The world is changing rapidly, more so in recent months with Covid-19 pushing countries to think differently about commerce, connectivity and trade. The role that technology has to play has become more important than ever, as it cuts across nearly all sectors. Fortunately for India, a digital revolution has long been underway fuelled by a growing startup and innovation culture. Alongside the continued success of big IT and tech companies, entrepreneurs will be the stars.
India is a leading hub for entrepreneurs, startups and small businesses. It’s the fourth biggest market for tech unicorns and the third-largest startup economy globally. This year India made the Global Innovation Index’s ‘Top 50’ list of most innovative economies for the first time. India’s startup ecosystem has a cumulative valuation of $130 Bn+ (Inc42 Plus) and has helped create more than 390,000 jobs – 60,000 of which in the last year alone.
India will continue to be a venture capital hotspot and attract partners to help propel it to the next level – and the UK is uniquely positioned to play that role. We are the second-largest startup economy in the world, third-biggest market for tech unicorns globally (first in Europe), and venture capital funding for UK tech firms crossed £10 Bn last year – a record-breaking 44% increase year-on-year compared to India’s $12.7 Bn.
Over 81% of UK tech investment in 2019 was made into small tech firms with a high growth potential, in emerging technologies such as AI, Blockchain, robotics and IoT. Also in 2019, fintech firms in the UK received $5 Bn in investments – there’s a reason 44% of Europe’s fintech unicorns and 46% of Europe’s fintech ‘future unicorns’ are based in the UK. The UK may have exited the EU, but we remain Europe’s tech capital: London Tech Week continues to be Europe’s most influential tech event giving startups and SMEs access to leading figures from government and industry.
The UK-India bilateral partnership is worth $30.5 Bn, up by almost 10% in one year and the UK-India tech partnership lies at the heart of that success. Some of India’s most successful companies have chosen the UK to help scale their business.
Last year, Indian ride-sharing unicorn Ola launched operations in the UK and Infosys opened its first design and innovation studio in the heart of London’s tech hub. But entrepreneurs and startups remain the backbone of the tech ecosystem and are often the first to respond to emerging social challenges. There are a range of UK-funded programmes specifically designed to help fuel the ambitions of promising Indian entrepreneurs for exactly this reason.
Some of these include:
- Innovation Challenge Fund: This recently launched $3.8 Mn fund will support scientists in academia and industry tackle the most acute global challenges of our time — Covid-19 and the threat to our environment. The fund is aimed at tech innovators with connections to the AI data cluster in Karnataka and the Future Mobility cluster in Maharashtra.
- Global Entrepreneurship Programme (GEP): GEP enables high-calibre entrepreneurs and their innovation-rich companies scale and internationalise. Since 2004 GEP has supported over 1,000 overseas entrepreneurs and has helped relocate more than 350 companies in the last 4 years.
- Leaders In Innovation Fellowship: The Fellowships offers capacity building programmes for researchers in entrepreneurship and the commercialisation of their research. The programme is delivered in partnership with the Indian Government’s Department of Science and Technology and IIM Ahmedabad’s Centre for Innovation Incubation and Entrepreneurship. Startups such as Trestle Labs — an edtech empowering the blind and visually-impaired – and Enerlyf – a cleantech startup developing energy saving consumer electronics have been benefited from the programme.
- UK-India Fintech Awards: These awards offer the most innovative fintech entrepreneurs an opportunity to be mentored by world-class experts on scaling up domestically and internationally. CreditEnable, an AI-driven SME credit marketplace (one of the winners) is supporting SMEs access business loans, especially working capital financing to navigate through Covid-19.
- TECH Rocketship Awards: Tech Rocketship awards promote collaboration between startups, universities, and industry leaders in India and the UK. The programme has helped over 35 startups, including Thinkerbell Labs – which created Annie, the world’s first Braille literacy device that helps visually impaired people learn to read, write, and type in Braille on their own in any medium of instruction.
Besides these programmes, one sector – particularly relevant right now – is the healthtech sector.
Over the last few months, the UK has supported Indian tech SMEs and startups such as Nocca Robotics, Chakr Innovation, Mecords, and Rite Water to develop affordable solutions to help tackle Covid 19. With products like portable ventilators, ozone-based PPE decontamination systems, online telemedicine consultation systems and electrostatic spraying machines these companies demonstrated that technology is the solution to so many of our modern challenges.
For example, the Sevili, a service robot supported by our Newton-Bhabha Industry Academia Partnership programme has been deployed in six hospitals – helping ensure safe distancing between the medical staff and Covid-19 patients in isolation wards.
The crucial role technology has to play extends beyond the current pandemic. As more collaborations and investments happen in areas such as artificial intelligence and blockchain, further opportunities for UK-India collaboration will emerge. I am confident the UK will be a co-star in India’s tech blockbuster.