Startup mantra: Technology and defence create a whole new battlefield for innovation

Updated on Feb 21, 2021 01:13 PM IST

With more than 30 defence establishments in and around Pune, the city-based defence startups are availing benefits with direct access to these establishments

These entrepreneurs, while working with the tri-services, are addressing many such problem statements with their innovative products and indigenous technologies. (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
These entrepreneurs, while working with the tri-services, are addressing many such problem statements with their innovative products and indigenous technologies. (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
BySalil Urunkar

When news of the Chamoli glacier burst broke earlier this month, several rescue and relief teams were rushed to the spot by authorities.

While the rescue operations were being conducted, the NDRF sought help from startups– some of them from Pune – to deal with the situation.

These entrepreneurs, while working with the tri-services, are addressing many such problem statements with their innovative products and indigenous technologies.

With more than 30 defence establishments in and around Pune, the city-based defence startups are availing benefits with direct access to these establishments.

The Mahratta Chamber of Commerce, Industries and Agriculture’s (MCCIA) defence committee is also running a “defence procurement assistance programme” series for startups and MSMEs.

The committee members also facilitate meetings with the College of Military Engineering (CME) and Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) officials, where entrepreneurs get an opportunity to present and demonstrate their products.

Tech Mahindra is establishing a Makers Lab at CME to provide cutting-edge, next-generation technologies for the forces.

What the founders say

“The focus of our work is biosensors. We are planning to make a drug delivery vehicle product like for example a “painless drug delivery agent”. Small children are vaccinated, and it is quite a painful experience for them. Our drug delivery vehicle will ensure that the vaccine is delivered, and it won’t cause pain to the children. We are yet in the research stage and it will take another four to five months for the finished product launch. We are also in talks with some pharmaceutical companies for this product.

“Another product is in the sensors-related domain. We are planning to develop a soldier’s health monitoring system which is non-invasive. We will measure maximum health related parameters such as blood pressure, haemoglobin, serum content, and platelet count of the individual using an IoT device and interfacing it further to a display or mobile. This product will take about a year for launch as it requires multidisciplinary expertise.

“Defence Institute of Advanced Technology (DIAT) has started a fully equipped innovation and incubation centre and is providing all infrastructural facilities to the incubated startup. They might consider internal funding to the incubated startups, but the policy decision is yet to be taken. We are also seeking government grants from Department of Science and Technology, Biotechnology Ignition Grant (BIG) scheme of BIRAC. For guidance in availing these grants, DIAT is taking help from NCL Venture Centre. DIAT vice- chancellor Dr C P Ramanarayanan, along with Dr Suvarna Datar and Dr Thakur have been instrumental in making all this happen.

“Infrastructural support from institutes and universities is available to startups. A startup founder needs takers and indigenous technologies will be developed if there are any takers for it. Hence, institutes should try to improve and increase the industry interface, only then a startup will become successful. I have raised this issue multiple times on several national platforms. There should be a common platform/ industry interface where the industry can say that they require a technology and they are ready to fund it and find out whether the startups can do it for them.”

-Prof Dr Sangeeta Kale, founder of Navyukti Innovations; director, Policy and Planning at Defence Institute of Advanced Technology

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“We work in the security domain and our products are unmanned ground systems or vehicles. These products help the armed forces undertake reconnaissance, surveillance and take appropriate action for physical interventions with the enemies. We have also designed a logistics robot and demonstrated its capability. It can carry 30kg to 40kg of payload. We have also designed a small spherical robot which can be used in counter-insurgency operations in northern command.

“So far, we have received funding of 1 crore from various government departments, Science and Technology Park Pune, and SINE IIT Mumbai. Recently we also received a grant from the Ministry of Electronics and Telecommunication grant for a project which we had undertaken during the lockdown period. We have also pitched to SIDBI fund of funds.

“In the last year, two to three startups have moved to Pune. The ecosystem in Pune is pretty good for hardware startups. There are other institutes like DIAT, CME which help entrepreneurs in terms of access and reach. CME is helping us to take a proposal ahead with Army Training Command. It is certainly benefiting start-ups.”

- Ganesh Pandit Suryawanshi, founder, Combat Robotics India

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Mentor speak

“Government of India has started two schemes for startups and MSMEs. One is the technology development fund (TDF) scheme where the users (the three services) give requirements to the directorate of futuristic technology management (DFTM) at the DRDO headquarters. TDF floats a problem statement on its website. It gives up to 10 crore grant. Startups or MSMEs invests only 10 per cent in development. So almost all development is funded by DRDO. They give handholding support like testing the product on site. They review the progress every two months and give feedback. DRDO also offers mentor support from their laboratories.

