The start-up report:
India embraces start-ups in defence
For the most part, the defence sector is dominated by large, well-established corporations and organisations, with little room for newcomers. However, India is starting to embrace the promise that start-ups may hold for the defence sector, particularly in relation to the government’s ‘Make in India’ campaign. By investing in start-ups early, the government can ensure that innovation is kept in-country, rather than risk it being outsourced to other nations.
In addition, even if they don’t receive their start from government backing, start-ups can prove a valuable resource in speeding up procurement and assisting with the turnaround on defence projects. Dr. Ajay Kumar, Secretary, Defence Production, told The Hindu in April that he considers start-ups “the game changer for defence”. With that in mind, below, we profile four of the more promising to come out of the country.
Founded in 2007 by graduates from the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay (IIT Bombay), ideaForge has established itself as a leader for Unmanned Aerial Systems in India across both civilian and military applications. Making their start bootstrapping projects from the IIT Bombay’s aerospace engineering department, the company went on to assist IIT Bombay in winning an international UAV competition in 2008 and subsequently developed the world’s (at the time) smallest and lightest autopilot and India’s first autonomous micro UAV.
Notably, ideaForge is the developer of the NETRAv2 VTOL UAV, a man-portable micro UAV developed in collaboration with the Defence Research and Development Organisation that is now being deployed in support of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF). Described as its ‘third eye', the CRPF is making use of the drone as a force multiplier in anti-insurgency and road opening operations in the Kashmir Valley (it should be noted that such operations may be considered controversial, due to the conflicted status of the Kashmir region).
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Based in Bangalore, Tonbo Imaging develops advanced imaging and sensor systems and came to prominence in October 2016 when it secured a $100m deal to manufacture and supply night vision sights for the Peruvian Army. Unlike the majority of Indian startups, Tonbo has built the majority of its business for international markets; the company receives more than 80% of its business from outside of India and has become very interested in Vilnius, capital of Lithuania, as a talent pool for specific skillsets within laser technology. While this allows businesses such as Tonbo to access markets they may not otherwise enter, it can be a struggle to gain a footing overseas without onground contacts and industry knowledge.
“Having worked with the US Department of Defense and having a depth of contacts there, along with contracts for units such as the Israeli Special Forces, helped us get a foot in the door,” Arvind Lakshmikumar, CEO and founder of Tonbo told the Economic Times.
The biggest emerging field for defence is cybersecurity, and Innefu Labs has been establishing itself at the cutting edge of information security & data analytics solutions. The company has provided biometric and facial authentication solutions to organisations across India and the Middle East, and its data analytics and machine learning products have been used by multiple law enforcement agencies in South East Asia. Likely their most prominent product however, is Prophecy, a big data analytics framework that was built on Palantir’s model. Prophecy is customised for government and Border Security Force use and offers predictive intelligence, social media analytics, call data record analytics, financial fraud analytics, analytics over unstructured data, facial biometrics and object identification.
K K Rathi, managing director at IndiaNivesh Fund who invested in Innefu Labs told entrepreneur.com, “The future of [the] defence ecosystem is technology and there will be surely a huge demand of startups that are into data analytics. Plus, this is the right time to get into the sector as the competition is not as aggressive.”
Founded by bioengineer Leo Mavely in 2008, Axio is the first Indian company to design, develop and commercialise a haemostatic emergency dressing. The product, called Axiostat, has been put into service by emergency service providers, trauma and casualty care centres in hospitals, and defence and paramilitary forces across India, the Middle East and Europe. A sterile, single-use, non-absorbable haemostatic dressing, the Axiostat is able to control bleeding, on average, roughly ten minutes faster than standard gauze.
Mavely said to the Hindu Business Line, “Ours is the world’s first 100 per cent chitosan product. Unlike other chitosan haemostats in the market, which are either in powder form or powder coated onto a gauze form, Axiostat is a 100 per cent chitosan-based haemostatic dressing. The uniqueness of Axiostat lies in its robust, microporous interconnected structure, which is made using a highly complex manufacturing technique.”