India has accelerated in the last decade, more so in the last two years, becoming a digitally transformed country. The technology startup ecosystem has witnessed significant growth trajectory on the back of tech adoption but where does that leave Indian founders building new technologies, investors and corporates? Following the past decade of digital innovation, deep technologies, which will be at the centre of the next wave of the information revolution is the next big thing that both corporations and venture investors desire. So, is there a new model emerging for developing deep technologies? Are commercial applications which were earlier led by institutions – corporates and government – now being replaced by deeptech startups?
As the Indian ecosystem sees the rise of powerful new platform technologies and falling barriers; driving innovation in 2021 has become more of a fragmented attempt - despite easier access to knowledge, skills and information. This is the one reason for the need for newer models. DeepTech, or deep technology, refers to those startups whose business models are based on high tech innovation using recent technological advances in multiple areas. With 19% of tech start-ups leveraging deeptech solutions to build product competencies for market expansion, what sets these deeptech companies apart from their other tech peers?
What is DeepTech
DeepTech is a term for technologies that are based on scientific or engineering breakthroughs and have the potential to be commercialized. They aim to solve the biggest and most complex challenges and these technologies have the power to create their own markets and disrupt existing industries. DeepTech innovators and investors typically view the world through one of the following lenses:
(e.g. quantum computing)
(e.g. advanced manufacturing)
(e.g. cure skin cancer)
(e.g. clean energy/climate change)
When a deep tech solution works, it creates a platform technology that can enable disruption across markets, jumpstart new industries and address existing bottlenecks in traditional sectors. The sectors and technologies included in DeepTech are broad and ever-shifting.
What Makes DeepTech Different
It's all science! It stems from Research & Development (R&D). It harnesses a scientific discovery or breakthrough, and it builds from there. For DeepTech startups, seeking product-market-fit is not about A/B testing features and phrases. Here it means conducting iterative experiments with the technology and its application to real-world environments, as well as navigating the various scientific fields and intellectual property that might drive it. Because of this, DeepTech has longer gestation periods. Depending on the innovation, it can take months to decades before the technology is ready to commercialize.
Many experts in the field reference Pasteur’s Quadrant as a framework for understanding the evolution from pure to applied research and the role of DeepTech in the overall scientific landscape. Media, analysts, and even scientists themselves often talk about basic and applied research as if they are the two ends of a spectrum, and that most research can be described as being either purely basic with no practical end in view, or applied with only practical ends in view (and no interest in understanding fundamental processes of nature).
Pasteur’s Quadrant presents an alternative: a box divided into four quadrants that represent an emphasis on different aspects of research. The 2- axis grid acknowledges that basic and applied work do not have to oppose each other, but can blend and support each other.
The Evolution of the Technology Commercialization Process
: The challenges associated with deep tech stem from the complexities of the technology commercialization process and can be placed into three broad categories: prolonged timeline, limited availability of social and physical infrastructure, and lack of capital.
Enabling effective cross-sectoral collaboration helps to ease many challenges and boost opportunities. Corporations, DeepTech VC funds, Academia, and Government are striking partnerships around open innovation.
What is 100X.VC up to with Indian Deeptech Startups
has been at the forefront in identifying and funding high growth startups – backing Drones & Robotics, Agritech, CyberSecurity and API-led companies. The fund strives to look for entrepreneurs attempting to solve problems which have historically been unattainable due to technology or engineering limitations. Some deeptech startups with high scalability potential and commercial viability, which are part of our portfolio include:
: an on-demand automation company that is solving the problem of material handling with an elegant solution. Material handling is a wasteful, non-value-adding process in many industries, amounting to a colossal waste of time. Accio Robotics has developed a completely autonomous modular mobile robot platform that is capable of not only solving material handling needs but also fulfilling use cases such as “picking and placing” and UVC disinfection.
: BurnCal’s computer vision-based fitness coaching platform is built to create a direct line of engagement between you and your own fitness & wellness coach. While personal trainers build workout plans and ensure high-level oversight, Burncal uses proprietary computer vision technology to proactively monitor the daily workout routine of the users and provide a highly personalised fitness experience at scale.
: an AI-backed platform that gathers intel from external data to provide location-based data intelligence. With a Cloud-Based B2B Data MarketPlace Product that helps business leverage location-based insight from over 200+ Data Sources, the company operates in a Data-As-A-Service(DaaS) Model & currently is catering to Retail, E-commerce & BFSI Sectors.
