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Intel-backed hardware incubator Plugin seeks to invest in 20 startups

Poyni Bhatt from SINE & Nivruti Rai from Intel

Poyni Bhatt from SINE & Nivruti Rai from Intel

Chipmaker Intel India, IIT Bombay’s Society for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (SINE) and the central government’s Department of Science and Technology (DST) have come together to start a hardware incubator programme.

Called Plugin, the programme intends to take ideas at a proof-of-concept stage to the market. It will provide funding, mentoring and hardware support and physical infrastructure to manufacturers and designers. It will also refine the startups’ go-to-market strategies.

The incubator seeks to back intellectual property-driven hardware and system startups. It aims to incubate at least 20 startups in the first year.

Nivruti Rai, vice president for platform engineering group and general manager at Intel India, told TechCircle that it’s often difficult for people to understand the difference between hardware and software. Hardware includes a silicone component, embedded software layer, firmware and application – and all of that makes a complete product called system, she said.

Rai said Intel had launched a lab in Bengaluru in August last year where it has incubated many startups. “But we realised it wasn’t enough. The partnership with SINE and the DST will take it to a much higher scale,” she added.
Intel and the DST will act as co-sponsors of the incubator while SINE will drive execution.

“Intel will bring in the corporate, technical and on-the-field strength,” said Poyni Bhatt, COO, SINE. “We will focus on venture creation, venture support and connections. The DST will act as a government adviser, policy maker and funder,” she added.

Why Plugin

India faces a dearth of incubators and accelerator for hardware startups. In fact, a number of hardware accelerators had come up in the country earlier but many eventually turned into software accelerators. Bengaluru-based Revxx is another accelerator that backs hardware startups.

Bhatt said hardware startups don’t have easy access to funding, unlike online startups, because the product takes more capital to develop. “We are trying to bring in more cash support in the programme,” Bhatt said.

Intel, SINE and the DST have tied up for three years for Plugin. They will initially put in over Rs 4 crore into the programme and increase the amount subsequently.

Plugin is likely to start its first batch in October and has started taking startup applications. SINE will select the candidates.

Startups with proof-of-concepts or prototype or at least a demonstrable idea are eligible for the one-year-long programme. Rai said she expects hardware startups working in areas such as security, graphics, display, Internet of Things, healthcare, data centres and cloud to take part in the programme.

Startups will get initial funding of about Rs 25-30 lakh in addition to facilities. In return, SINE will take a 2% stake in each startup.

The programme will be divided into phases. The first phase includes soliciting, finding, filtering the startups. Then comes the housing phase where these startups will either use SINE’s facilities in Mumbai or Intel’s maker lab facility—which has all kinds of hardware toolkits and development kits—in Bengaluru for six months.

“After six months we intend to do a demo day where we expose the company to a larger set of investors for facilitation for larger money,” Rai said. “The next six months will involve focussed coaching in the form of virtual support. Our effort would be to get one or two commercialization by the end of the year.”

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