Software-industrial technology company Honeywell India has joined the growing list of corporate backers in India backing technology startups through multiple channels. The technology major would be investing in deep science startups through a tie-up with Society for Innovation and Development (SID) – industry interface of India’s hotbed for artificial intelligence research – Indian Institute of Science (IISc). The company has already deployed funds in six of SID’s Stem Cell deep science startup incubator including Azooka Labs, Protein Design, and PathShodh Healthcare working towards Covid-19 related solutions such as sample collection and transportation, accuracy of diagnostics, etc. The other three Siamaf Healthcare, Mimyk Medical Solutions, and HealthSeq Precision Medicine focus on solutions around cancer care, AR/VR platforms to train surgeons, and precision medicine respectively.
Google, Microsoft, Reliance, SoftBank Group, Samsung, Alibaba, Flipkart, Tencent, Reliance, Times Group, Qualcomm, Intel, Naspers, Target, etc., have been investing time, money, and resources in startups either in the form of venture capital arms, family offices, in-house incubator/accelerators or investing on a standalone basis. Such association by corporates has been a global phenomenon where MNCs partner with startups to imbibe the latter’s innovation and flexibility in their corporate structures. However, Honeywell India on Tuesday maintained that the opportunity to startups through the partnership with SID is “not related to the company’s core areas of work, but intended to address large, societal problems,” according to the company statement. The investments into six startups are routed via Honeywell India’s corporate social responsibility programme.
“We see this partnership as a path to fostering a vibrant startup ecosystem, driving innovation to solve societal challenges, and opening up pathways for job creation and economic stimulation,” said Dr. Akshay Bellare, President, Honeywell India in the statement. The company didn’t disclose the number of startups to be funded ahead in a certain time period even as Honeywell India and SID added that they are currently evaluating a new crop of startups to support. Back in 2017, Honeywell had launched a new investment fund to invest in early-stage startups that are “strategically aligned to the company’s portfolio and software capabilities,” it had said in a statement. It had also invested in logistics-tech startup FarEye.
Deep science or deep tech is generically the term for modern technologies such as blockchain, AI, ML, AR, VR, robotics, big data, photonics, and more that are not focused on or cater to end-user services. The deep science and deep technology domain has remained grossly underfunded with only 4 per cent of the capital secured by e-commerce and fintech companies going into deep tech startups during 2014-18, according to IISC’s Society for Innovation and Development. This has been mostly due to the long gestation of three-five years to reach the market, significant upfront investment into research and development, weak research and development culture, and deficient business skills. Most startups usually tap into government grants from BIRAC, AIM, MEITY, ELEVATE, etc., even as the quantum of funding is abysmally low for such startups.
Out of the funded startups, three are led by women entrepreneurs, including Dr. Fathima Benazir, Co-founder and Chief Scientific Officer, Azooka Labs. The startup recently won the National Startup Awards 2020 in the category of women-led startups. It has also developed a “safer and more stable viral transport medium, and working on a rapid, easy-to-deploy point-of-care diagnostic kit that will be useful for testing Covid-19.” IISCs Stem Cell incubator has incubated over 40 deep science startups so far.