Over the past two decades, India has been at the forefront of providing technology services to the world. Along this journey, the country’s technology services sector has matured not just vis-à-vis its technical knowledge but also in business processes, leading to India’s recognition as a technology powerhouse. The maturity of the technical and business skills has resulted in a rapid evolution of software-based startups over the past decade. This has supported new business models, created job opportunities and enabled transformation of business landscape and government policies in the country.
Today, this story of India innovating is evolving further with the emergence of a dynamic hardware and systems startup ecosystem. Unlike the mature software and IT applications sector, the hardware and systems startup segment is in its early stage, but making steady progress. These sprouting solution providers (combination of hardware, systems, and software capabilities) are required for the simple fact that many local needs require customized products, solutions and services.
This hardware and systems-based startups eco-system is seeing strong collaboration and is being supported by large product companies, specialized accelerators/incubators, academia, and industry bodies. The support is being provided in the form of incubation facilities, mentoring, business connects, and funding. This collaboration is fueling the momentum and we are witness to a host of hardware and solutions startups beginning to succeed. In fact, according to a NASSCOM-Zinnov study from last year, there was a 40% year-on-year rise in the number of incubators and accelerators in India.
The bright outlook for hardware startup ecosystem also has its own challenges and complexities. They require longer lead time to advance from ideation to product design, availability of specialized equipment and infrastructure, mentoring and manufacturing support, and of course, funding for projects that entail longer gestation periods.
These needs can only be addressed through stronger public private collaboration, wherein the large companies are open to sharing their technology platforms like labs, hardware and software tools, mentoring; the government creates a more conducive environment for nurturing the hardware start-up ecosystem through right policies and market access, while academia helps mentor and enable the makers. Working together as one ecosystem will result in accelerating innovation and entrepreneurship in this space. It would lead to the full use of technical knowledge and the great talent pool in solving local and global problems. The fast growth of Internet of Things (IoT)-based use cases and complementing technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Virtual Reality, and new connectivity platforms such as 5G, will fuel growth opportunities and lead the path of success for the new breed of startups.
By offering access to state-of-the-art labs and infrastructure, hardware & software tools, providing mentoring through senior technologists and funding, these large companies are enabling startups to fast-track product development. It is also important to realize that while the ecosystem support is must for the startups to succeed, the startups also provide a huge advantage to the ecosystem. The corporates are benefiting by imbibing the spirit of speed, flexibility and velocity and gaining by bringing `outside in’ ideas and IP into their roadmaps.
This is just the beginning of a long journey for hardware startups in India. With the continued collaboration amongst all stakeholders, we can soon expect to see a thriving hardware and systems ecosystem that will be crucial for solving basic issues in areas such as healthcare, education, security and productivity. Today’s opportunity is for all the tech enthusiasts, entrepreneurs, corporates, government, investors to fully participate and take advantage of the innovative ideas, solutions mindset and new challenges. Soon enough, the hardware and systems startup eco-system will evolve itself into a major strength for our nation and rest of the world.