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MUMBAI : State-run Bharat Petroleum Corporation Ltd (BPCL) plans to set up a rolling fund for startups to support them and strengthen its own technical and business operations.

The company under its BPCL Ankur initiative has supported 25 startups so far with a cumulative grant funding of 25 crore. Going forward, the grant will be increased.

BPCL started providing grants to startups after the January 2016 launch of a government policy that encouraged such initiatives. Soon after, the company decided to engage with them beyond providing financial assistance to create value with the startups across its business segments.

"We started pro-bono, then we got engaged and we found that we can create value with the startups in our business. Now we are engaging with them on a commercial basis to support others. And then we also have the possibility of picking up stakes in their ventures," said RR Ramachandran, Director (Refinery) at BPCL.

The company has also launched BPCL Startup Grand Slam, a challenge for startups in India.

Under this initiative, the company is seeking a solution to six challenges it faces in the areas of- -- energy optimization at the refinery, refinery unit performance optimization, enhancing customer experience at fuel stations, realtime customer feedback, IoT for liquefied petroleum gas and transforming LPG commercial business.

The startup grand slam includes cumulative prize money of 3 crore with each winner receiving 50 lakh.

In addition to funding, Project Ankur also offers collaboration and mentoring support to startups for product development, access to test facilities and labs.

Over the past three years, BPCL has engaged with these startups to increase its operational efficiency.

In addition to providing startups with a platform to test their technology, it is also contracting with them for services. For instance, shutting down its refinery stack (the refinery chimney) and checking underground pipelines has become easy through a startup that uses drones.

As chimneys and stacks need to be inspected regularly. The refineries would raise scaffolding, which somebody would then climb up to inspect. "Then the operation at the unit is shut for two to three days. However, by using an industrial drone that is pre-programmed, the status of the assets is assessed easily. We then look at the data collected which is useful in making reports," said Ramachandran.

There are underwater drones too which help BPCL monitor single buoy moorings and underwater pipes for leakages and repairs.

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