The team at Axio Biosolutions; and (inset) axiostat is a dressing that works to temporarily clot the blood
On a cold morning in Delhi in 2006, as Leo Mavely was on his way to college, he saw a biker being hit by a bus. Mavely and a bystander helped the bleeding man into an autorickshaw and rushed him to hospital. On the way, Mavely pressed his jacket to the wound to stem the bleeding. The man survived. But Mavely, a student of bio-engineering, could not stop thinking about how to save people from bleeding to death.
Upon moving to Ahmedabad, Mavely would find out that the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) had been working on the problem. The Indian armed forces needed a product that could prevent the injured from bleeding out. The US, the UK and Israel were the only countries that had access to such technology. Working with DRDO to research materials, Mavely would develop a “smart bandage” to stop profuse bleeding within two-three minutes. Called Axiostat, the dressing works to temporarily clot the blood through charge interactions. Mavely’s company, Axio Biosolutions, has since launched three variants. It is working with around 500 hospitals and supplying its prod•ucts to 300 battalions of the Indian army, besides armies abroad. “We are a major supplier in the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war. Though we are not supplying directly, our products are being exported to European countries like Ger•many and Poland,” Mavely says.
Axio Biosolutions got insti•tutional funding for the first time in 2014. Five years later, it launched MaxioCel, an ad•vanced woundcare product which in 2021 got the CE (Conformitè Europëenne) ap•proval, which is mandatory for regulating goods sold within the European Economic Area (EEA). Over the past five-six years, Indian critical wound•care has got a big boost thanks to Axio’s indigenous solutions. Axio’s products are now being exported to 45 countries.
Companies like Axio are the reason India jumped from the 81st position on the Global Innovation Index in 2015 to the 40th in 2022 to become the most innovative lower middle-income economy in the world, overtaking Vietnam, according to the World Intellectual Prop•erty Organization (WIPO). In Central and Southern Asia, India ranked highest among three in the “most innovative economies”, followed by Iran and Uzbekistan.
Unnat Pandit, appointed Controller General of Patents, De•signs and Trade Marks (CGPDTM), Mumbai, in April this year, reels other impressive numbers—from 2015, a nine-times jump in startup investors, a five-times jump in funding, seven times jump in incubators, increase in patents granted from around 6,300 to nearly 32,000. “It is not accidental. India has done sig•nificant work. The National Innovation and Startup Policy 2019 contributed in a major way. Startup India and Stand Up India created a backbone eco-system.” According to a 2017 survey by the IBM Institute for Business Value, 91 per cent of companies fail in the first five years, with lack of innovation being the most prevalent cause. Pandit says that with innovation on the rise in India and startups learning to be sustainable, the five-year mortality rate has fallen to 70 per cent. The mortality of starups in metros is higher due to the higher cost of sustenance as com•pared to startups in T2 and T3 cities.
With 66,000 patents filed in a year, till April this year, India is now sixth in patent filing and fifth in filing trademarks—a total of 4.5 lakh this year, a 15 per cent increase over the last. This is despite India’s relatively low spends (0.7% of GDP) on R&D in science and technology.
“India’s biggest advantage is its young population, which is trying to find solutions for problems. From jugaad, we are now serious innovators,” says Pandit, who filed patents in medical chemistry before joining the industry. Unlike Pandit, who is from an industry background, his predecessors were from the Indian Administrative Service (IAS). The office itself, which is part of the Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT) under the Ministry of Commerce, was a small one till around 2016-17, when there was a major recruitment drive.
As per the Economic Survey 2021-22, a record 44 startups got unicorn status in 2021. Even amidst a funding winter, there are at present over 80 active unicorns in the country. In fact, India may well be churning out unicorns faster than China. Startup culture has now percolated down to smaller towns, which have become early adopters of emerging tech•nology for innovation. Some of this shift towards innovation-fuelled growth has become possible because of positive govern•ment policies. The latest of them is the notification of a credit guarantee scheme for startups by DPIIT.
Anjan Mukherjee, a marine engineer who created the Taraltec:Maji reactor to kill microbes in contaminated water, believes the government’s enabling mechanism for startups is yielding results. “Because of the government’s vision for startups, many now believe startups are the future and will do anything that is required of them to help them succeed.” It was while reading an article in a technical magazine on how the snapping shrimp kills microorganisms that the idea struck him. The Taraltec:Maji reactor converts the kinetic energy of the fluid into millions of targeted micro-bubbles, each releasing a large amount of intense energy during their collapse. The resultant shock waves physically kill microbes in the water, making it safer. The technology is perhaps the cheapest and the most environ•ment-friendly way of purifying water and it has been used on borewell water to make it safe for drinking.
India’s first innovations date back 5,000 years to the Indus Valley Civilisation. Ayurveda, a framework for medical innovation from ancient India, is now witnessing a resurgence with global demand and a government-led push for research. An example is Nadi Tarangini, a digital pulse di•agnostic instrument based on Ayurveda. Atreya Innovations, founded by Aniruddha Joshi, holds the patent for what will be the world’s first Ayurveda wearable. “By 2030, a majority of us could be wearing several sensors on or inside our bodies in the form of devices such as Google Glass, Apple Watch, healthcare patches, smartshoes, belts, and so on. The thought behind our Ayurveda wearable is that one of those sensors should be from India, based on the Nadi Parikshan of Ayurveda. The working prototype is ready and we are looking for a seed funding round for a world-class designing and mass manufacturing process,” says Joshi, a computer scientist.
Nadi Tarangini, which uses Artificial Intelligence (AI) to gauge the pulse, detects subtle changes in overall health parameters based on vata, pitta, kapha (tridosha) diagnostics. The sensor-based technology envisages present and possible ailments, giving rec•ommendations on diet and lifestyle changes. When Joshi’s fa•ther, Jeshtaraj B Joshi, a Padma Bhushan awardee and a former professor, suffered a neurological issue in 2003, he was treated by an Ayurvedic doctor from Pune. The idea that Ayurveda could be digitised took shape then. During his PhD, Aniruddha Joshi worked on eight different sensors. He secured CSIR funding to develop a prototype, which was then installed in 20 hospitals. In partnership with three MNCs, his company has now set a target of expanding services to cover 7-10 lakh people over the next couple of years.
After the first law governing inventions was promulgated in India in 1856, George Alfred DePenning, a civil engineer, pe•titioned the government for granting exclusive privileges for his invention—a punkah (fan) pulling machine. This was the first time Intellectual Property protection was granted in India, under the law for “exclusive privileges for the encouragement of inventions of new manufactures”. Since then, the patents law has undergone several changes, before and after Independence.
Even as India rises on the innovation index, it faces chal•lenges in sectors like infrastructure. One of the measures to•wards remedying this inadequacy is the 10,000 Atal Tinkering Labs the government has set up in schools—an idea aimed at cultivating one million children as innovators under the Atal Innovation Mission, an initiative of the NITI Aayog and over 400 government-supported incubators. Pandit, who was earlier the programme director of the Atal Innovation Mission, says there is increasing confidence among scientists to design solutions for societal challenges in the current ecosystem for innovation. “The government should also encourage establishment of a sus•tainable ecosystem in semi-urban areas so that we can replicate the success of Zoho, one of the best IT solutions companies in the country.”