In order to boost the hardware startup ecosystem in the country, the Indian arm of global tech company Intel will launch a hardware incubator programme called Plugin. It has also made tie-ups with IIT Bombay’s Society for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (SINE) and the central government’s Department of Science and Technology (DST), for a period of three years.
Under this initiative, around 20 intellectual property-driven hardware and system startups will get incubated in the first year. The initial focus would be on selecting hardware startups working in areas such as security, graphics, display, IoT, healthcare, data centres, and cloud.
“Intel had launched a lab in Bengaluru in August last year where it has incubated many startups. But we realised it wasn’t enough. The partnership with SINE and the DST will take it to a much higher scale,” said Nivruti Rai, vice president for platform engineering group and general manager, at Intel India.
Plugin intends to take ideas at a proof-of-concept or prototype or at least a demonstrable idea stage to the market. Participating startups will be incubated through intensive training periods, one-on-one mentoring, technology related support from Intel experts, business service support from SINE, as well as prototyping and manufacturing support. It will also refine the startups’ go-to-market strategies.
The programme will be divided into two phases. The first phase includes soliciting, finding, filtering the startups. Then comes the housing phase where these startups will either use SINE’s facilities in Mumbai or Intel’s maker lab facility—which has all kinds of hardware toolkits and development kits—in Bengaluru for six months.
“After six months we intend to do a demo day where we expose the company to a larger set of investors for facilitation for larger money,” Rai said. “The next six months will involve focussed coaching in the form of virtual support. Our effort would be to get one or two commercialization by the end of the year.”
Initially, $497K would be invested into the programme and this amount will be increased subsequently. Startups will get initial funding of about $37K – $45K (INR 25-30 lakhs) in addition to facilities against a 2% stake in each startup. The first batch for Plugin is likely to start in October and has started taking startup applications for a year-long programme.
For Plugin, Intel and the DST will act as co-sponsors of the incubator while SINE will drive execution. As said by Poyni Bhatt, COO, SINE, “Intel will bring in the corporate, technical and on-the-field strength. We will focus on venture creation, venture support and connections. The DST will act as a government adviser, policy maker, and funder.”
Some of the Indian startups that have carved a niche in the hardware space include – Fin, Dosamatic, Ather Energy, Goqii, GreyOrange, Teewe, Absentia among others.
Similar Initiatives For Hardware Startups in India
In July this year, China’s Hax Accelerator also announced to invest $100K each in Indian startups working in the hardware segment. According to Hax, India lacks the ecosystem to bring products faster and this needs to be addressed.
In April, Bengaluru-based hardware accelerator Revvx also announced its plans to set a dedicated fund for startups. A batch of this programme has also been invited to a six-week Hax Boost programme.
A sudden attention towards hardware startups was noticed after PM Narendra Modi, during his speech for Startup India initiative pointed it out as an important sector. However, starting a hardware startup is difficult in India. Lack of local talent, converting the prototype into a commercial model, handling supply chain, low traction and constrained cash flow, are some of the basic challenges that hardware startups in India are continuously struggling with.
During an earlier interaction with Inc42, Sanjay Vijayakumar, chairman of Startup Village and co-founder and CEO of MobME Wireless, said, “It’s hard to run a hardware startup globally, as the complexity is very high at all stages; starting from industrial design to funding to prototyping & production to finally launching and delivering it to the customers.”
Certainly, initiatives like these will be a moral booster for those in the hardware space and will also open gates for some new initiatives and innovations in this space.