Last month, GE-backed global co-creating community FirstBuild signed an agreement with the Hyderabad-based incubator for hardware startups T-works.An electric vehicle manufacturing startup entrepreneur once said to me, “The biggest joy of a starting a manufacturing company is the fact that you can be a child again. It gives you the opportunity to build, tinker, break, experiment and well, play around. And yet, the number of entrepreneurs willing to build those products are few and far.”
The Telangana government aims to bring in this very change and started the T-Works initiative. CEO Sujai Karampuri says, “The idea has been to create a platform and a framework where converting an idea into a product becomes easy for hobbyists, engineers, makers, engineers, entrepreneurs, etc.”
He adds, “As a nation, we have embraced software-related solutions and businesses quite naturally. The underlying reason is that development of a software solution became easy because of many open-source technologies being available to a developer. But the same is not the case when it comes to developing a product in the domain of mechanical, electromechanical and electronics.”
A focus on manufacturing
With T-works, the team wants to bring down the barrier-to-entry to prototype and also create an environment where the failure to develop a product is not frowned upon.
Sujai explains T-works will initially begin as a prototyping facility that will operate in collaboration with technology partners, suppliers, mentors, and experienced product managers. It will provide access to other hardware labs across the city of Hyderabad, and most importantly the much-needed access to advanced manufacturing facilities across the world.
Before commencing T-Works, an extensive study was undertaken to understand the strengths and weaknesses in the ecosystem vis-a-vis building hardware products, culminating in a report titled ‘India Hardware Startup Survey’ that outlined the gaps in the current prototyping infrastructure, community, sourcing and manufacturing and the available talent.
For the Telangana government, the idea is to encourage as many entrepreneurs to look at the state as the go-to-destination. Until now, India has been popular for our software services industry thanks to the likes of Infosys, Wipro and Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), and this could be an interesting development. According to a Statista report, the IT-BPM (Information Technology and Business Process Management) contributed 7.7 percent to India’s overall GDP.
After Bengaluru, Hyderabad ranks second in software exports in the country. The city also has a large pharmaceutical and aerospace industry and many top academic institutions, such as IIT Hyderabad, BITS Pilani, NIT Warangal, ISB and NALSAR.
Works with the overall agenda
Explaining this addition, Sujai says, “In the last ten years, more Indians are slowly gravitating towards building businesses around hardware, both mechanical and electronics. We have companies that make wearables, electric bikes, IoT gadgets and medical devices right here in Hyderabad. With the advent of Industrial Revolution 4.0, creating products been democratised. Indian startups are bound to take advantage of this trend and T-Works will become a great enabler.”
Interestingly, this development aligns with Telangana’s overall agenda. The state has made ‘innovation’ one of the key agendas in its development and growth plans and has taken various initiatives to create a complete ecosystem. T-Hub, built by the state government, is now India’s largest startup incubator.
There are several initiatives being run on this. The Research and Innovation Circle of Hyderabad (RICH) creates collaboration with industry and academia in life sciences and pharmaceuticals. We-Hub is now India’s largest women entrepreneur ecosystem and incubator.
While Telangana Academy for Skill and Knowledge (TASK) creates a talent pool as desired by the industry the State Innovation Cell is taking entrepreneurship and startup culture to rural parts of the State. Additionally, T-Fund is envisioned to fund startups in the state.
“All these initiatives coming from the state government is now positioning Hyderabad as the most dynamic and emerging cities in the country, ideal for innovation and entrepreneurship,” says Sujai.
A prototyping universe
Now, T-Works ideally fits into the ecosystem as it is providing the platform for prototyping. With the combination of readily available software expertise, it allows startups to get into smart manufacturing. With its Rural Entrepreneurship Development Programme, it aims to assist and finance rural entrepreneurs. It has a section catering to kids to foster the culture of making and tinkering right from their childhood.
Speaking on why FirstBuild chose to partner with T-Works, Chandra Vijjhala, CIO – India, GE Appliances, says, “By creating India’s largest maker’s space with open access to all facets of making and building, T-Works will help foster a holistic ecosystem of makers, experts, entrepreneurs and students at one place. While this maker community will innovate and focus on creating the next generation of home appliances for all consumers, because T-Works is based in India, it will also focus on solving and innovating for local and rural issues.”
T-Works shall give access to many tools and equipment in the domain of mechanical, electromechanical and electronics. Anyone can come and use the facilities. You could be an engineer, an enthusiast, an inventor, a researcher, a businessman, or just a curious observer.
These include automatic CNC, tooling machines, sheet metal press, welding and woodworking equipment, 3D printers, PCB manufacture and assembly, various test equipment and so on. T-Works also provides working space for prototyping, conference and training rooms for collaborative work.
Guidelines for T-Works are as follows:
- Give fair and non-discriminatory access of all the prototyping equipment within the premises to all users, individuals, startups and businesses.
- Provide facilities for prototyping, provide mentoring, offer skill development programmes, incubate startups, sourcing, and funding opportunities in that order of priority, so that no succeeding function dilutes the preceding function.
- Shall not be used to mass-manufacture.
- Shall not hold equity in any of the companies or business entities, and shall not hold intellectual property.
- Shall facilitate hardware startups to scale through active collaboration with manufacturing services.
- Shall facilitate talent development and upskilling to produce a talented workforce for hardware startups and manufacturing industry.
“In its first year, FirstBuild will focus on building the facility, expanding the community, and engaging our makers in collaborative projects as we begin building products for the local community and consumers around the world,” says Chandra.
The programme is managed and sponsored by the Telangana government. This is what makes it different from other makers’ labs like – Maker’s Asylum based out of Mumbai and Delhi, Workbench Project, Collab House, JMoon Makerspace, Maker’s Loft to name a few.
“While developing the concept for T-Works, we studied various maker-spaces across the world, even those that have failed to learn what works and what does not. Also, we had to take into account the prevailing India ethos and attitudes,” says Sujai.
He adds, “We don’t expect to rival the maker labs of the US or Europe but seek to take inspiration from them, and if possible collaborate with them. Right now, once the Phase 1 is complete in 2019, we would already be India’s largest makers lab, and when we finish Phase 2, I believe we will rank in the top five in the world.”
It will indeed be interesting to see if T-Works Hyderabad is able to evolve into the one-stop shop for all manufacturing startups in India.