Success stories always bring in positive reinforcement and confidence to pursue the relatively unknown path, and that's how the virtuous cycle of never-ending endeavours to create many such success stories kicks off!
We have so many such stories in the past that initiated this cycle of success.
N R Narayana Murthy, the famed and highly revered founder of Infosys, one-time undisputed leader of Indian IT Industry, has been one of such heroes.
The wealth Infosys created due to its generous Employee Stock Option Schemes, exposure and independence it gave to its employees and governance standards it set for itself attracted a lot of software talent, especially from South India. The testimony of imbibing at Infosys is the group — XITE, or Ex-Infosys Technology Entrepreneurs — which has some 50+ ex-Infoscians.
Most of them had quit the information technology bellwether in the past to follow their own dreams, following the example of Murthy, who left Patni Computer Systems and founded Infosys in 1981, along with six others. Similarly, MindTree, a mid-sized IT services firm founded by six ex-Wipro employees, is a legendary success tale of inspiration to imitate the leaders, now acquired by L&T Infotech.
The Indian IT ecosystem development around Pune and Bengaluru is the result of such success stories of Infosys. The critical difference in the success of Infosys and the like compared with TCS is the inspiration and confidence it gave to risk-averse, job-loving Indian educated middle class to venture on their own, especially because of similarity these people found between themselves and Murthy – family, education, linguistic and geographic affiliation.
Like an IT success story, Indian Badminton is one of changing mass perception of non-cricket sports in India. Even though Prakash Padukone has been one such hero, largely his daughter remained in the limelight and he could yield limited traction in the Indian Badminton era. It changed with the rise of Saina Nehwal and P V Sindhu. These two poster girls of Indian Badminton have stoked a ray of hope for many girls to pursue a career in the sports.
It is always important to highlight the background from which these success stories emerge for people with similar background to dream and make efforts to achieve such impossible feats. In a cricket-loving country, we have travelled a long distance from kids saying, “I will become Sachin Tendulkar one day” to now kids saying “I will become P V Sindhu, Saina Nehwal, Mary Kom, Anjali Bhagwat and the like”. We should celebrate, spread and imitate such stories for next generation to have wider choice of menu to work on.
From an online seller of books to $22 billion deal with Walmart in less than 10 years, is the blockbuster story of Flipkart and its founders – Bansal brothers. The Indian startup landscape was hardly in shape when the Bansals started with Flipkart back in 2008 and the word ‘startup’ was not so heard of.
Every Engineer in that period wanted to pursue MS from US, CFA, MBA and work with consulting, banks and MNCs shunning their core engineering and scientific skills. The Flipkart success story changed this trend with multi-billion dollar valuations, repeating the story of Infosys and in turn creating a slew of entrepreneurs who founded successful startups such as PhonePe, Cure.fit and Runnr. Flipkart’s thrust on a breakneck speed of growth is something ‘Flipsters’-turned-entrepreneurs have been able to learn and replicate in their stories. This success story of Flipkart was being watched very closely by all those sitting on fence who jumped on to this bandwagon with boosted confidence because of the belief that they can also become ‘Bansals’ and build ‘Flipkart’.
Additionally, rookie engineers started believing in their skill sets and gave a fillip to coding, engineering and entrepreneur talent across tier II and III colleges. Most IITians started opting out of the placement and wanted to work for Indian startups. We have come a long way from “Indian technocrats immigrating to USA” to “Technocrats turning Entrepreneurs and starting up”.
Now with #chandrayaan2, which almost ended up creating history, #isromissions and Mangalyaan success, we can hope to see another cycle getting kicked off – more parents encouraging their kids to become aerospace and rocket scientists, tremendous inquisitiveness and interest in the next generation in space science, entrepreneurs trying to develop related ecosystem and talent flowing into this domain.
The media attention, Bollywood impact and hence, awareness – now, almost everyone knows how the ‘Making of Puri’ logic helped Mangalyaan escape the earth’s gravity with minimum fuel -- the nationalistic mood and increased social respect for ISRO and people working there, overall significant government focus on space programmes in recent years will have a convergence impact on the way entire space talent and programmes are developed in the next decade.
We have come a long way from ‘Swades’ to ‘Mangalyaan’ where the Indian scientist working at NASA leaves the job to apply his knowledge to solve local problems to ISRO scientists working on Indian Missions shunning the jobs at NASA in the first place.
Globally, the billionaires have been pursuing the space ambition in private capacities. Elon Musk of Tesla has been at the forefront of these efforts with SpaceX, aiming to create habitation on the Mars. It is already one of the most successful private space players with commercial operations. Along with him, Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson have been working on making space travel affordable to every person on this earth. The space race is on with multi-billion dollar going into multiple projects. Indian entrepreneurs are not behind in this race. There are at least 10 startups working in this domain as per the below list.
