The year 2021 could well be the year of Deep Tech. Over the course of the pandemic, the visibility and impact of Deep Tech have become much more accessible to a wider audience. Whether it be the first ever mRNA-based vaccine to combat the pandemic, or the space race, Deep Tech has secured mainstream interest.
The rise of Deep Tech start-ups can be traced to advances in cloud compute power driving efficiencies for scientific research. Alongside, functional applied research has got a significant boost driven by efficiencies in basic research. Lastly, the maturing digital and research infrastructure have enabled wider access to conduct scientific research.
The rapid developments in Industry 4.0, whether it be in terms of autonomous vehicles, 3D printing or advanced robotics, or in terms of biotech, such as bioprinting and genetic engineering are all contributing to Deep Tech advancement. Deep Tech start-ups typically operate at the convergence of technologies, and leverage atleast two or more technologies. They are predominantly focused on solving grand challenges.
A key challenge that start-ups face is in traversing the valley of death. It is a metaphor that is used to describe the many challenges that many R&D intensive start-ups face in bringing their inventions to market. At two different stages of their journey from lab to market, Deep Tech start-ups face upto the Valley of Death. The first is when they seek to pilot their proof-of- concept, and the second, when they seek to forge ahead towards tech commercialization, from lab to market.
As such, an effective strategy for Deep Tech start-ups would involve not just getting the tech right, but also solving for a market need. In doing so, they can leverage the transformative power of technologies, to deliver on market success.
The rise of India as a Deep Tech hub across an array of industry verticals, ranging from Healthcare to Automotive, from Spacetech to BFSI, from Aviation to Agritech, is encouraging.
While software start-ups still rule, Deep Tech start-ups are slowly making a mark. The deepening deep tech start-up ecosystem will result in positive spill-over effects for the economy and foster economic development.
Over the course of the pandemic, Deep Tech has doubled in the Indian start-up ecosystem, primarily lead by AI and IoT-based start-ups. In 2020, 14% of total tech start-up investments were in deep tech, signifying growing investor interest and appetite. Deep tech investments would require an investor mindset, focused on problem solving, rather than reward generating. In 2021, India has >2,100 deep tech startups, with Deep Tech gaining significant adoption across multiple industry verticals.
It is a testament to academia-industry proximity resulting in strong deep tech commercialization. Indian institutes of higher learning are a strong hotbed of research and development. Whether it be the Indian Institute of Madras Research Park, Indian Institute of Science, or the IIIT Hyderabad, or the Birla Institute of Technology and Science (BITS), they all have contributed to the rise of new Deep Tech start-ups. With capital support from alumni networks and from investors, such start-ups have been able to scale-up.
For the Deep Tech start-up ecosystem to build on its emerging success, it requires further scale-up of the enabling research and tech infrastructure for Deep Tech commercialization. Alongside, a greater emphasis on fostering post-graduate programs in Deep Tech would enable in ensuring skilling pathways to augment skills sought by Deep Tech start-ups.
Understanding and engaging with Deep Tech is key for India’s future success. Deep Tech, in essence, is all about fostering capabilities that were judged to be impossible yesterday, are almost barely feasible today, and may become all-prevalent in the world of tomorrow.
India’s time is now. There are significant opportunities in deep tech that are accessible, available and affordable. With translational science and engineering capabilities, India has the potential to solve for economic as well as social challenges in the post-virus era.