Two defence innovation challenges are now in advanced stages where applications from start-ups on both sides have been invited and would subsequently be evaluated and shortlisted, say officials

Two defence innovation challenges launched under the ambitious joint initiative, India-U.S. Defence Acceleration Ecosystem (INDUS-X) related to the domains of underwater communications and oil spill detection, are now in advanced stages where applications from start-ups on both sides have been invited and would subsequently be evaluated and shortlisted, officials said on Wednesday. The technologies pertain to the Indian Navy and Coast Guard respectively.

Ahead of the 2+2 India-U.S. ministerial dialogue, the maiden INDUS-X investors meet was organised on Wednesday which also saw the launch of the INDUS-X educational series (Gurukul) during the event, which is meant to orient and guide start-ups on both sides of each other’s systems and processes.

“Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises [MSME] constitute almost 90% of the industry in India. There is credibility in the system now. This year we hope to place several more orders,” said Vivek Virmani, Chief Operating Officer of iDEX-DIO speaking at the event co-ordinated by the U.S.-India Strategic Partnership Forum, IndUs Tech Council, and (Social Alpha).

‘Need To Plug Voids’

To a question on lessons from the recent conflicts globally, Mr. Virmani said, “These conflicts have exposed the voids in iDEX. Small arms, cyber and space. These voids need to plugged in... .”

Doug Beck, Director DIU, said the applications were happening now, and decision would happen very soon in a month or so for development of the two technologies.

According to officials, close to 300 start-ups have been registered through the iDEX initiative, with Acceptance of Necessity (AoN) granted for 30 cases and 10 contracts signed.

The two INDUS-X challenges under ‘INDUS-X Mutual Promotion of Advanced Collaborative Technologies’ (IMPACT) challenges jointly finalised by Innovations for Defence Excellence (iDEX) of India’s Defence Ministry and Defence Innovation Unit (DIU) of the U.S. Department of Defence were launched in October.

The first-ever INDUS-X investors’ event evinced the interest of the investors in the start-ups and MSMEs operating in the defence sector and the emerging opportunities under the INDUS-X initiative, a Defence Ministry statement said. “The interactive meet brought all the stakeholders viz start-ups/MSMEs, investors, incubators, industry from both sides under one roof to discuss the collaborative agendas and opportunities thereon.”

Joint Innovation Fund

The discussions cantered on setting up a joint innovation fund besides the panel discussions on critical issues. The event also had focused panel discussions with a select audience of 50 thought leaders, including start-ups, investors, government officials and business leaders from the defence industry, in a major part exploring finding opportunities form venture capitalists and so on. The panel discussed on ‘Investment Opportunities in the Defence Sector’, elaborating upon establishing a sustainable commercial foundation for defence collaboration and co-production, the Ministry stated.

On the Gurukul initiative, the statement said it is aimed to help the innovators /start-ups to navigate in the defence eco-system of the U.S. and India. “The Gurukul (Education) series will have sessions for the start-ups/innovators by the experts from both sides including government officials, corporate leaders, industry forums, incubators/ accelerators etc.”

India-U.S. Defence Acceleration Ecosystem (INDUS-X) was launched in June 2023 during the State visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the U.S. to expand strategic technology partnership and defence industrial cooperation between governments, businesses, and academic institutions of India and the U.S. INDUS X will be a defence innovation bridge which would inter-alia include joint challenges, joint innovation fund, academia engagement, industry-start-up connect, investment by private entities in defence projects, mentoring by experts and niche technology projects.