- Exseed - Exseed Space was established in Mumbai in 2017 with a vision to become a leader in the manufacturing of spacecraft. They develop small satellite platforms with a primary focus on assembly, integration, testing and operation of satellites. They build satellites more cost-effectively than the others in the market and build them using a mix of proven expertise and cutting-edge technology. Last December, it became the first private company to put a satellite in space. Recently, it also became the first Indian company to have its satellite fly on SpaceX.
- Astrome Technology - Founded in 2014 by Neha Satak and Prasad H L Bhatt, Astrome aims to achieve its goals with the help of satellite constellations in low Earth orbit (LEO). They plan to launch their first set of high-capacity satellites in 2019 and then, more in 2020 that will ensure broadband Internet from space with the help of their patented multimeter wave technology. Its patented millimetre wave technology packs a staggering 100 Gbps uplink and downlink data capacity in every micro-satellite. That is an astounding 12x higher capacity than the current cutting-edge technology with mind-boggling speeds of up to 400 Mbps.
- Skyroot Aerospace - Skyroot Aerospace, a Hyderabad-based startup backed by Curefit founders Mukesh Bansal and Ankit Nagori, is developing a rocket which can be assembled and launched in a day that can be used to hurl small satellites into space. The aim is a slice of the global market for tiny satellite launches, which is expected to grow over the next decade. Skyroot, founded by former Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) scientists Pawan Kumar Chandana, Naga Bharath Daka and Vasudevan Gnanagandhi, expects to demonstrate its first rocket by 2021, which they say could potentially reduce launch cost by a third. It is one of the rare companies building expertise in both solid and cryogenic propulsion.
- Dhruva Space - Founded in 2012, Dhruva Space is a private space company based in Bengaluru. Its objective is to lead the turnkey spacecraft development private industry in India. The company has collaborated with various national and international organisations from the space sector, including Germany’s Berlin Space Technologies and Australia’s Saber Astronautics.
- Earth2Orbit - Founded in 2007, Earth2Orbit claims to be India’s first private space firm. The aerospace company offers space launch advisory and consulting services. Its goal is to be a leader in India¹s emerging private enterprise for space exploration and utilisation.
- Kawa Space - Based out of Mumbai, Kawa Space helps in building space products from scratch. It is built to take a space mission idea from end to end. The team leads India’s first private space mission and won the contract to build over 27 satellites for ISRO. It has helped everyone from tiny startups to Fortune 50 companies build space missions, from a simple technology demonstration mission to complex constellations.
- Xovian - Founded in 2011, Xovian is an aerospace company based in New Delhi with a vision to provide low-cost sustainable solutions in satellite fabrication. The team at Xovian has decades of experience in satellite technology. Xovian has escalated into the fields of CANSAT, sounding rockets, high altitude balloons and satellite component manufacturing.
- Applied Research and Development Laboratories (ARDL) - Founded at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) , the team of ARDL comprises young and enthusiastic members from all domains like aerospace, communication, IT, electronics, instrumentation and more who believe in interdisciplinary research and have worked together for the past 5 years on nano projects and presented various research papers related to it. The company fabricates Mini CANSAT modules and other related space hardware.
- Agnikul Cosmos - It is incubated at IIT-Madras and is working on a semi-cryogenic rocket with a 20-kilonewton (KN) engine that can potentially hurl satellites weighing up to 100 kg into the lower earth orbit. The company plans 3D print rocket engines to bring down the cost and assemble the rocket on demand.
- Pixxel - Pixxel is an Indian team of students working to build and launch constellations of nanosatellites to provide real-time, universally accessible, affordable, freshly updated information about any location on the planet and using cutting-edge AI to monitor emerging problems. It’s the only Indian and one of the two Asian finalist teams at the SpaceX Hyperloop Pod Competition in 2017. The team is one of the 20 finalists out of the 2,500 that had applied globally for the competition, and had presented a working Hyperloop pod prototype to CEO Elon Musk at the SpaceX headquarters in Los Angeles.
- Bellatrix Aerospace - It is a research and development company developing orbital launch vehicles and electric propulsion systems for satellites. Currently, the two proposed rockets ‘Garuda’ and ‘Chetak’ are under development. Both rockets will be reusable, making them an economical option. Bellatrix has also patented a new satellite propulsion system called Microwave Electro-Thermal Thrusters (MET), which is believed to be more efficient from traditional chemical thrusters.
I am sure that after the loss of glorious leader in the domain, A P J Abdul Kalam, an inspiration for many kids and young scientists, success of ISRO and its humble leadership with due awareness among all sections of society shall pave the path to usher in a golden decade for India in the space talent and ecosystem development.Mandar Dixit is a corporate strategy professional and actively engages with the startup community across domains. Opinion is personal.