Republished from the Deep Tech Musings podcast with permission.
We've reached our 50th episode of the podcast! Thanks to all the listeners, the guests & the thriving Indian deep-tech community for their continuous love & support.
Today's episode is a very special one, not only because it's our 50th but more so because of our guest. Arpit is a passionate advocate for deep tech transforming our world. With a strong background in startups and technology commercialization, he has led Deep Tech investments at Blume Ventures for a decade now with particular focus on Climate Tech, Electric Mobility, HealthTech, and Logistics. Companies he manages include Spinny, Cashify, Euler Motors, Battery Smart, BeatO and THB. He has been actively involved with the promotion of startups since 2006, with prior engagements across Headstart Network and TLabs.
In this episode, explore the Indian deep tech ecosystem with Arpit as he delves into its history, the challenges faced by entrepreneurs, survival in the industry, the government’s role, shifting investor trends, and Blume's focus on deep tech.
Show Notes & Summary:
(0:47) Arpit’s Professional Journey
1. I have a background in engineering and graduated from NIT Trichy. I have always wanted to be an engineer since I was nine years old and even prepared for GRE to pursue a career in technology and science.
2. However, my career took a different path toward finance and management in the financial services industry. Nonetheless, my love for technology has remained constant throughout my professional journey.
3. I have been involved in technology commercialization, particularly through my work at IIT Bombay and Academic Ventures. I believe that technology has the power to transform the world and I am excited about the possibilities it brings to businesses and our lives.
(3:32) Overview of Indian Deep Tech Ecosystem Evolution and Key Milestone Turning Points
1. India has a relatively young technology ecosystem compared to countries like the UK and the US, with a history of focusing more on research and teaching rather than commercialization.
2. The opening up of India's economy in 1990 and the creation of programs like iDEX (defense) and IN-SPACe (space) have led to increased investment and support for technology startups and early-stage innovations.
3. Government initiatives have played a significant role in supporting technology development and commercialization, but there is a need for more involvement from the private sector in India.
(10:46) Challenges and Opportunities in Indian Deep Tech: Funding, Skilled Talent, and Market Acceptance
1. The lack of entrepreneurial talent and support for commercialization is hindering the development of technology in Indian institutes.
2. Many professors and students are not motivated to commercialize their innovations due to a lack of incentives, inspiration, and a culture that prioritizes publishing and patenting rather than commercialization.
3. The ecosystem in Indian universities needs to mature and align interests towards commercialization in order to encourage more people to start companies and solve exciting problems in the deep tech industry.
(16:14) The Connection Between Risk-Taking and Success in Deep Tech
1. People are inspired to take risks when they see others experiencing positive outcomes from taking risks.
2. Failure is a common aspect of starting any kind of venture, including deep tech startups and eCommerce companies.
3. The challenge lies in individuals with an academic background needing to approach risk with more caution compared to those with startup experience.
(17:47) Market Acceptance for Deep Tech Solutions & its Evolution
1. India is a math and economics-obsessed country. If technology can prove to improve profit, reduce costs, or increase revenue, it will be quickly adopted in the Indian economy.
2. The challenges for companies in India are the understanding of consumers' needs and the maturity of the technology.
3. Once a technology proves to work and becomes mature, adoption is rapid.
4. The company Ati Motors, making autonomous mobile robots, faced challenges due to the technology's maturity, but eventually gained traction in the Indian auto industry after six years.
(20:50) The Impact of Government Initiatives on Deep Tech Startups
1. The emergence of the IT industry and big tech companies in India can be attributed to government policy and intervention.
2. The government's role in creating programs and infrastructure has been crucial, as private capital is not suitable for this role.
3. Programs like BIRAC, National Strategy for Artificial Intelligence, and National Action Plan on Climate Change have been instrumental in promoting technology and startups.
4. Private investment will come once the companies and ecosystem in India become more developed.
5. I acknowledge the importance of organizations like DARPA and NIH in driving innovation in fields like the Internet and biotechnology for over a century.
6. These organizations have a strong track record of achieving impressive results, thanks to their formidable capabilities.
7. We are just beginning to tap into the potential that these organizations have demonstrated, and there is much more to come.
(23:17) The Role of Academic Institutions and Research Centers in Industry-Academia Partnership
1. Many of the institutes in India are doing a great amount of work and engaging deeply with industry in various sectors such as medicine and engineering.
2. There is a question of whether these institutes are doing enough, but it is important to acknowledge that they are working within their available resources and priorities.
3. While there is a push for older institutes, especially in engineering, to generate more revenue through consulting rather than relying solely on grants, it will take time to change the culture and processes within these institutes. However, there are signs of change happening in every institute in India.
(25:06) Trends in Investor Interest and Funding Availability for Deep Tech Startups
1. Private capital tends to follow established trends and is unlikely to set new trends itself.
2. Venture capital functions in a similar way, with more capital flowing into industries that have proven to be successful.
3. The emergence of new sectors, such as deep tech or climate tech, can attract more capital as companies demonstrate their ability to scale and succeed.
4. Development finance and government finance are crucial for early-stage funding and cannot be ignored.
5. Philanthropic money is increasingly being invested in these companies, which is a positive trend.
6. Venture funds like us are closely evaluating numerous companies, indicating a logical progression of investment. Eventually, more capital is expected to flow into the series B and series C stages.
(29:22) Advise to Deep Tech Founders
1. I understand the struggles of being a deep tech entrepreneur and facing challenges with technology, market validation, and capital.
2. My advice is to continue pursuing your passion and stay dedicated to your deep tech startup, while also prioritizing customer relationships.
3. By speaking the language of your customers and fostering close connections with them, you increase your chances of market adoption and success.
4. It is crucial to stay connected with customers and maintain regular contact.
5. Continuously engaging with customers helps in building strong relationships and understanding their needs.
(31:17) Technologies with Significant Potential for Future Growth
1. We have extensively researched and published a 187-slide deck on electric vehicles, establishing our knowledge and expertise in this area.
2. We are expanding our focus to other areas of climate technology, such as circular economy, hydrogen, batteries, and building technology, as we find solving the climate problem to be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
3. We are also interested in the healthcare sector, particularly in Medtech innovation, although investing in this field has proven to be challenging for various reasons.
(32:39) Blume’s Portfolio Startups: A Brief Overview
1. I have personally invested in approximately 20 companies in the climate tech sector over the past 12 years.
2. These companies were previously referred to as deep tech but are now commonly known as Climate Tech.
3. From Carbon Clean to Gray Orange to Genetics to Yulu to Euler to Covax to Ati Motors, Blume has a successful track record of investing in a diverse range of companies and continues to be very excited about the potential of deep tech in the future.
(33:38) Why is Blume considered one of the best places for deep-tech startups?
1. We make our own decisions and don't wait for the market to validate our choices, allowing us to invest in innovative deep tech companies without hesitation.
2. We offer a comprehensive platform of services, including business strategy, market access, corporate relationships, fundraising, finance, legal, and hiring, providing valuable support to the companies we invest in.
3. We prioritize long-term investments and are known for our patience and commitment, often continuing to support companies even during challenging times until they are able to succeed.
(35:36) What needs to be done to have successful deep tech startups like OpenAI from India?
1. Building an open AI in India would require a significant amount of resources that are difficult to put together in the country, similar to establishing a semiconductor plant or cell manufacturing company.
2. The availability of capital and resources plays a crucial role in the development of an OpenAI, and it is connected to where these resources are readily available.
3. While India has capable and inventive people, creating an OpenAI would not be easy due to limited resources.
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