In an attempt to create a sustainable ecosystem of innovation in India, tech major Intel and the Department of Science and Technology on Thursday, September 8th, announced in Hyderabad a programme called "Innovate for Digital India Challenge 2.0".
It is aimed at inspiring grassroot innovation and to harness local talent with participants from across the country - students, entrepreneurs or any solution maker. The participants are being invited to build products or solutions that could accelerate India's digitisation and commercially develop their prototypes on Intel architecture.
Speaking to journalists after the announcement, Debjani Ghosh, Managing Director and Vice-President, Sales and Marketing for Intel South Asia, said: "The focus this time as against last year, when the first such 'challenge' was launched, is on quality and the acceleration programme. It is an open platform and more partners to come in. This year, we have t-hub also as a partner."
Other than with t-hub, the programme is being launched in collaboration with MyGov, Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeITY).
T-hub is a one-of-its-kind public-private partnership between the government of Telangana and three premier academic institutions in India, which is the IIIT (International Institute of Information Technology), Hyderabad, ISB (Indian School of Business) and NALSAR (National Academy of Legal Studies and Research), Hyderabad with an aim to attract technology start-ups and build an ecosystem for entrepreneurship.
This year, the challenge will be rolled out in five phases with the grand finale taking place in April 2017. Each of the shortlisted teams will be eligible to receive a Rs 3 lakh grant to create minimum-viable products based on Intel architecture in an accelerator programme at the t-hub incubator in Hyderabad. Finally, the winning team gets to walk away with Rs 20 lakh to further their project development.
Responding to Business Today on what Intel had to offer, she said, "We will be doing more of what we did last year. We have our engineers - our R&D resource - in terms of 7,000 talented engineers in Bangalore and a lot of them work with these participants and in fact, the top 10 selected from the lot have access to Intel Maker Lab, which offers all the latest technologies possible for makers" and she added: "Our goal here is to build and eco-system of innovators that can make products that are important for India. It's about hardcore technology challenge and is not about apps and these could be in any sector be it healthcare, financial inclusion or education."
Explaining further, Harkesh Mittal, Advisor and Head, National Science and Technology Entrepreneurship Development Board of the Department of Science & Technology, Government of India, said, "This time, we have also plugged in some of our incubators into the programme and they could provide the mentorship or technical support required can be plugged in apart from what Intel can offer." In terms of the scale and size this time, he said, "in terms of interest from participants, it is doubled compared to last year. Last year, we got 1913 participants and there were 10 in the final, now we will have 20. Last year, out of 10, six were ready with the products for market ." They did not have a number on the number of mentors participating this time and said the mentor group was still being built. Last year, there were 300 mentors on board though not all were used.
The programme, he said, "has got better, bigger and enlarged in its scope. From the department of science and technology, we have so far supported close to 100 technology incubators across the country and located in IITs, IIMs and the other research institutions and some of them could plug in with their support too ".
Earlier, while making the announcement, Ghosh said, "there is no shortage of ideas in India and innovation is what you do to turn those ideas into reality. This platform that finds those ideas and turns them into real solutions and real products. What is lacking is mentorship and the aim here is to provide the mentoring and access to technology. " She said, "last year saw winners from small towns but last year we had 60 per cent conversion rate, 10 finalists out of that 6 products were ready for market. This year, our hope is to 100 per cent conversion rate. " Referring to the proactive stance of the Telangana government, she said, "it has become a trend now. We do all our national launches in Hyderabad."
We have national innovation foundation that works at the grassroots level and they have documented more than 2 lakh ideas of traditional knowledge, best practises and innovations at the village level. That has been done over a 20 year period and some of those innovators also get plugged into programmes like this. Last year, most of our innovators were from small towns and they are now getting connected to institutions like IIMA, IITs and t-hub.
t-hub outpost in the Valley
Speaking at the event, K T Rama Rao, minister of information technology, government of Telangana, said, "we have launched digital literacy campaigns across Telangana and our goal is to get to a stage where out of 9 million households in the state, we have at least one member from each household digitally literate." He said, "we are also setting up an outpost for t-hub in the Valley and reason is to be at the right place at the right place and to showcase some of the start ups at the right place and t-hub as aspiration beyond being a feeder of start ups from Telangana. It wants to be the gateway for start ups from India into the Valley and it will be launched October 11th."
Norms eased for start ups participation in govt tenders
There is a process of procurement within the government of India. But fortunately, the ministry of finance, government of India, has now issued a circular saying that we have done away with the past experience and past turnover criteria in case of start ups. This is a huge change as earlier, these new companies would not have been able to participate in a government tender. This is meant to encourage some of the most innovative start ups that have viable and scalable solutions. It is perhaps with good reason that Ghosh said: "If you have a good product that is making a difference and solves a real problem, it is getting easier and easier for them."