Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

India's maturing startup culture is becoming a driving force for innovation

India is inching up on the global innovation index and it is evidenced in exciting new developments taking place in early-stage startups in areas from robotics and quantum cryptography to space and insect biotechnology and energy transition

Brian Carvalho
Published: Feb 13, 2023 10:40:28 AM IST
Updated: Feb 13, 2023 12:36:36 PM IST

India's maturing startup culture is becoming a driving force for innovation

In Budget 2023, some of the words mentioned most by Finance Minister (FM) Nirmala Sitharaman were development, digital, infrastructure and capital. Innovation wasn’t far behind, finding mentions across pharmaceuticals and health care, data governance and lab-grown diamonds, even as the FM acknowledged India’s improved ranking in innovation quality. 

The FM let on that facilities in select labs of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) will be made available for research by public and private medical college faculty and private sector R&D teams to encourage collaborative innovation. In pharma, a programme has been proposed to promote research and innovation via centres of excellence. A National Data Governance Policy is in the works to “unleash innovation and research by startups and academia”. And the government is keen to encourage indigenous production of lab-grown diamonds, “a technology- and innovation-driven emerging sector with high employment potential”. 

The 2022 rankings of the Global Innovation Index (GII) indicate the improvement in India’s position over the past three years—up to 40 from 46 in 2021 and 48 a year before that. According to the GII, published annually by the World Intellectual Property Organisation, a United Nations agency, India has performed better on innovation outputs (the results of innovation) than on innovation inputs (related to a favourable environment for innovation); on the former, India’s ranking has improved to 39 from 45 for 2021 and 2020; on the inputs front, India is up to 42, from 57 for the preceding two years. 

The index is built on seven pillars, of which India fares best on ‘market sophistication’ and ‘knowledge and technology outputs’, but lags on ‘institutions’ and ‘infrastructure’. Topping India’s list of strengths are a culture and policies of entrepreneurship, the prevalence of graduates in science, and finance for startups and scaleups. 

This fortnight’s Forbes India cover package on innovation offers adequate evidence of how the troika of culture, talent and funding is coming together to spur innovative breakthroughs. Technology Editor Harichandan Arakali dives into 10 early-stage startups in areas from robotics and quantum cryptography to space and insect biotechnology. Most exciting arguably is the innovation around energy transition which, as the latest Economic Survey notes, is complemented by numerous policies intended to improve the ecosystem to deploy promising technological innovations, like green hydrogen.

One startup that’s attempting to put India on the green hydrogen map is NewTrace. Founded in 2020, NewTrace founders Prasanta Sarkar and Rochan Sinha have set out to reduce the cost of green hydrogen to a level comparable to the grey variety made from natural gas. As the founders tell Arakali, the clean version is six times as expensive. For more on that ambition, turn to ‘Putting India On The Green Hydrogen Map’.

A sector crying out for innovation is plastics, where the accumulated waste has reached critical proportions. It is in the endeavour to find solutions to the plastic problem that the Mariwala Innovation Foundation (MIF) sees opportunities for focussed intervention in the plastic value chain. MIF has identified 15 unique innovations by a bunch of startups trying to solve complex plastic challenges. The big picture is to eliminate waste and reuse products and materials. Naini Thaker digs deep into the business models of four of these startups, including one that is using AI-based tech for dry waste segregation and another that is making sustainable bricks from recycled waste. For more on these fascinating breakthroughs, don’t miss ‘Wild Wild Waste’.

Brian Carvalho
Editor, Forbes India
Twitter ID: @Brianc_Ed

(This story appears in the 24 February, 2023 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)