Bangalore is home to the National Aeronautical Laboratory, the Indian Space Research Organization, and the country’s premier Indian Institute of Science. There’s high-end aerospace talent at these places, but they don’t constitute the primary reason why Airbus has set up an innovation lab in Bangalore.
The Airbus BizLab is an accelerator for startups. “Not necessarily aerospace product innovators, but enablers in a variety of areas. For example, Airbus would want to work with fintech startups to improve its financial operations,” explains Siddharth Balachandran, who heads the BizLab center in Bangalore.
Data analytics and image processing, internet of things and digitalization, virtual and augmented reality, gaming and drones, supply chain process innovation and airport management, mobility solutions to improve passenger experience – many innovations can be applied to the aerospace industry. Airbus has also stationed an “emerging tech and concepts team” in Bangalore to help startups bridge the gap in applying their solutions to industry requirements.
Applications are currently open for this accelerator program, which starts January 3. The last date for applying is November 20.
The Airbus program adds to the increasing engagement between the French tech ecosystem and Indian startups, which may prefer Paris to London for accessing European markets post-Brexit.
The early birds
Five Indian startups have already worked with Airbus in the accelerator’s first batch, four of them in Bangalore and the fifth one at the BizLab center in Hamburg. Here’s a look at what they do and how these relate to Airbus.
- BlueMorfo provides a health score to people based on various parameters to assess their risk of developing lifestyle-related diseases. The score is then used to put users in personalized behavior modification programs. This is useful for Airbus which has to deal with health issues related to jet lag or cabin pressure or ergonomic seating.
- Shoonya uses 3D gaming and VR for training and marketing. It created a training demo using visualization of the interior of an A380 aircraft. That was also converted to a VR training module on Oculus Rift.
- Open Turf has a suite of products around digital content. One of these is in-flight entertainment using a wifi hotspot. So a passenger can access movies on a laptop without connecting to the internet, by accessing the wifi hotspot inside the plane.
- Qalitas is the fourth one in the Bangalore BizLab. It is using machine vision for automation of manufacturing processes and quality control. Machine vision uses optical sensors linked up to the internet for identifying and tracking the movement of objects or parts of a machine.
Apart from interacting with Airbus personnel and mentors at the accelerator, these startups also have access to the Airbus engineering center in Bangalore. That helps with prototyping and testing, especially for new age tech, such as machine vision.
The fifth Indian #startup, Delhi-based Velmenni, headquartered in Estonia, uses light fidelity (Li-Fi) to provide wireless communication that is more secure and faster than wifi. It uses the light spectrum, unlike wifi which uses radio bands. The nascent technology has limitations, but can have interesting possibilities in specific indoor settings with LED lighting.
Velmenni went to the Airbus accelerator in Hamburg, Germany, to develop its solution. It was also one of the three hardware startups that got funded on the spot by Vani Kola, MD and founder of Kalaari Capital, after a pitching session in Bangalore last month.
Hybrid model for a win-win
Apart from Bangalore and Hamburg, Airbus has the BizLab accelerator at its headquarters in Toulouse, France. Many startups are either unable to develop a viable commercial proposition or struggle to get customers. “It slows the pace of innovation,” says BizLab’s global head, Bruno Gutierres. “BizLab is a step towards remedying that situation.”
Four out of the five startups mentored in Toulouse have signed MoUs with Airbus for collaboration. Two of them have also raised funding in excess of US$1 million.
For Airbus, it is also a way to stay agile in a fast-changing tech landscape by working with startups instead of relying only on innovation from within the company.
A unique feature BizLab has is its hybrid model. Apart from startups, there are internal innovation teams from Airbus being mentored at its accelerator. This enables cross-pollination. Startups learn the ways of large groups and better understand company needs. Company teams, on the other hand, learn from entrepreneurs how to move fast from idea to market.
The BizLab in Bangalore is co-located with NUMA, France’s biggest startup accelerator, which has a center on Church Street – in the heart of the city. BizLab is still in its early days, but Bruno points out to Tech in Asia that the year-old program in Toulouse has already produced results.
“Four out of the five startups mentored there have signed MoUs with Airbus for collaboration,” says Bruno. Two of them have also raised funding in excess of US$1 million. Next year, it aims to broaden the program with startups from a wider range of domains participating.