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India's hardware start-ups see greenshoots in local product demand

An increasing number of start-ups are designing and building electronics hardware in India, a segment the country sorely lacks and needs on priority basis

Raghu Krishnan  |  Bengaluru 

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B N Pal, 59, is building a that works on solar power, has an interactive voice response system in vernacular languages and costs Rs 25,000, a fourth of the conventional money dispensers being used by banks.

A working prototype by Srishti ESDM, his company, incubated at the Indian Institute of Information Technology here, is being tested and would be ready for use by this year-end.

In Mumbai, is building home automation products or sensors, which can sense the natural light in a room to switch on or off lights. Some of the sensors, under a 'BuildTrack brand, are customised for existing systems at homes and offices and can be monitored on smartphones.

At here, designers have created a tablet-sized machine that can help detect cardiac problems. The cost of electro-cardiogram tests could come down by a third, it claims.

These entities join a growing list of start-ups designing and building electronics hardware in India, a segment the country sorely lacks, even as it has built a $110-billion industry providing software services for global

Demand for electronics goods and smartphones is fully met by imports, mainly from China. India's 2013-14 electronics imports were $33.5 bn (Rs 2.1 lakh crore).

There have been several attempts in the past to build a robust local electronics manufacturing industry but without much success. Manufacturing generates blue-collar jobs, critical for a country like India. This time, industry officials say, indications are visible.

“In the past two or three years, I am amazed to see several Indian hardware emerging,” says Sanjay Nayak, chief executive of Tejas Networks, a firm that makes telecom products. "They are design-led, innovative in medical electronics, fabless chips, internet of things".

The Indian Electronics and Semiconductor Association, an industry lobby for local design-led manufacturing, expects 'hockey stick' growth in local manufacturing as more Indian and global companies look at building customised products for the country. "There is lot of value added innovation happening. The growth curve will be steep as demand increases for these products," said M N Vidyashankar, president of IESA.

For hardware start-ups that are designing and building products, the India market opportunity is one they don't want to miss. "There is huge unmet need that cannot be met with imports because it requires customisation. Customers are ready to pay a premium for our products," says Balbir Khera, co-founder and chief executive of Surmount Energy.

Cardiac Design's saw the genetic disposition of Indians prone to heart diseases as a business opportunity to build the product that help diagnose cardiac problems at an earlier stage. "Only the rich get treatment for heart disease because they can afford it. The rest don't even know that they have an heart ailment, as tests are expensive. Our device can be used by doctors in small hospitals that help them to catch the disease at the early stage. It saves money and lives."

Srishti's Pal, who has had bitter experience in the past in building homegrown hardware, says government policies to promote local manufacture through the Make in India programme could be a catalyst.

"Indian companies have created products unique to India. In the past, somehow, the purchase procedures favoured multinationals," he said. "Unless we promote Indian companies that have designed for our problems, it will be difficult to create an eco-system in place."

First Published: Tue, July 21 2015. 00:30 IST