No one doubts that start-ups can play a critical role in India's smart cities mission. They bring in innovation, at times at a cost larger companies can't. In India's 100 Smart Cities programme, some of the start-ups are bidding directly while many others are working with bigger system integrators to deliver the work. Thus far, they are playing a role in areas such as solid waste management, digital door number, augmented reality, bill board management, and robotic cleaning of manholes among others. There is an opportunity in solutions that involve Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence, Cloud, Blockchain, and geospatial technologies.
Nevertheless, most start-ups face headwinds when it comes to procurement contracts from government bodies. Nakul Saxena, Director of Public Policy at product think-tank iSPIRT says that government bodies don't want to give out large projects to start ups because there is no guarantee the start up would survive; they also aren't sure of the quality. "The government can award smaller projects, of a smaller ticket size that is stretched out in phases. They can pay per implementation and the quality can be monitored as well," he says.
An interesting suggestion comes from TiE Delhi NCR. What if physical sandboxes could be built for smart cities?
In its report, 'Turbocharging the Delhi-NCR start-up ecosystem', TiE Delhi NCR and research firm Zinnov, who worked on the study, suggests identifying and declaring a region of 30 sq km - two per cent of land area - in NCR as a physical sandbox (a testing environment) to try out new technologies and solutions. "Augment physical sandbox with regulatory support to secure the environment while providing approvals for testing new technologies and solutions in the areas of water, waste and energy, construction and traffic management, pollution monitoring, e-governance," the report says.
The report goes on to cite the example of Singapore. "In 2014, Singapore set up Smart Nation Program to drive policy change and technology adoption for variety of challenges faced by the city nation. Cornerstone of Singapore's success as a smart city is in its ability to create digital, policy and physical sandboxes to test new technologies in real world condition."
Business Today recently wrote about many exciting start-ups that build solutions for cities. One of them is Genrobotics. The start-up, founded by engineering graduates Arun George, Vimal Govind, N.P. Nikhil NP and Rashid K, has been supported by Kerala Start-up Mission. The company launched its first product in February 2018. Called 'Bandicoot', the robots have thus far been deployed in Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.