“Engagement with startups is the key to innovation for established companies.”

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TE Connectivity recently partnered with the Bangalore Chamber of Industry and Commerce (BCIC) Startup Hub to launch an accelerator programme in India. In an interesting conversation with Electronics For You’s Yashasvini Razdan, Rahul Mathur, director, revealed the company’s plans as an accelerator for startups. 

Q. Could you shed some light on your collaboration with BCIC?

A. We intend to be ‘venture clients’ for these startups and enable them to work on their PoC or prototypes in our manufacturing facility. We’d want them to develop products and new technologies for India and the globe. BCIC will provide the business framework, external support, and consultation so TE can run this program. The framework allows us to select the right startups and provide support in areas such as business mentoring or connecting them with academia or other technology partners in the industry. So, that is what BCIC is doing – building the ecosystem to support the startup’s needs.

TE will connect the startups directly to the business by driving it. We’ll be the sponsors, and they will be the users. This way, their use cases and projects won’t be limited to research and development (R&D) or a PoC. They can work directly with businesses and even scale globally if possible.

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Q. Why did you choose to collaborate with BCIC for this project?

A. When considering the launch of our startup accelerator, we recognised the opportunity for TE to impact India, the world’s third-largest startup ecosystem. It became evident that Bangalore was a natural choice due to our existing presence there, with extensive operations and manufacturing engineering facilities. Additionally, Bangalore possesses a vibrant startup ecosystem, making it an ideal location. While there are already accelerators focusing on tech and deep tech in the area, we found a perfect fit partnering with BCIC. Their emphasis on Bangalore, coupled with their engagement with large, medium, and small-scale industries, as well as the establishment of a startup hub, made them an excellent collaborator. Hence, we decided to launch our accelerator in collaboration with BCIC.

Decoding accelerator programs

Q. In this collaborative project with BCIC, would you call yourself an accelerator or an incubator?

A. An incubator supports a startup at the early stage. We’re more of an accelerator because we’d want to partner with startups ready with a minimal viable product or a proof-of-concept (POC) to provide them with use cases to implement. We want to be their first and, if possible, biggest customer and support their growth. They’ll also get good mentorship regarding technology and business via academia and business consultants. It’s an opportunity for collaboration.

For example, in the manufacturing sector, we’re looking for startups that can assist us with Industry 4.0, enhancing our throughput, manufacturing capabilities, and process efficiency. These startups will get connected with experienced engineers who have substantial knowledge and exposure to the shop floor. This expertise will be valuable for startups progressing from PoC to final product development and scaling. 

Startups are looking for a large organisation that can use or adopt their products, and we intend to be the marquee customer for these startups and leverage their capabilities. That’s why we’d call ourselves an accelerator.

Q. How do accelerator programs benefit large and established companies like TE?

A. Startups, with their entrepreneurial mindset & nimbleness, often hold the key to innovation. Companies don’t need to solve every problem internally, and there are challenges and areas better suited for startups. We have observed some remarkably innovative and interesting ideas emerging in the marketplace. Unburdened by the constraints of a large organisation, startups can bring these ideas to a stage where established companies can then engage and collaborate with them.

Q. What is the average investment you invest in accelerating a startup?

A. The key aspect we bring to startups is our commitment to long-term business opportunities. Currently, startups have access to funding and technical/business mentorship. However, they often lack validation of their PoC and a long-term commitment to potential business opportunities. As a client, we offer the most significant value by providing that validation and the potential for sustained business engagement to startups.

Q. Will the startup accelerator involve a two-way business interaction between your company and the startups, or will it be one-way?

A. We will offer our products for the startups to incorporate, but it is not mandatory for them to use them. While our wide range of products makes it likely for startups to utilise them, our primary focus is to find the best solution for their needs, irrespective of whether it involves using our products. We will support and optimise their product using our products, but it is not a requirement.

Q. What will be the impact on your accelerator if a startup isn’t financially successful?

A. As an accelerator, we fully commit to investing significant time and effort into working with startups. Ensuring the startup’s viability is crucial, and we, as accelerators, will evaluate this during the selection process. However, it’s important to note that predicting the success or failure of a startup is inherently uncertain. Engaging with startups involves embracing this unpredictability.