: started with the ideology to make the job of a man easier. They manufacture 2-axis, fully autonomous, water-free rooftop solar panel cleaning robots to benefit EPC’s customers with extra generation worth $4000/annum/MW. With their lineup of the world's most advanced solar panel cleaning robots, they increase the efficiency of rooftop solar panels and reduce the costs of labour and water.
: an AI solution for F&B enterprises and cloud kitchens to monitor Standard Operating Procedures to ensure quality controls and accelerate real-time efficiency from the decision to action. Our Eye.ai’s plug-and-play camera infrastructure can integrate with pre-existing CCTV-IP cameras, and the enterprise can use the API to plug data and video feed anywhere. Its quick onboarding solution can capture data periodically, and continually learns more about the target object/person upon repeated viewership.
: is an enterprise-grade application. Their proprietary algorithm uses AI to extract road and street-level data. Their marketplace solution helps crowdsource data from our users and provides a way to monitor road conditions real-time and navigates users to the most time-saving and safe route possible.
: Assessments are crucial in the learning cycle of any student. Multiple-choice questions are the only autogradable assessments that can be conducted online today, on platforms such as Byjus, Vedantu, Chegg etc. As online education becomes mainstream, subjective assessments are much needed as they enable students to express themselves. Manual grading of subjective assessments is not scalable. Solvio, helps edtech companies to assess and grade, subjective answers of students using Computer Vision and Natural Language Processing.
: The current process of preventive surveillance is slow and erroneous, which if not done correctly can put companies at risk of losing more than $500 mil per year. Vecros is building a new standard for all autonomous inspections using computer vision, edge computing, and drones that centralize planning, execution, and analysis of fault reporting for enterprises.
: Video is a growing ecosystem where over 1 trillion minutes of video would be watched per month in 2021. Language Translation services are likely to be a $56.18 billion market by 2021 due to the rapidly growing trend of cross-border businesses, a highly lucrative client base, and extensive use of multiple languages to grow businesses. Vitra.ai helps Media companies, EdTech & Social Media Influencers have a global reach & reach 8-billion people with just 1-click by translating videos with the voice & lipsync seamlessly.
Above are examples of young entrepreneurs in India who are going well beyond the usual sectors in which startups function—ecommerce, fintech, edtech and health care—and are using engineering knowledge and problem-solving techniques to build innovative solutions. One reason why these deep-engineering companies are being built in India today is the emergence of a cohesive ecosystem. Enabling the growth of these startups are factors that include the availability of talent, and investors who are willing to back them.
"Increased investment in frontier technologies is critical to solving some of the most important challenges we face in the 21st century – such as developing carbon-negative technologies, creating a spacefaring civilization, reversing or delaying aging, and feeding 10 billion people on a hotter, drier, planet. An “all hands on deck” effort involving government, industry, academia, and investors might close this critical capital gap.”- Tom Kalil, Schmidt Futures
Dawn of the Indian DeepTech Ecosystem
India’s vantage point is unique with a young population, better connectivity, the advent of enterprise companies and startups developing deep technology solutions. Leveraging deep technology to push and boost growth in healthcare, education, industrial and manufacturing and other areas hence becomes critical. India is emerging as the next deeptech hub and gaining some prominence. According to The National Association of Software and Service Companies (NASSCOM), in 2019 India had 1,600 deeptech startups. Deep tech is seeing increased adoption across multiple sectors like industrial, healthcare, automotive, and spacetech. Just as data is critical for AI technologies to thrive, for deep tech companies in the non-digital space, material science (frequently driven by nanotechnology) and process technologies often become the drivers. Innovation happening in India on those fronts drives local startups to address global problems.
A major advantage of deeptech solutions is their ability to form the basis for future industries that emerging markets like India need. Institutional investors are well-positioned to lead the way in deeptech, amplifying the amount of patient capital. This is particularly the case for growth-stage deep tech companies when most scientific risks have been removed, and the initial product-market fit has been achieved in developed economies. Partnerships with corporations and startup accelerators can benefit early-stage deep tech startups. Startup accelerators and incubators under Atal Innovation Mission and Department of Science & Technology serve as an example of this approach spearheaded by Startup India and Niti Aayog.
Venture capital investments in R&D intensive startups, as well as investment in specialized funds, can enable the growth of the Indian deeptech ecosystem and help bring more sustainable deeptech solutions to the market.
Clearly, a new Indian deep tech ecosystem is building up, with big ramifications for all players, most notably companies, investors, and startups. Investors are putting a greater amount of money into these companies. This may be partly because companies working in the early stages need more time and money to bring their products to market (and some don’t even have products yet), but it is also a sign of the willingness of corporates and venture capital firms to make substantial, long-term bets on new and untested technologies.