Bangalore -- Four years ago when I attended the first Bangalore Nanotechnology event, there were a handful of startups led by fresh engineering graduates from India. Most of them were from Bangalore and almost all of them had no clear way forward. Neither was there any policy framework in place. It was a nascent event heralding the even more nascent nanotech movement that could be the next big thing to come. Sure, the Indian government had announced $250 million investment but concrete ideas and business plans were not forthcoming.
Today, at the fourth edition of Bangalore Nano 2011, not only was the stage set for a R&D centre ( the Indian Institute of Nanoscience and Technology) which is being set up here in Bangalore with funding support from the Central Government, but the Karnataka government has gone one step ahead and announced the setting up of a Nano Park in Bangalore. According to the Karnataka Chief Minister, a state-of –the-art Nano Park would be set up near the Bangalore International Airport which will house a Nano Incubation Center with world class facilities to develop this sector on similar lines as IT services/products and biotechnology.
When I spoke with M.N. Vidyashankar, Principal Secretary, IT, who is spearheading the whole show, he said that the entire framework for the Nano Park has been put in place and the global tender for the setting up of the Nano Park -- the first of its kind in India -- would be announced on the 16th of January 2012.
“We have finalized the location where 25 acres has been allocated for this venture. Since we had no idea about the requirements by nanotech startups, we had in-depth discussions not only with the Indian Institutes of Technology ( IITs) and Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore but also from the US and EU which have a host of nanotech parks,” Vidyashankar said.
There are about 55 nanotech companies India, spread across a huge spectrum, right from textiles to electronics to waste management and even nano tubes manufacturing. “A majority of them are based in Bangalore while a few are in Mumbai. And, almost every CEO (of nanotech companies) I met today, was eager to get more details about the Nano Park which was announced today by the Chief Minister. You see, merely setting up an R&D center is not really going to help this industry go forward. We needed to have a setup which would help these companies to commercialise their products and technologies and the Nano Park is the first baby step in this direction,” Vidyashankar explained.
More interesting than the Nano Park announcement was the caliber of the nanotech startups. Unlike four years back when the nanotech startups could only talk big ( none of those companies figured in today’s Indian nanotech scenario), the current startups were in areas such as functional and structural nanomaterials, waste management, and a couple of them were in manufacturing of carbon nanotubes.
NoPo, a Bangalore based startup was working on scaling up the HipCO Process for production of Single Walled Carbon Nanotubes. (HipCO stands for high pressure carbon monoxide and is one of the only gas phase processes that can produce Single Walled Nanotubes of over 98% purity). It was invented by Robert Kelley Bradley under the guidance of Nobel laureate Richard Smalley as part of his PhD thesis. Kelley now works for NoPo Nanotechnologies India, as a director of technology and research. Says Gadhadar Reddy, CEO, NoPo, “This is a game changer and is bound to change a lot of things in the nanotech space.” According to Reddy, the HipCO process makes use of carbon monoxide at a high pressure and temperature and uses Nickel and Iron Carbonyl as catalysts. “The original HipCO at RICE University could only produce a few grams of Single Walled Carbon Nanotubes whereas we are planning production in kilograms,” he added.
Similarly, there was another startup, Global Nanotech which also supplies carbon-based nanomaterials to China and the US. Founded by 25-year-old Jinesh Shah, who graduated from Louisiana University his company has collaborations with, leading organizations to produce the highest quality of functional and structural nanomaterials.
Another startup i2n Technologies provides scanning probe microscopy solutions which feature several technological innovations at affordable prices.
A research team under V. Ramgopal Rao, professor from Department of Microelectronics at the Indian Institute of Technology, Mumbai, has developed an explosive detection device called E-Nose out of its startup, Nanosniff Technologies. The E-Nose is cost-effective, reliable, small, light, quick, and portable — just about everything that a large and densely populated country needs in today’s terrorism ridden environment materials and related analytical services with required technical support. “We are planning to set up a manufacturing unit, either in Bangalore or Himachal Pradesh to develop these handheld explosive detectors,” said Kapil Bardeja, co-founder and CEO, Nanosniff Technologies.
Nanotech startups in India have indeed come a long way from the small step taken about four years ago where just about 7-8 startups had showcased premature ideas and technologies and none had taken off,
But today, about 27 startups had showcased their products, technologies and services at the Bangalore Nano 2011 and each seemed to have a unique solution in areas such as energy, chemicals and textiles as well as high-end structural nanomaterials and several seemed to have commercialized their products and are in expansion mode. “The setting up of the Nano Park will surely help us propel our expansion plans and Bangalore is a great place to expand since the skill sets available here are unparalleled compared to other cities,” added Nanosniff’s Bardeja.