Q. What are your selection criteria for patronising a startup?

A. We have very simple criteria — the startup must be sponsored by a business from any segment — manufacturing, operations, product development, technology, or even a C-suite executive. The other criterion is that the startup’s solution should be unique and competitive for India and globally. 

Q. Who are a part of the selection team?

A. We are currently in the process of establishing the internal structure for our startup accelerator. This structure will involve a combination of our business leads and technology/engineering team members. Additionally, we have partnered with BCIC to assist us in the selection process. Although our core team is small, our primary focus is ensuring that a business takes ownership of the startup. 

Our role will primarily involve advocating for the accelerator from the front, rather than being heavily involved in day-to-day operations. Ultimately, the startups will be connected to TE. Once a startup is embedded within a specific business unit, they will have access to the extensive resources of that unit of TE. Our role is to facilitate and support the organisation in finding the right startups that align with their business objectives.

Q. How many startups have you incorporated in this program till now?

A. We’re in the process of selecting startups as we’ve just launched the startup accelerator. We are reviewing about 50 startups and have narrowed it down to three startups to engage with. So that process is on right now.

Q. Which industry sectors do the startups associated with TE Connectivity’s accelerator program belong to?

A. From an industry perspective, our growth focus areas include mobility, smart cities, and smart energy. However, we are not limiting ourselves solely to these three areas. TE Connectivity is involved in various business segments across different industries, and we have a wide range of offerings. We intend to leverage startups on a global scale. If we come across a startup that aligns with our product roadmap, whether in manufacturing, product fit, or technological compatibility in areas such as processes or materials, we are open to engaging with them regardless of sector specificity.

Surfing through market trends

Q. How has the Indian market evolved in recent years, and how has TE adapted its focus to cater to the specific needs of the Indian market?

A. The Indian market has historically faced challenges due to its relatively small size and slow growth. However, over the past few years, there has been a significant shift in this landscape. The importance of India for an industrial technology company like TE has been steadily growing, leading to a significant shift in the landscape. TE has recognised this change and actively focuses on the Indian market. We are now able to cater to the specific needs of the Indian market by offering India-specific solutions. This involves working closely with our OEM customers to understand their requirements and developing products tailored to the Indian market. This increased focus on India has been a key area of emphasis for us in recent times.

Q. How is IoT transforming the Indian startup ecosystem in energy, smart cities, and infrastructure?

A. IoT includes ‘data and devices,’ which encompasses service providers like AT&T and Verizon and infrastructure companies like Siemens. We have observed a unique trend where many startups work on edge computing, creating an M-shaped curve in the ecosystem. This indicates opportunities for startups and larger infrastructure service providers, with the centre being an exciting space for convergence. The centre holds potential for further developments, especially for IoT use cases. Examples include further innovations in smart meters, connecting EV infrastructure to networks for mobile app interactions such as selecting EV charging stations and making payments online. IoT enables a wide range of applications and use cases, including factory floor monitoring, energy efficiency improvements, and utilising AR/VR for training purposes. The possibilities enabled by IoT are extensive and diverse.

Q. What government initiatives or policies support startup growth in energy electrification, smart cities and IoT?

A. We are familiar with policies like FAME (Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Electric Vehicles) and SPECS (Scheme for Promotion of Electric and Hybrid Vehicles). We leverage SPECS for our incentive schemes. In addition, we hope that the government accelerates initiatives for EV infrastructure. The availability of charging infrastructure is a crucial aspect in facilitating the adoption of electric vehicles, alleviating concerns about charging locations. These are the key areas of focus for us.

Q. What opportunities do you see in the energy and electrification space?

A. Yeah, when we look at the broader scope of mobility, there are two key opportunities to consider. Firstly, there is the electrification aspect, which has garnered significant attention. Secondly, there is a transformation occurring in systems architecture. Previously, cars had more distributed electrical architectures, but now there is a need for improved situational awareness, vehicle-to-vehicle communication, safety protocols, and autonomous vehicles. While the realisation of these advancements may not be immediate, those who venture into this space today can expect promising prospects in the future.

