The budget paved a path for DPI to propel deep-tech innovation

DPI can provide AI computing resources at population scale, reducing the barriers to entry for startups looking to join the tech ecosystem. (AFP)
DPI can provide AI computing resources at population scale, reducing the barriers to entry for startups looking to join the tech ecosystem. (AFP)

Summary

  • The Centre’s R&D outlay and draft deep-tech startup policy can rely on digital public infrastructure to catalyse India’s emergence as a global leader.

The trajectory of digital public infrastructure (DPI) in India has undergone a significant shift, transcending its conventional role as a government service delivery mechanism to act as an important factor of production (just as physical infrastructure is counted as capital) in the economy and an instrument for societal transformation. This evolution, characterized by cost savings, trust in open architecture and a culture of innovation, attracts startups and other private businesses to rely on DPI, with India’s 1 trillion research-and-innovation corpus for deep technology announced in the interim budget likely to fuel ambitions across the country.

In the early stages of DPI deployment, the basic purpose was to reduce leakages in government welfare delivery. However, it also paved the way for hundreds of fintech firms, new-age stock broking enterprises and digital lenders by reducing the cost of customer acquisition and pushing global tech companies to create products and services built on DPI. The open architecture of DPI has served as a growth propellent for our startup ecosystem.

The advancement of DPI in different domains and state innovation funding are intertwined, each complementing and catalysing the other in India’s quest for tech leadership. This symbiotic relationship is fundamental to democratizing people’s access to cutting-edge technologies, fostering frugal innovation and empowering startups to join the deep-tech race underway.

This relationship would shape two policy outcomes: first, it will increase India’s R&D expenditure, currently at 0.7% of its GDP, and direct significant investment towards deep tech development, an area that needs a lot more private investment and holds immense transformative potential; and second, widen the scope and scale of DPI in critical and emerging tech fields to help deep-tech startups, other enterprises and research institutions compete with global players.

To seize this opportunity, the draft National Deep Tech Startup Policy (NDTSP) 2023 outlines a comprehensive vision. In conjunction with the capital allocation and policy objectives outlined in the draft, India must harness strategic technology partnerships with reliable allies. Also, deploying DPI is essential, as it can provide AI computing resources at population scale, thereby reducing the barriers to entry for startups looking to join the tech ecosystem. By combining these elements, India can create an environment conducive to deep-tech innovation and sustainable growth.

Strategic alliances for deep tech: Partnerships with countries such as the EU, US, Japan, Russia and Australia offer access to quantum technology, high-performance computing, research hubs, startup exchanges, joint research endeavours and tech transfers. This can provide Indian startups with the resources and capabilities needed to innovate and thrive. India’s Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC) is already engaged with its US and EU counterparts to deploy high-performance computing for climate change, bio-hazards, bioinformatics and drug development.

Working groups under these strategic alliances for critical technologies could install a coordination mechanism and report to the Inter-Ministerial Deep Tech Committee, as envisaged in the draft NDTSP. This panel can recommend policy measures for setting up online repositories, providing comprehensive information on global research and innovation grants, developing open science and data-sharing platforms, and creating appropriate frameworks for higher educational institutions to incentivize entrepreneurship.

DPI as a modern factor of production: At the heart of maximizing the potential of our alliances lies the strategic use of DPI to propel India’s deep-tech ambitions. This ecosystem has grown remarkably, with over 243 startups having raised more than $1.5 billion since 2014. Notably, deep tech has emerged as a pivotal sector for private capital allocation, with investments exceeding half a billion dollars across 61 startups in 2023 alone.

Through a focused DPI strategy encompassing domains such as cloud computing, sovereign artificial intelligence (AI), and the Internet of Things (IoT), India can democratize technology access and empower startups to leverage deep-tech solutions.

AI computing power as DPI could serve as an especially valuable factor of production. It would enable startups, for example, to access and deploy critical technologies at scale. With the aid of super-computing platforms such as Airawat (an acronym of AI Research, Analytics, and Knowledge Assimilation) under C-DAC, startups can streamline their operations, ensure data privacy without having to compromise on affordable computing capabilities, and scale up their businesses rapidly. DPI for AI computing will provide avenues for startups to innovate and deploy deep-tech solutions in sectors such as healthcare, biotechnology, green-tech, climate modelling and urban development.

Moreover, the capital provided by the government’s budget, coupled with private sector participation, is set to create a conducive environment for attracting global investors. By demonstrating a commitment to fostering innovation and supporting deep-tech startups, India is positioning itself as an attractive destination for investment. Strategic alliances enhance this appeal by showcasing India’s collaborative approach to technological advancement and its willingness to engage with global partners.

In conclusion, India stands at a critical juncture in its journey towards establishing a thriving deep-tech ecosystem. By leveraging strategic alliances with key global players and harnessing DPI, India can access critical technologies, foster innovation and propel its deep tech startups to new heights. The government’s commitment to R&D funding, its draft NDSTP, along with private sector participation and global partnerships, are laying the foundation for India to emerge as a global leader in deep technology innovation.

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