“The other scheme that government has given is the IDEX scheme. This is directly run by the department of defence production. In this scheme too, all problem statements are put online. The limit is 3 crore with 50 per cent funding provided. So, startups have a matching contribution in IDEX.

“The best thing that has happened last year is that both the schemes have been included in the new defence acquisition procedure. As per the new DAP, the tri-services are bound to purchase items developed by startups or MSMEs under these schemes in the future. The biggest problem faced in the past regarding buyers has been addressed under the innovation purchase in the policy document. The only problem with these schemes is that they may take more time than a startup would like.

“In the defence sector, the market is very uncertain and hence, venture capitalists are not keen to invest in companies unless until there is demand from the end customer, that is the ministry of defence.

“As far as ecosystem is concerned, there is too much of mentoring, but collaboration is not happening. Many of us in the startup ecosystem feel that we will do everything. This is causing people to invest in efforts which somebody could have done much faster. Start-ups should worry about profitability and not the quantum of work.”

-Abhishek Jain, VP, Strategic Partnerships, Zeus Numerix

Best defence is attack

Combat Robotics India

Founded in 2015 by Ganesh Pandit Suryawanshi

•Design and manufacturing of defence-grade robots that empower and enhance human abilities. These robots’ function in high endurance and rugged conditions and with the help of Intel Core processor family enable tactical surveillance and intelligence gathering on difficult terrain with adaptive chassis-less motion technology.

•Funded and mentored by Intel through SINE (IIT Bombay Incubator) with central government’s Department of Science and Technology (DST) under PLUGIN Programme Made in India.

Zeus Numerix

•Founded in 2004 by Gopal Shevare, Basant Kumar Gupta, Shilowbhadra Banerjee and Irshad Khan

•Zeus Numerix is one of the winners in the fourth edition of IDEX Defence India StartUp Challenge for the “Reduction of Radar Signature of Ships” project. Company involved in analysis, certification and design of defence systems including certification and design of various naval platforms, aircraft and missile systems.

•Received seed funding of 12 lakh from SINE and later, angel investment of 2 crore.

Navyukti Innovations

•Founded in December 2020 by Dr Sangeeta Kale

•Works on development of bio-medical devices, drug delivery vehicles and advanced sensors

•First company to be incubated at the Defence Institute of Advanced Technology (DIAT)

Eklavya Aero Sports, Shivajinagar

•Founded in 2014 by Ajit Sapre

•Provides training in Aeromodelling and sale of Aero-modelling equipment/kits. Also offers customer specific solutions in multi-copter applications and sale and support of multi-copters (Quad/Hexa/Octa-copters).

•Included in 16 shortlisted startups by Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) in December 2020 to solve core challenges in security sector

Artificial Intelligence and Robotics

Founded in 2017 by Sushil Agarwal, Prashil Agarwal and Pankhuri Agarwal

•A technology company focusing on development of AI based UAVs for surveying and mapping services. Also working on improving the take-off and landing capabilities of the fixed wing UAV to make it more agile by developing a fixed wing UAV with vertical take-off and landing capability.

Skykeeper

•Founded in 2018 by Swapnil Shende, Jiwan Kumre

•Works on drone technology to provide high-value, end-to-end engineering solutions and services to industrial and commercial sector. The services provided include aerial UAV industrial inspections, aerial survey for GIS, agriculture and mining and drone photography.

Aeronica Advance Technologies

Founded in 2019 by Uday Mithari and backed by Anand Deshpande and others

•Multi-utility Artificial Intelligence backed Unmanned Aerial Vehicle or drones for automation, ease of operations and lowering the cost of land surveys, land resource mappings, emergency delivery, defence or city surveillance and security, resource tracking, agricultural scanning and rescuing the resources and lives during natural calamities or accidents.

Ayaan Autonomous Systems

Founded in 2019 by Atul Chaudhary

•Developing ‘autonomous systems’ using drones, UAVs, marine vehicles and other robotic systems, unmanned platforms. Drones designed for emergency response, portable and rapidly deployable for border and counter surveillance, urban policing and crowd management.

Pahwa Metal Tech

Founded in 2014 by Lalit Kumar Pahwa

•Manufactures high technology copper titanium alloys and parts used in several industries like Oil & Gas, Mining, Aerospace, Automotive, Electrical, Welding etc. The technology was developed by DRDO and PMTPL is exclusive licensee on a global basis for this technology.

Total number of aeronautics, aerospace and defence startups

•India - 905 (DPIIT-recognised - 346)

•Maharashtra - 121 (45)

•Pune - 33 (13)

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