Q. Can you provide more details about your upcoming projects in e-mobility?

A. Certainly! One of our ongoing projects on eVTOL is with leading global companies to develop the next generation of e-mobility equipment. We have already seen some successful use cases implemented in France and the US. Our close collaboration with these companies involves addressing specific requirements such as lightweight designs and efficient electrical power transmission. Additionally, we focus on meeting critical environmental protection standards. We aim to provide innovative solutions that support the advancement of e-mobility technologies.

Q. What role do mobility startups play in reducing traffic congestion and improving air quality?

A. Urban mobility is a significant and globally relevant topic. Our focus includes working closely with our customers to enable them in developing their micro-mobility solutions, eVTOL (Electric Vertical Takeoff and Landing) aircraft for urban air transportation, and hybrid mobility solutions. Improving the quality of urban living through mobility innovations, including electrification and the adoption of electric cars, is a key area of interest. Additionally, we see opportunities for innovation in equipment development and the exploration of new business models that utilise shared assets, reducing parking congestion and infrastructure demands.

Q. Do you think autonomous vehicles will exist in India?

A. Indeed, the path to autonomous vehicles entails numerous steps, making it a highly challenging endeavour in the short term for India. However, it is crucial to acknowledge that progress can still be made in improving situational awareness, alerting drivers about obstacles, and aiding in braking, among other functionalities. While achieving full autonomy may require time, these incremental advancements contribute to the overall development of autonomous driving technology.

Q. The government has recently cut down the subsidy on FAME-II. How is this going to impact the growth of e-mobility startups in India?

A. I think the key focus should be building the infrastructure to support the EV ecosystem. That’s where much support is required going forward, and I am sure we will continue to see more from an enablement perspective.

Q. How do you leverage SPECS for your incentive schemes?

A. We have a global manufacturing facility catering to India and the rest of the world. Recently, we invested significantly in switching and had to choose an ideal location for the facility. Southeast Asia, South America, and India emerged as potential options during the evaluation process. Ultimately, India was chosen as one of the key factors in the decision-making process because of the government’s SPECS policy.

Q. Can you give me some insight into your plans for future expansion and investments in India?

A. TE is actively investing in both human resources and capital in India. One of our significant investments is the establishment of state-of-the-art labs for both India & global product development. These cutting-edge labs cater to mobility, aerospace and defence, medical, electronics, and industrial sectors. These strategic investments highlight our commitment to engineering and product development in India.

Q. What kind of technologies are available in these labs, and who can use them?

A. Currently, we have three types of labs in our facility. The first is the mechanical lab, for conducting vibration and shock testing. The second is the electrical lab, where we perform high-voltage testing, EMI/EMC shielding, and other related activities. The third is the environmental lab, which allows us to test various climate and environmental conditions, including salt-spray testing. These labs are instrumental in supporting both domestic and international projects. Our global engineering and product teams can access these labs for their specific requirements. In certain cases, we may also consider opening these labs to startups as needed.

Q. Speaking of testing, how do you ensure the quality and reliability of testing equipment?

A. At TE, we have invested in our test and measurement equipment as a key focus.  This enables our engineering teams to perform tests throughout the design process. Having control over the availability of such equipment is crucial. Therefore, wherever we deem it critical, we prefer to procure and purchase the necessary equipment instead of relying on external testing services or leasing arrangements. However, there may be certain exceptional cases where we might consider alternative options for equipment less commonly used by us.

Q. How does TE Connectivity plan to leverage all these opportunities and build bridges to overcome the challenges in achieving the same?

A. TE is a global organisation with a substantial presence as a $16 billion company. Our deep engagement with original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and extensive knowledge of industry standards and specifications enables us to offer valuable insights and guidance. We understand the industry’s evolving landscape, including testing requirements, technology advancements, and potential challenges. When collaborating with innovative startups, we leverage our global experience to provide them with comprehensive support and connect them to the larger ecosystem. This ensures they can develop the right products, qualify them effectively, and successfully bring them to market.


 

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Yashasvini Razdan
Yashasvini Razdan
Yashasvini Razdan is a journalist at EFY. She has the rare ability to write both on tech and business aspects of electronics, thanks to an insatiable thirst to know all about technology. Driven by curiosity, she collects hard facts and wields the power of her pen to simplify and disseminate information.

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