Ratan Tata to bring XPrize Foundation to India


December 9, 2014

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Backed by Tata, the US-based non-profit XPrize Foundation plans to make an announcement on 11 December about its India operations


Mumbai: Axiom Research Labs Pvt. Ltd-owned Team Indus, led and co-founded by Rahul Narayan from Bengaluru, is no stranger to the US-based XPrize Foundation.

The team has already built a land rover for the moon, and is a finalist for the Google Lunar XPrize competition despite being the last to register.

“We were quite surprised that there was no one else who has registered from India. So we decided to take part, with an objective of just putting India on the map,” said Dilip Chhabria, co-founder of the company, over the phone.

Similarly, Chennai-based American Megatrends India Pvt. Ltd-owned Team Danvantri, led by Sridharan Mani, the company’s chief executive and director, has created an affordable device that is small enough to fit in the palm, yet sufficient to diagnose diseases in an entire village.

Team Danvantri, too, is a finalist for the Qualcomm Tricorder XPrize.

Both Chhabria and Mani are awaiting the final results that will be announced by December 2015.

There’s good news for entrepreneurs like them.

The XPrize Foundation—known to award prizes like the $30million Google Lunar XPrize, the $10 million Qualcomm Tricorder XPrize, the $2.25million Nokia Sensing XChallenge and the $2million Wendy Schmidt Ocean Health XPrize—is finally coming to India.

Backed by Ratan Tata, chairman emeritus of Tata Sons Ltd, the US-based non-profit XPrize Foundation plans to make an official announcement on 11 December about the foundation’s country operations and launch of India-specific awards.

The efforts of Tata, who has made personal investments in companies such as snapdeal.com, bluestone.com and urbanladder.com, are being supported by Paresh Ghelani, co-founder, chief executive officer, 2020 Company, LLC, and Naveen Jain, founder and chief executive of Inome Inc., a public information services firm.

XPrize Foundation had partnered with the ministry of new and renewable energy (MNRE) and the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi to launch a global competition to develop and deploy clean and efficient cooking stoves on 30 August 2010. It had also announced that it would launch India-specific XPrizes in December 2012.

But the plan did not materialise.

“I came on board last year and since January, we have been charting out the plan for the launch in India on 11 December,” said Zenia Tata, programme director, global expansions at XPrize Foundation, over the phone.

The first India prize will be launched by April 2015, said Zenia Tata, and will be designed to address concerns such as availability of and accessibility to clean water.

“XPrize believes that the next big breakthrough innovation will come from India and impact billions across the globe,” she added.

For instance, Axiom Research Labs, which was founded in 2011, focuses on making spacecraft that can “soft-land on the surface of the moon” and also develop a rover that can travel about 500 metres and capture high definition pictures of the moon.

“We think that the competition is just a way of starting the first project for the company. Irrespective of the outcome of the competition we have a number of quality projects, IPRs (intellecutal property rights) to work on which can make a sound business model,” said Narayan.

According to Zenia Tata, the Foundation has been working with Indian experts to evaluate and identify the challenges that the country faces.

“Once we have identified the challenges, we will design the prizes and appeal to Indian philanthropists to fund them,” she said.

Participants across the globe can apply with their ideas but the winners of the prize would have tested their solution in India and then moved it to similar locations.

“India has play on a level field and keep pace with the technology that is creating solutions for the world. It has to create solutions that are tremendous in scale and that can impact thousands of people,” said Ravi Gururaj, chairperson of the product council and member of the executive council of software lobby body Nasscom, over the phone.

Gururaj and a few other industry experts have been invited by Ratan Tata to discuss the execution process for the India chapter in Mumbai. Nasscom runs a 10,000 start-up programme to mentor and support start-ups.

“In India, XPrize will have to localise its functioning process, keeping in mind the culture, entrepreneurial ecosystem and other factors. In terms of execution, things in India may take longer than what they would in other geographical location. Challenges are different here,” he said.