Starting-up automotive ecosystem: Maruti Suzuki leverages innovation capabilities of startups

Vikram Chaudhary

To support the new-age mobility ecosystem, and to improve their own operational efficiency, automakers in India are increasingly looking at ideas from startups. It's a win-win for both. While start-ups get a platform to further their products and solutions, automakers get access to new-age technologies without having to reinvent the wheel. Earlier this month, Maruti Suzuki collaborated with four new start-ups under its Mobility and Automobile Innovation Lab (MAIL) initiative."MAIL is more than just an accelerator for automobile and mobility start-ups in India," says Shashank Srivastava, executive director, Sales & Marketing, Maruti Suzuki India. "It aims to create an environment that fosters their growth. Those that get selected have an opportunity to work on a paid project with Maruti Suzuki, and the possibility of going-to-market together."

These four-which were present at the Auto Expo 2020 earlier this month-are Dave.AI (a virtual sales avatar), Rezo.AI (helps enrich customer experience), Fabrik (helps enterprises transform from 2D interfaces to 3D experiences) and ElectreeFi (an IoT platform for electric vehicles)."With the inclusion of this batch, we are now engaged with nine start-ups under MAIL," adds Srivastava. The other five, which had collaborated with Maruti Suzuki in 2019 and underwent a three-month acceleration programme, are Enmovil, Docketrun, Eyedentify, Xane and SenseGiz. Of these, Enmovil Solutions ended up becoming Maruti Suzuki's customer. Ravi Bulusu, the co-founder, says that Enmovil's focus is on improving the operational efficiency of field and yard logistics for major organisations, including MNCs.

"We specialise in computer-vision-based solutions where we deploy artificial intelligence to improve the efficiency of yard operations/logistics." He adds that if it were not for MAIL, Enmovil perhaps would still be trying to figure out how to enter the Indian automotive industry. "Maruti Suzuki changed the road map how we would grow. Most start-ups have great ideas, but what matters is getting a  platform to showcase that idea to the right customer at the right time," Bulusu says. A major benefit for start-ups taking part in such initiatives, he adds, is that funding may get easier.

"PotentialVCs take notice because they know that this startup will grow since it has a major customer/partner." Apart from Maruti Suzuki, Enmovil's other big customer is HPCL. "We are talking to others, too," Bulusu says. Srivastava adds, "The automotive sector needs innovation-based solutions. By offering a platform for start-ups to come up with next-generation ideas, we are able to leverage the innovation capability and have cutting-edge solutions for the auto sector much faster." Other automakers Last year, MG Motor India had started the MG Developer Program & Grant initiative.

Launched in collaboration with tech companies such as SAP, Cognizant, Adobe, Airtel, TomTom and Unlimit, the initiative aims at incentivising Indian innovators and developers to build futuristic mobility applications and experiences. It also brought in TiE Delhi NCR as the ecosystem partner. Under this initiative, MG Motor India provides innovators and start-ups with an opportunity to secure mentorship and funding from industry leaders. Shortlisted ideas receive specialised, high-level mentoring and networking opportunities to assist with the practical development of the solution, business plan and modelling, testing facilities, go-to-market strategy, etc.

Winning ideas have access to a grant, ranging from Rs 5 lakh to Rs 25 lakh. Hyundai Motor India Foundation (HMIF), the philanthropic arm of Hyundai Motor India, has a programme called the H-Social Creator(it was first instituted by Hyundai Motor Company in South Korea in2015).LastyearinDecember, two Chennai students (Tamil Selvi from Sri Akilandeswari Women's College and N Sivakumar from Sethu Institute of Technology) jointly won the first H-Social Creator of Year award for their ideas, which, HMIF said, will be implemented on the ground.