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Centre pushes for maritime innovation with Sagarmala start-up policy

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NEW DELHI : A draft under the ‘Sagarmala innovation and start-up policy’ was recently put up for discussion and stakeholder comments.

According to a Ministry official, most of the maritime innovations involve complex hardware and factoring-in marine pollution regulations. And it takes “at least 2 years to reach a minimum viable product.”

Even in case of digital solutions, it is not easy to implement start-up products and services due to varied stakeholders involved and State-specific regulations. Hence, early-stage seed funding will be required to complete a minimum viable product in small scale to pilot scale phases.

“This (policy) will surely promote innovation and entrepreneurship,” Sarbananda Sonowal, Union Minister for Ports, Shipping and Waterways, said.

Tracxn, which tracks investments and financials of private companies and start-ups, says there are 48 maritime tech start-ups in the country. Some of these include ShipsKart, Planys Technologies, Portall and NavAlt.

The draft proposes 12 broad areas that could be considered in the first three years.

These include decarbonisation of the maritime industry and adopting green-tech in the port sector — something that the Ministry itself has been pushing over the last few weeks.

The other big thrust areas include using AI and ML (Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning) to improve efficiency, enhancing security using block-chain, and augmenting marine cyber-security.

Adopting new age maritime education and learning through simulation and augmented reality; strengthening manufacturing; enhancing cargo and passenger movement; exploring the possibility of using alternate or advance materials; pushing e-navigating and smart-tech are some areas where the Ministry is expecting solutions from start-ups

A three-layered monitoring structure has been proposed — an apex committee, that will be monitored by the maritime innovation hub, which in turn will be monitored by the start-up monitoring and evaluation group.

The Apex Committee — consisting of Shipping Secretary as Chairman, seven other members that includes Additional Secretaries and Joint Secretaries of the Ministry; Chairman of the Inland Waterways Authority of India and Chairman of the Indian Ports Association; and Joint Secretary of the Sagarmala project as Member Secretary — will oversee the “overall governance of the program.”

Implementation is to be through the maritime innovation hub with the NTCPWC-IIT Madras acting as the “nominated agency” for the time being.

The start-up monitoring and evaluation group will be in charge of operationalising the policy, get necessary approvals and monitor progress, apart from short-listing and screening start-ups and ensuring requisite fund flow.

An elaborate funding plan has been drafted with the grant release being milestone based, with a provision to relax it “for strategic start-ups.”

The Ministry will earmark a corpus amount yearly for funding as decided by the apex committee. Funding would help companies reach minimum viable product level, develop proof of concept and also go for market expansion.

The ‘Seed Fund Scheme’ will provide an assistance of a maximum of ₹50 lakh to create a viable product. Supported expenses include prototype development, proof of concept and product trials; expenses on data generation, data acquisition, etc; fees for lP (one time technology licensing fees) etc.

Next is the tech pilot grant that will help commercialise proprietary technology including market entry or scaling up. The Tech Pilot Grant will be amounting to a maximum of ₹100 lakh per start-up.

“All MoPSW organisations (including the major ports, lWAl and Cochin Shipyards Ltd) shall create ‘launchpads’ to provide necessary hand-holding and field support,” it said.

Establishing working space at subsidised rates (preferably zero rental/subsidised rentals for next 5 years), has been mooted too.

On the other hand, Pradeep Rajan, Head – Asia Freight, S&P Global Commodity Insights, says India needs to focus on ship-building yards and build scale in the segment.

“Start-ups would mean focus and adoption of new tech. But one point that India should seriously look at now is build up or scale up on its ship building facilities. There is not much space in key counties like China and Korea to build oil tankers and dry bulk cargo vessels. So, this is where India can step ins. Come ahead with new generation, new emission complaint, ships, and vessels. And take up market space,” he said.

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