TechSprouts is a platform to engage with the deep science ecosystem in India

TechSprouts Monthly: March 2023

A peek into developments in the Indian semiconductor industry, exciting news from the space-tech industry, India’s first quantum communication link, and more

Deep science funding updates

  • Optimized Electrotech, a Bangalore-based defense technology startup, has raised $2.4 million in a bridge round to scale up its operations in surveillance tech. The round was led by the Rajiv Dadlani Group.
  • OmniBRx, a company making a single-use bioreactor platform primarily for vaccine development, has raised $3.6 million from SIDBI Venture Capital in its Series A round.
  • Healthtech startup Sigtuple, which uses robotics and AI for high-volume screening tests, raised $4.3 million in a continuation of its Series C fundraise. Existing investors Endiya and Accel Partners led the round.
  • Lithium-ion battery recycling startup Metastable Materialsannounced its seed round, led by Surge, Sequoia Capital along with participation from Speciale Invest and Theia Ventures, among others.
  • WaterTech startup Uravu Labs raised $2.3 million as part of its seed round with participation from JITO Angel Network, Anicut Capital, Speciale Invest and others. Uravu Labs has developed a renewable water technology that uses atmospheric water vapour and renewable energy to generate potable water.
  • Serigen Mediproducts, which makes tissue regeneration products from silk proteins, raised $0.7 million in its seed round from BioAngels and Colossa Ventures.

Deep science ecosystem updates

  • The Indian National Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre (IN-SPACe) has rolled out a new seed funding program by which startups in the space sector can avail grants of up to Rs. 1 crore.
  • The G20 Research Innovation Initiative Gathering (RIIG) Conferenceon ‘Circular Bio-economy’ took place this month in Dibrugarh, Assam. Dr. S Chandrasekhar, Secretary, Department of Science and Technology (DST), delivered the welcome address at the conference whose focus was on the integration of the concepts of the bio-economy and circular economy.
  • Indian SpaceTech firm Pixxel is among one of only six global companies to have bagged a contract from the USA National Reconnaissance Office for commercial hyperspectral imagery.
  • Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai inaugurated the Science Gallery Bengaluru, a not-for-profit institution for research-based engagement targeted towards young adults. The gallery also has three academic partners: Indian Institute of Science, the National Centre for Biological Sciences, and Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology.
  • While speaking at the first international quantum conclave in India, Union Telecom Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw announced that a quantum communication link between Sanchar Bhawan and National Informatics Centre is now operational, while also inaugurating an exhibition of quantum computing firms and a quantum communication hackathon.

News from the research community

Deep Science Thoughts

The new age of the semiconductor industry in India

The semiconductor industry in India is currently undergoing a transformation. To service an annual demand worth more than $20 billion, the country has traditionally been dependent on imports. Setting up a semiconductor fabrication plant, or ‘fab’, involves huge upfront investment (upwards of $1 billion), large operating expenses as well as vast quantities of water for the production-linked activities. This has pushed the Indian semiconductor industry to focus on only the R&D and design of very large scale integration (VLSI) products, embedded software and electronic design automation (EDA). The Indian semiconductor design market was valued at $27 billion in 2021 with more than 2000 chips designed annually.

However, India is set to announce its first semiconductor fab soon. In early 2021, Government of India asked for proposals to set up fab facilities in the country before unveiling the Program for Development of Semiconductors and Display Manufacturing Ecosystem in December 2021. The program has a total outlay of more than $10 billion. It offers 50% fiscal support on project cost for setting up semiconductor and display fabs, as well as 50% fiscal support on capital expenditure for setting up compound semiconductor, silicon photonics and sensor fabs. There is also an added Design Linked Incentive scheme with support for 50% of the expenditure.

Government of India received three proposals in response to the program: a Vedanta-Foxconn joint venture, the International Semiconductor Consortium (ISMC) which is a joint venture between Abu Dhabi-based Next Orbit Ventures and Israel’s Tower Semiconductor (bought by Intel in 2022), and Singapore’s IGSS Ventures. Together, they will produce a total of 120,000 wafers per month. Further, IGSS has also signed an MoU with the Tamil Nadu government to set up a fab in the state.

Domestic companies such as SPEL Semiconductor, HCL, Syrma Technology and Velankani Electronics have applied for the semiconductor packaging scheme while Ruttonsha International Rectifier has registered for the compound semiconductor scheme. Similarly, Terminus Circuits, Trispace Technologies, and Curie Microelectronics have applied for the Design Linked Incentive Scheme.

The semiconductor market size in India is expected to cross $55 billion by 2026 driven by rising demand in smartphones and wearables, automotive components and computing and data storage. While most of the demand is currently met by imports, setting up of the manufacturing facilities can help in reducing the burden on imports and make India self-sufficient in the semiconductor chips market. The government is also in the process of activating the next round of proposals for manufacturing semiconductor chips and display units. India’s first chip manufacturer Polymatech is also looking to set up a manufacturing capacity of more than 300 million chips per year with an investment of more than $1 billion.

Currently, there are more than 20 startups working in the semiconductor industry in India, predominantly working towards development of new chip designs. The startups are working towards Outsourced Semiconductor Assembly and Test (OSAT) and Assembly, Test, Marking, and Packaging (ATMP), which are then delivered to ATMP houses that assemble the chips and create electronic systems. Combined design, OSAT, and ATMP represent over 50 per cent of semiconductor supply chain revenue. Technology startups are emerging with their innovative technologies building semiconductor Fabless Accelerator Labs for power electronic transistors or chip design, IP design, design services, and chip design tools. Venture capital investments in India in this industry have traditionally been low, however globally close to $6 billion were invested into the sector in 2022, signaling a major push towards developing the next generation of products and services in the semiconductor industry.

India has traditionally been a destination for innovation in the semiconductor market, with a very high quality engineering ecosystem in the country. Companies such as NVIDIA and Qualcomm have always seen a huge inflow of quality engineers from the country. In order to further develop the knowledge base, the government is planning to spend more than $1 billion to modernize the Semiconductor Lab (SCL) in Mohali and also connect the lab to a manufacturing partner for fabricating the chips designed in the lab. The National Nanofabrication Centre (NNfC) at the Centre for Nano Science and Engineering (CeNSE) is a CMOS/MEMS/NEMS- capable research facility located at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore. The Nanofab is capable of processing 100 mm-150 mm (4–6-inch) silicon wafers as well. The institute also has a 300 crore MeITY-funded Gallium Nitride pilot production facility.

At the 2nd Semicon India Future Design Roadshow at IISc, the Ministry of State for Electronics and Information Technology (MeITY) announced the setting up of an industry led India Semiconductor Research Center which will be situated along with the current semiconductor laboratory in the Institute. The ministry also announced the launch of the ChipIN Centre at the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC), Bengaluru. This knowledge base coupled with manufacturing capabilities can place India in a unique formidable position over the next few years in the global semiconductor market.

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TechSprouts is a platform to engage with the deep science ecosystem in India