‘Our IoT Open Lab In Bangalore Is Funded By Arrow Electronics’

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The growing presence of startup incubation centers, electronics testing facilities and open labs can turn the tables for the ESDM ecosystem of India. Dr. Omkar Rai, director general, Software Technology Parks of India (STPI), in an exclusive chat with Rahul Chopra and Baishakhi Dutta of electronicsforu.com network, sheds light on such various startup-centric facilities that entrepreneurs in the country can utilise and how beneficial these really can be. Excerpts follow…  

Dr. Omkar Rai, director general, Software Technology Parks of India (STPI)

Q) You started with focusing on IT and now we are seeing more and more enlargement of the scope to cover ESDM. What is the vision behind this?
STPI started with the promotion of the IT outsourcing industry. At present, it is a very mature industry which is powering and serving many IT businesses in the world. Now, the focus is shifting primarily for two reasons.

Firstly, India requires to promote electronic manufacturing because our import bill has grown a lot. And in times to come, it can grow even further if we don’t manufacture within India.

Second is that much of the wealth now lies in technology product creation, and the world market in terms of technology product today stands at US$ 445 billion. However, unfortunately, India’s share in this market is mere US$ 7.1 billion. This is the reason why many new initiatives like incubation movement, startup movement and the national policy on software products that was recently approved by the Union Cabinet of India are aimed at transforming India into a technology product nation. 

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India is trying to capture a sizeable world market and the country’s share is estimated to reach US$ 70-80 billion by 2025.

Q) How will this transition benefit the ESDM startup pool in India?
Since the nature of entrepreneurship is changing, the nature of startups is changing too. Hence, we are transforming our role to become a modern incubator which should be able to provide end-to-end services to startups. These services will be in terms of product creation, right from the screening process, man training, capital investment to exposing them to the whole market. 

Then comes more facilities like market connects, access to the capital and so on. All these are services essential for a startup to grow today, and these are being given by STPI for which we are creating several Centres of Excellence (CoEs) in the entire country.

Q) Are these CoEs primarily incubation hubs?
Absolutely! It is an incubation hub because it will take care of all the needs of the startups, right from sensitising the students to creating an idea. We organise sensitisation programme all across the country. Even at our existing Electropreneur Parks, we often invite prospective entrepreneurs so that they are given a random glimpse into the kind of opportunities that exist, including the areas where people need production services. 

Q) Are the CoEs same for separate areas of technology like ESDM, IoT, AI, etc.?
No, each of these CoEs is focussed on different technology areas. We are operating the Electropreneur Park which is in the University of Delhi (south campus) in collaboration with the India Electronics Semiconductor Association (IESA). Through this centre, we are trying to work with a large number of industry experts and veterans who are working with our entrepreneurs and startups. This is totally focussed on electronics systems. We are opening another Electropreneur Park in Bhubaneswar, which is seeing the rise of a large number of new startups. Also, we are opening a CoE for AI and several other CoEs using IoT in different domains.   

Q) Any other technology areas where these CoEs are functional?

We are opening a CoE focussed on FinTech in Chennai, a CoE on automotive electronics in Pune and a CoE on medical technology and healthcare at Sanjay Gandhi Postgraduate Institute of Medical Sciences in Lucknow. We have already opened a CoE on Augmented Reality & Virtual Reality in IIT, Bhubaneswar. 

Q) How many CoEs are there and what is your targeted number of centres for the future?
As of now, we plan to open 28 CoEs to cover every nook and corner of the country. It will take another two years to do so. We have already completed seven and 11 more have been planned. Going forward the numbers may even increase further. 28 centres of excellence will definitely be created by STPI to cater to the needs of startups and upcoming entrepreneurs across the country in almost all domains using all emerging technologies which are covering the industry 4.0 evolution in India and the entire world. 

Q) So far, who are the main investors or sponsors for these centers?
All these CoEs are coming up in a collaborative manner. Apart from MeitY and STPI, the concerned state governments are also funding in it. Even the private sector is working with us hand-in-hand. Our IoT Open Lab in Bangalore is funded by Arrow Electronics. In FinTech, players like PayPal, NP
CI, Royal Bank of Scotland and Fed Bank are our partners. Several such industry players are partnering with us.  

Q) What will be the end achievement of STPI through these startups?
Once the incubated startups graduate and find commercial success, they move out into the market and start to grow. STPI’s motive is to create and strengthen the startup ecosystem and therefore we want to create the infrastructure which can be accessed by the startup ecosystem. There should be no dearth of talented people, laboratories, maintenance and support system for startups. STPI being a non-profit
organisation, there is no commercial motive involved. We intend to provide more promotional and support services.

