View from India: Of Unicorns & EVs

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Omicron may be making news and sending people into panic mode. Yet the country has had landmark moments; around 42 startups migrated into the league of Unicorns last year. EVs are gearing up for an exciting drive. Coupled with this, are upcoming trends that are projected to happen in this decade.

New routes to explore

Home to 90 Unicorns, India is the world’s third-largest Unicorn hub. In finance terms, Unicorn refers to startup companies valued at over $1bn. As per the Hurun Global Unicorn Index for 2021, the US tops the list, followed by China, and then India, whose startup ecosystem is represented by approximately 60,000 startups. 

When we look at the startup community, most of the new ones are in the fintech and e-commerce space. That’s understandable as online retail and payment gateways are preferred modes of purchase ever since the first wave of the pandemic. Moreover, the data emerging from online purchases reveal consumer preferences, and so the data becomes an asset for retailers to tailor their offerings to customers accordingly. However, as Covid has spurred the need for online learning and teaching, ed-tech startups too are on the rise; these startups have created innovative solutions and large-scale employment.

In the recent Startup India Innovation Week, Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi revealed that the annual funding in the Indian startup space has registered a phenomenal growth. It has more than trebled, growing from around $11bn to $36bn within a year. Throwing light on the spread, the PM has said that there is at least one startup in every state spread over more than 625 districts. Nearly half the startups are operating from Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities. It means that several young people from these regions are able to sell their ideas, become startups and employ like-minded people. It would be great if some startups worked in the rural space for the last-mile-delivery consumer. It’s not just the essentials that could be a market here, as the aspiration level of the rural segment is growing; it’s a rainbow of expectations and may include consumer durables, fast food and devices.

What is interesting is that domestic and international investors have shown an inkling towards the drone sector, in sync with the Drone Policy. Drone companies have received orders worth about 5bn rupees ($67m, or £49m) from the Army, Navy and Air Force, while the government has leveraged large-scale usage of drones for mapping village properties for the SVAMITVA (Survey of Villages and Mapping with Improvised Technology in Village Areas) Scheme. Notwithstanding that, the skies have opened up opportunities for drone startups, many of which could tap agriculture and services like home delivery of medicines.

In the auto industry, the government has kick-started the electric vehicles (EV) charging ecosystem. EV owners can charge their vehicles at home or at the office from existing connections, and at domestic tariffs. The power ministry has revised guidelines and enabled land to be made available for establishing public charging stations (PCSs) under a revenue-sharing model between public entities and government. As long as standard protocols are met, a licence isn’t required for individuals and entities to set up a PCS meaning that the EV route may attract companies or land developers to put up PCSs. Battery is another segment: lithium, used to make these batteries, could be a scarcity. One hopes that battery makers may explore newer technologies to mass produce batteries and scale-down costs. Lithium disposal, a takeoff from the EV journey, can generate income and employment for many.  

EV manufacturing requires much more copper than the regular internal combustion engines; this could be a time for copper manufacturers and companies to meet the demand-supply of EVs.

The way forward

Industry 4.0 and hyper connectivity are projected to make manufacturing smart and productive. Smart manufacturing will take into account the design and every aspect of the value chain, all of which can pave the way for accuracy, automation, real-time monitoring and dashboard updates in manufacturing. Data will be shared and leveraged by the various operations that go into manufacturing, and supply chains need to gear up for this. Along with the supply chains, the challenge is people and processes and whether they are equipped to handle such high-tech machines. No doubt the thrust is on improvising the products and producing them at tremendous speed, but this can happen if the workforce is skilled to adopt to a new order. Companies need to work backwards in order to move forward. For example, individuals at the design stage itself need to have the know-how of the technology involved; even those on the shop floor need to be equipped. Similarly, people representing the different stages of the value chain should be trained to keep pace with new changes. 

Open protocols are likely to become mainstream usage as people continue to work from home. That’s quite understandable as open protocols enable the transmission of data from one computer to all other computers in a loop.

Can we create innovation capabilities in emerging areas like cyber security, artificial intelligence and pharma? This could lead to a new generation of innovative products, solutions and services, and necessitate collaboration between companies and even countries.

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