists are now willing to get out of their cozy labs and work with youngsters (often half their age) and, finally, industry leaders are realizing the need for “paradigm changing” products and services that create long lasting corporations with products that “make a difference”. 

It is time that all of us in the ecosystem put our heads together and create this unique opportunity of technology-led business leadership. Former President Dr Abdul Kalam talked of India becoming a developed country by 2020 and pursuing “deep tech” would definitely take us there. Can we at least start moving in that direction in 2020? (The writer may be reached at Views expressed are personal)

Prof S Sadagopan
Director,  International Institute of Information Technology, Bangalore

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