Q) Does STPI take any equity in startups?
It depends. There is a market norm to keep a maximum of 10 per cent equity by stakeholders to make it self-sustainable. Our CoEs in most cases will have 8 – 10 per cent equity share of startups. And it will be distributed among mentors, partners and others. So in all, our equity can be limited to a maximum of 2 per cent. We aim for making some money out of these efforts just to make these startups self-sustainable over a period of time. However, if we have enough grants then we might provide everything for free! For Electropreneur Park, we are getting a lot of CSR grants, which makes it a very flexible model.

“Out of 22 startups which we promoted and supported in Electropreneur Park, 18 IPRs have already been created and all of them have been patented”

Q) How can an entrepreneur know about these things?
We keep on updating information on our website. We post about workshops, help  entrepreneurs connect with investors, conduct mass contact programme, bring industry veterans to work with prospective entrepreneurs, offer them laboratories and provide a glimpse of the real market.  

As the number grows, we will have the STPI CoE Hub which will be a window for any entrepreneur to interact with us. It will also help spread information so that people can start connecting through colleges, universities and hi-tech institutions. By doing so, the whole ecosystem will be able to approach them. It will have all sorts of access mechanism so they can easily approach us and apply online or through our campaign.

Q) How can incubators like Electropreneur Park provide scopes for entrepreneurs to get connected to investors?  
These kinds of incubators help startups find a gateway to access investors and customers. They will come to you and evaluate your ideas. This channel will consist of incubators, mentors and people who are actively associated with the industry and the market. Electropreneur Park has attracted a lot of investors. Industry veterans and mentors have helped our startups connect with probable investors.  

Q) What milestones have Electropreneur Park reached so far?
So far, out of 22 startups which we promoted and supported in our Electropreneur Park, 18 IPRs have already been created and all of them have already been patented. These startups have been able to generate domestic revenue with the help of instant applicability and commercialisation of their product. Similarly, the Electropreneur Park in Bhubaneswar is also going to capitalise on the whole thing. 

Q) Is Electropreneur Park (north India) full to capacity or there is more expansion planned?
It is full to capacity. We don’t want to expand the area and number because we don’t want to compromise on the quality part. We should be able to handle and give entrepreneurs the required mentoring.   

Q) What is the aim of the SMART lab that you have set up in Bangalore?
The Semiconductor Measurement and Reliability Test Laboratory (SMART lab) was created way back in 2012. It is developed exclusively for the ESDM chip designing industry. India is very good in semiconductor and chip design. But the country so long didn’t have facilities to test those chips which are designed here. Designers, entrepreneurs and industries used to send those chips to foreign countries like Taiwan or the US for testing. So, a lot of time and money was spent on testing. The reliability in measurement and characterisation services were not available in India easily. Hence we decided to open up our first SMART lab in Bangalore and provide all these facilities. We take all these measures in a collaborative framework by bringing state governments, academia and industry on board.

Q) Any further expansion of the SMART facilities planned?
We are opening another SMART lab in Bhubaneswar, which will complement the one in Bangalore. If certain types of equipment are not available in Bangalore, then they could be found in Bhubaneswar. These facilities will also be made available online so that one can test their equipment by logging in remotely. 

Q) What is the application process? Are there any particular criteria for the companies to apply? 
There are no criteria for applying. Anybody can apply by just walking in and demanding for the services. Services will be given based on the application and submission of fees.

“ India is very good in semiconductor and chip design. But the country so long didn’t have facilities to test those chips which are designed here”

Q) What is the time period that the SMART lab is taking for testing?
It depends on the services that are called for. One can even get it upfront. There are certain services for which you may have to wait in queue. In such case, you can always schedule your timing. Laboratories and services of these types are very competitive.

Q) Will these centres be able to survive by themselves or do they need to be funded
Obviously, you need to fund these centres. If these were not fund-intensive, industry players could have arranged the facilities by themselves. These funds are being organised by STPI’s own resources from the grants which we are receiving for some of the projects from MeitY. Then we approach the concerned state governments for financial help. So, initial capital funding is required.    

Q) Is there some kind of qualification that an organisation or an individual need to have to be a qualified startup?
A startup can be anybody. There is no qualification for that. But if you are trying to refer to the Startup India program, then there is a qualification. For Startup India program, there is a condition where a committee of joint secretaries screen an application and recognise only those products that are technology based and has some IPR input in it. So, if a startup is recognised like that, then they are eligible for availing a lot of incentives in terms of exemption of income tax and all. Our startups can also apply in the Startup India program and also avail all those incentives.

Dr. Omkar Rai was appointed as the Director General of STPI by the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet (ACC) and has also administered Software Technology Parks (STP), Electronics Hardware Technology Parks (EHTP) and IT/ITeS SEZs as development commissioner, under Ministry of Commerce and Industry (India), Government of India. He is actively involved in various policy formulations required for the growth of the industry from time to time.
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