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18 Oct 2019, Edition - 1557, Friday

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Coimbatore

FORGE(ing) startups from Coimbatore

Covai Post Network

In the new world of startups, Coimbatore has earned a place in the country. Forge has in its four years in this city grown to be a renowned centre, incubating more than 2,000 ventures into success

The brand Forge, launched by Coimbatore Innovation and Business Incubator and promoted by the foundation of Sakthi Group is Coimbatore’s pride, having successfully incubated more than 2,000 startups in four years.

Forge CEO Vish Sahasranamam told The Covai Post that the establishment, jointly sponsored and catalysed by the Union Government’s Department of Science and Technology as a technology business incubator has been in action since August 2015, steadily progressing in its missionary commitment to create and catalyse technology-powered-innovations and innovation-led-enterprises. Forge is considered among the top Incubators in the country today and has emerged as a strong partner incubator for several regional and national level initiatives, says Vish.

“Over the last four years, we have organised several national and regional programmes in partnership with the Ministry of Defence for iDEX being among six partner incubators that include IIT-Delhi, IIT-Bombay, IIT-Madras, CIIE (IIM-A) and T-Hub, the Ministry of HRD for Smart India Hackathon and Institution’s Innovation Cells and the EDII of Tamil Nadu,” he adds.

It is a strategic incubation partner to corporate open-innovation programmes, notably to execute BOSCH DNA and Schneider Innovation Challenges to leverage the infinite potential of startups and innovators. It is also the partner incubator for the State Industries Promotion Corporation of Tamil Nadu Ltd (SIPCOT) to set up and operate Industrial Innovation Centres (SIICs) to promote innovation at the grassroots level catering to the needs of the local sectors, by developing and harnessing the skills and competencies of the young minds to develop technologically advanced solutions.

It has a proven fellowship approach in activating startups by seeding innovations among students and young graduates across different streams of higher education covering science, engineering, commerce, arts, design, polytechnic or business degrees. A rigorous innovation-oriented curriculum, has helped it have a very unique model to create “more capable and highly competent talent, much critically needed to seed and scale the technological innovations in the country”. Through the open innovation platforms, Forge serves as a bridge that connects product innovators and tech startups with the government institutions, corporates and industries to enable commercialisation of their technologies and solutions on a large scale.

The innovators and startups are trained by industry experts, product leaders and veteran entrepreneurs and are facilitated with grants and investments.

It has four-stage process – innovation acceleration, product acceleration, business acceleration and growth acceleration identified with milestones “value-price fit, product-factory fit, product-market fit and growth-investment fit”.

Forge is recognised by AICTE to offer two-year PGDM in Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Venture Development. And from this September, Forge has been offering incubation support to 12 of the total 44 SPARK Grantees who won the Defence India Startup Challenge through the iDEX Acceleration Programme.

On how many successful ventures have come out from Forge, Vish said there were over 100 startups with co-working facilities and services at the Forge Factory facility in Coimbatore, 1,500 and above innovation and entrepreneurship training and competencies development programmes at a national level, over 30 technology/product innovation lab facilities and services through HWjunction, 50 incubation services and resources, 300 product innovations supported in the ideation and validation stage and over 100 product innovations seeded, nurtured and supported with pre-incubation.

About how the Forge idea emerged, he says startups are the new age enterprises with potential for achieving high-growth within a short period, by leveraging technology to bring innovative solutions to the market, creating jobs, generating wealth and delivering all-round socio-economic impact.  In stark contrast to the startup ecosystems in other leading hubs of the world, say Silicon Valley, Massachusetts, Germany, Israel etc. India has achieved very limited progress in developing technologically advanced solutions in the industrial sector.

“By facilitating an ecosystem to support them with resources, equipment, access to market, mentoring support and early-stage grants and investments, we believe that we can effect a total transformation in the innovation and entrepreneurship landscape in the country.

Innovation capacity within the country’s large base of students in higher technical education remains the most untapped potential,” Vish feels.

About the thrust areas of Forge, he says one is powering technology enterprises by catalysing innovation. The country has very few successful hardware startups and is instead known for its glory in IT and service startups. For an idea to be conceptualised and transformed into a product innovation, there is a lot to be done. “We aim to catalyse these innovations with 5Ms- Means, Methods, Mentoring, Market and Money. This is complemented by the 20,000 sqft incubation centre called Forge.Factory that houses hardware product innovation and prototyping labs to transform innovative hardware ideas into factory-ready product designs.

Besides, there is development of innovation-centered skills and competencies. One of the major factors that deters students and young graduates from pursuing a career in innovation and entrepreneurship is the perceived loss of financial stability and independence.

“With Forge.Fellows, our primary focus is not to protect the ‘downside risks’ by offering financial incentives and employment facilitation if not outright job-guarantees.”

Forge Accelerator in Coimbatore has championed a role model programme, where every year 120–150 students in their third or fourth-year of undergraduate science/engineering studies go through a one-year innovation fellowship. The mantra is: “Innovation for skills and employability in the short-term leads to innovation for entrepreneurship in the long-term’.

Vish is clear on why Coimbatore because the city already enjoys the reputation of being truly entrepreneurial built on the pillars of inventiveness and enterprise. It houses some of the best higher technical institutions with lakhs of engineering, technology and science graduates getting into the workforce every year.

Being the manufacturing hub of the State, particularly in precision engineering tools and solutions, automotive engineering and components, motor and pumps, industrial equipment and systems, etc, Coimbatore is the right place to promote technology-led industrial innovations. Startups are the principal agents of change and transformation.

On how he sees the future and what the Government needs to do, Vish says the simplest way for government agencies and institutions is to co-create with startups and innovators to produce indigenous products and technologies that will solve the most critical problems of the government, society and industry.

There is a typical investment-centric mindset and culture that is prevalent in many of the government institutions. Money is the least significant when compared to the 5Ms. When these are met, in the majority of the cases, a lot of money shall be substituted, he says. A knowledge-driven approach to incubation, offering a structured process of managing and mitigating the risks inherent in the twin engines of entrepreneurship – innovation and growth, is needed to transform into a globally competitive country producing indigenous innovations and world-class ventures.

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