By Atul Batra, NASSCOM EC member and Chairman, NASSCOM Product Council, CTO, Manthan.
COVID -19 has activated the reset button as no other crisis has done in the past. It’s also brought to the forefront the difference between the digital innovators and the laggards. Businesses and governments are increasingly recognizing that technology coupled with data and AI, AR/VR and virtualization will enable a much faster and effective recovery. DeepTech innovation is now at an inflection point in organizations’ digital transformational journeys.
The pandemic has made us re-look at healthcare delivery. On the one hand, we have nations straining every nerve to come up with a vaccine, and on the other, there’s a massive amount of research being conducted on zettabytes & petabytes of data available to draw patterns and insights about the virus per se. The combinatorial power of deeptech (AI, IoT, Analytics, etc.) is helping us travel from the realm of the unknown to the known in rapid time.
The NASSCOM DeepTech Club, the first of its kind which started almost three years back and to date has inducted more than 80 companies (including the recently inducted 4th cohort), has an enviable 7% acceptance ratio. The members are building some amazing solutions and proffering use cases that enable business innovation. The club is also fostering an ecosystem wherein early stage deep-tech companies are able to leverage the connects with industry experts through dedicated mentorships, business collaboration with enterprises and peer interactions, all of which are critical success factors for founders.
The Indian start-up ecosystem, equally impacted by the crisis, is looking at opportunities to pivot. While 20% of the start-ups are already in the deep-tech space, many others are looking at opportunities to pivot their solutions with deep tech capabilities.
Fintech and Healthtech have always been major focus verticals for technology innovation including deeptech but this crisis has brought healthcare innovation at the forefront. Interestingly, many of these companies are now building solutions to fight the COVID war not only in India but across the borders as well. For instance, while Senseforth.AI has built a Covid-19 symptom checker for 111 NHS Wales, UK, Cyclops Medttech and COEO Labs provide solutions that work on ventilators and face shields to ensure the safety of caregivers at home turf. And, there are many others, such as Onward Assist (provides COVID – 19 diagnosis using chest X-rays & CT Scans); Invento Robotics (autonomous robots that can disinfect hospitals); Zestlo Technologies (uses non-intrusive CameraAI, edge-computing & sensors to enable safety norms post-lockdown).
Several other use cases in the new normal are being built by these start-ups on talent assessment in virtual mode, contactless shopping, AR/VR tools for real life experiences, cybersecurity, agritech, edtech solutions and remote collaboration tools.
COVID has prompted global companies to do a massive re-think on diversifying their manufacturing bases from China to other markets. This is a tremendous opportunity for India to leverage optimally and infuse deep-tech in the manufacturing sector in a far bigger way. By combining our world-class talent with Industry 4.0 tools & techniques, we can truly emerge as a deep-tech hub. The government’s vision of an Atmanirbhar Bharat can be realized with the integration of design, engineering, technology and manufacturing, and start-up partnerships will be a key part of the success mantra.
While the DeepTech Club continues to nurture the nascent deeptech start-up ecosystem, we need a coordinated strategy to sync diverse capabilities which will accelerate the pace by 10X. The government is a key stakeholder and can adopt a three-pronged strategy – Nurture, Fund and Procure. A dedicated deeptech fund, research collaboration with academia that is funded and by adopting start-up innovative solutions would provide both the demand lever and sustainability needed.
As all industries reimagine their offerings, enterprises can play a key role in building the right collaborations by embedding deeptech startups into their portfolio of solutions. Recently, Wipro announced a partnership with Wesense.ai to launch ClearHealth, a safety and protection product. The NASSCOM DeepTech Club plays a pivotal role in enabling these kinds of partnerships.
Going back to the root question – yes, most certainly, deeptech continues to disrupt the old normal and as we keep our fingers pressed on the re-set button, we should prepare for greater amplification of deeptech adoption, in the foreseeable future. That alone, will separate the winners from the also-rans.