Start-ups like Big Bang Boom Solutions to drive innovation in weaponry - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Sunday 7 April 2019

Start-ups like Big Bang Boom Solutions to drive innovation in weaponry

Big Bang Boom looks to create greater battlefield awareness for crews in the army's 4,000 tanks

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 8th Apr 19

When the ministry of defence (MoD) launched its so-called Start-up Challenge under the Innovations for Defence Excellence (iDEX) scheme, inviting start-ups to propose solutions for 15 specified technologies, bureaucrats knew they would be dealing with very different people and companies than the public sector they were accustomed to.

Even so, there were barely-suppressed smiles when a Hyderabad-based start-up called Big Bang Boom Solutions won the challenge to develop “see through armour” for tanks. While the start-up’s technology plan is ingenious, its financial plan is unique.

The company’s technology intends to make crewmembers inside a closed, armoured tank fully aware of what is outside. To achieve this crewmembers’ helmets are fed an integrated visual image, stitched together from a dozen video cameras outside that together look in all directions.

Since tanks became the army’s most potent weapon a century ago, crewmembers have been hampered by “battlefield blindness” -- the situational disorientation that stems from shutting themselves into an enclosed armoured compartment. If Big Bang Boom Solutions manages to translate the Rs 1.5 crore iDEX award into a functional system, it would greatly enhance the combat capability of crews in the army’s 4,000 tanks.

Praveen Dwarakanath, the chief executive of Big Bang Boom Solutions, explains the key challenge is one of data fusion, or combining inputs from multiple sensors into the crews’ augmented reality helmets. Intelligent analytics further refine the images. 

“In addition, our plan caters for exchanging images between adjoining tank units through secure communication channels. This will allow a more complete battlefield view,” explains Dwarakanath.

Big Bang Boom Solutions was established in April 2018 by two engineering college classmates. Dwarakanath, who did an MBA from IIM Lucknow, manages business development and finances, while Shivaraman Ramaswamy, a nanotechnology Ph.D., organises and oversees research.

With the start-up focusing mainly on systems integration, it outsources most research and development (R&D). Both partners leverage a decade of working in the R&D domain to direct the work to the right laboratory and scientist.

“We are very familiar with the research environment. We know which IIT laboratory has what equipment, what skills, and which professor or research student can handle which task,” said Dwarakanath.

Unusually for a start-up, Big Bang Boom Solutions has a clear business plan that Dwarakanath sums up as “Earning the money before spending it.”

The company plans to use the Rs 1.5 crore iDEX award in the “see through armour” development, with additional money being raised from angel investors. The working prototype that emerges, it will be offered to the army in the Make-2 procurement category, which bypasses the need for long-drawn-out contracting.

“If the military doesn’t buy our solution, we will seek other buyers, perhaps a smaller friendly country, where the procurement process takes one-twentieth the time. This would de-risk our business and enable us to continue R&D,” says Dwarakanath.

Big Bang Boom Solutions has an innovative financing model for attracting investors, which it created after convertible notes became legal in 2016. This model bases the relationship between investor and start-up on a convertible note that allows the investor the option of purchasing the equity of the start up at a future date at a pre-decided value.

In this model, the start-up does not use the investor’s money for R&D. Instead it parks the money with a hedge fund that invests it in the market, remitting only the returns to the start-up for research. The capital remains insulated and, three years later, even if the start-up has failed, the investor gets back his principal.

The promoters of Big Bang Boom are, in their individual capacities, already setting up such a hedge fund, using Rs 20 crore of personal finance. Dwarakanath says that, once SEBI clears this, they will offer the use of this hedge fund to all Indian start-ups.

How this freewheeling technology-finance entrepreneurship performs remains to be seen. For now, however, Big Bang Boom Solutions is scoring on the technology front. Dwarakanath says that besides the “see through armour” win, the firm is also a finalist in the “Illegal usage of drones” category. This requires start-ups to develop solutions for shooting down illegal drones, using kinetic and non-kinetic means.

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