India has certain inherent strengths that support a vibrant startup culture. First, robust economic growth and a demographic dividend have created a large domestic consumer base with rising purchasing power. Second, a large number of STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) graduates are eager to take part in India’s technology revolution.
Third, many entrepreneurs are keen to address the opportunities and challenges that India offers. GoI, too, has focused on easing the business environment for startups, removing regulatory barriers for MSMEs, and building infrastructural platforms to facilitate technology solutions.
In this environment, more than $40 billion has poured into the Indian startup ecosystem since 2014. The high level of investment emphasises global and domestic investors’ confidence.
Take the financial services sector. The development of Unified Payments Interface (UPI) — a real-time payment system that works across banks — has been a game-changer. Together with initiatives like RuPay to support electronic payments, it has democratised access to finance for a large section of India’s population.
UPI, launched initially with 21 banks onboard, today has 114 banks on the platform. It has crossed 400 million transactions in volume as of September 2018. In addition to enabling domestic startups to build payments solutions for India, it has incentivised large global technology companies such as Google, Amazon and Samsung to jump head first into the Indian payments markets.
Other components of the financial services ecosystem have also bloomed. For example, technology-powered credit solutions have emerged as one of the most well-funded and rapidly growing segments in fintech, helping MSMEs realise their business potential.
Healthcare faces the challenges of access, affordability and lack of quality practitioners and hospitals. Technology can help address these issues to a critical extent.
SigTuple is addressing the issue of access through intelligent screening solutions aiding in quick diagnosis. It has developed a low-cost system for performing basic screening and advanced diagnosis of blood samples, x-rays and retinal scans. SigTuple’s AI algorithms can analyse patient samples, send them to a pathologist for review and return final results to the point-of-care within five minutes.
Tricog, another startup, uses AI for real-time cardiac diagnosis. Through its cloud-based electrocardiogram (ECG) machines installed at health centres, Tricog helps doctors detect heart complications faster than conventional methods.
Within education, firms are using technology to address the lack of quality teachers, access to infrastructure as well as diverse pedagogical needs. For example, Embibe, which uses advanced AI for personalised learning platform, is disrupting the education sector by improving learning outcomes at the individual student level.
Embibe’s ‘relative quartile jump’ methodology works on students’ behaviour traits and sets goals for improving behaviour. Using a smart test generation system combined with intelligent content ingestion, the platform generates learning paths and curves to improve students’ learning and scoring capability.
Home-grown innovation has the potential to help India be a global leader. For example, a team from IIT-Madras has developed an indigenous microprocessor, Shakti, based on Risc-V architecture. The microprocessor has the potential to alter the face of computing.
Developed at the Reconfigurable Intelligent Systems Engineering (RISE) laboratory at IIT-Madras, Risc-V can process commands faster and in fewer cycles than existing microprocessors. It can be a key catalyst in the Fourth Industrial Revolution by providing infrastructural support for AI, robotics, 3D printing, and augmented and virtual reality.
India’s agriculture sector is in imperative need of technology-enabled solutions. SatSure uses a combination of satellite and weather data and information captured through IoT devices and drones to provide answers on crop volume, crop health, yield and suggested harvesting dates. It recently developed an emergency flood portal for the Kerala floods and built models for crop damage due to Cyclone Titli in Srikakulam, Andhra Pradesh, for mid-season calamity crop insurance payments.
Another agri-tech company, Vasar Labs uses AI and IoT to develop water management and agriculture advisory services. It uses satellite-based, weather advisory and soil moisture data, and other IoT sensors, to predict the amount of water needed for normal yields, date of sowing advisory, pest and diseases forecast, and cop acreage estimates.
Haptik has built one of the world’s largest conversational AI platforms. It’s a 24×7 chat-based personal assistant. For instance, one can book a cab or flight tickets, recharge phones, pay utility bills or web check-in for a flight through the app. It now reaches over 100 million devices each month. The company has processed over a billion interactions till date and helps firms leverage the power of AI to automate critical business processes and improve overall customer experience.
(Amitabh Kant is the CEO of NITI Aayog. Views expressed above are his own)
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