India, with its vast human capital and burgeoning entrepreneurial spirit, has the potential to emerge as a global hub for deep tech innovation. Deep tech, which encompasses advanced technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), blockchain, robotics, and quantum computing, can drive groundbreaking changes in various sectors, from health care to agriculture. Traditionally, India’s tech landscape was dominated by IT services and business process outsourcing. In the last decade, there has been a tectonic shift. With the rise of the startup culture, driven by incubators, accelerators, and a supportive government ecosystem, India has transitioned from being a service-oriented tech hub to a hotspot for innovation.
Five years ago when I was posted as CEO of NITI Aayog, we had already drafted the national strategy for artificial intelligence, recognising that AI and deep tech are the next big disruption the world was going to witness.
India is already home to more than 3,000 deep tech startups, witnessing a growth rate of over 53 per cent annually in the past 10 years. These startups represent 12 per cent of the Indian startup ecosystem, with a third focusing on enterprise technology and the banking, financial services, and insurance (BFSI) sector.
A deep tech ecosystem will drive innovation, economic growth, and social progress through deep tech research and development, supporting growth of existing deep tech startups. The deep tech sector has the capability to contribute $450 billion to $500 billion to India’s economy by 2025. However, the sector is complex and has high entry barriers. It requires patient capital, a strong IP regime and a longer time-to-market. With the right strategy, it has the potential to put India on a high-growth trajectory for a sustained time period. With appropriate policy and investments, it can prove to be a game-changer for India. In order to boost innovation in the deep tech space, a number of measures must be taken in a time-bound manner.
The government should, in consultation with industry associations, identify the top 10 deep tech sectors for India. These should be high-potential, high-growth and high-impact sectors that can bring about a multiplier impact. Potential areas of prioritisation can include AI interface layers, home and industrial automation, advanced semiconductor design, quantum computing, non-invasive cancer treatment, natural language processing, DNA-based medicines, ultra-thin and flexible photovoltaic panels, molecular imaging technologies, new generation agrochemicals, robotic process automation and big data, besides others. Priority areas should ideally be a mix of high-growth (like semiconductor design) and high-social impact (like language processing). These should receive access to policy and monetary support from the government.
Deep tech sectors require convergence of policy support at both central and state levels. For instance, while the ministry of electronics and information technology may be concerned with AI from a regulatory perspective, AI usage will span across all ministries—ministry of health and family welfare in the case of AI for health care, ministry of home affairs for cyber security and so on. A national deep tech task force needs to be created to bring convergence across all ministries. Such a mission shall be responsible for administering tools and should ideally draw resources from across ministries but also from industry associations. It should also work with states to help them evolve their policy measures for deep tech. The best example of this has been India’s electric vehicle ecosystem where central efforts also led to states evolving their own EV policies, ensuring an ecosystem approach.
Centres of excellence must be established. The government needs to ‘signal’ to the private sector its interest in promoting innovation in the deep tech space.
India stands at the cusp of a deep tech revolution, poised to redefine and amplify its global tech footprint. As the landscape rapidly transforms, it is imperative to harness the nation’s vast potential in leading innovations that drive economic prosperity, social betterment, and global recognition. A fitting blend of strategic initiatives, robust policy frameworks, and dynamic entrepreneurial energy can usher in a golden era of deep tech innovation in India.
Kant is G20 Sherpa and former CEO, NITI Aayog. Views expressed are personal.