'High time for private sector participation’: India's multi-stakeholder platform matches emerging tech innovators with sustainable development goals

By Si Ying Thian

The Manthan platform convenes various stakeholders across research, industry, and the Government of India to align demand for solutions with emerging technologies that can make a social impact

GovInsider speaks to Dr Sapna Poti, Director of Strategic Alliances at Office of the Principal Scientific Adviser (PSA) to find out more about how the Manthan seeks to match emerging tech innovations with UN's sustainable development goals. Image: India Expo 2020

A multi-stakeholder platform pioneered by the Government of India has helped facilitate 6322.84 crores (US$7.6 billion) worth of funding opportunity in the emerging tech sector, as per the website dashboard’s last update on 9 January 2024.


Aimed at helping local industry players to scale up emerging technologies and other innovations that aim to make a social impact, Manthan is a digital platform launched in August 2022 by the Office of the Principal Scientific Adviser (PSA). 


PSA is a government agency that advises the Government of India on matters related to scientific policy.

Office of the Principal Scientific Adviser (PSA) is the government agency that pioneered Manthan. Image: PSA

Manthan offers a regulated online marketplace to help facilitate interactions among academia, grassroot innovators, industry, and philanthropic sectors. It has seen over 30,000 users joining the platform since its launch.


Some of its key features include online information exchange, virtual exhibition and conference halls, and a reviewing or rating mechanism.


GovInsider sits down with Dr Sapna Poti, Director of Strategic Alliances at PSA, to find out more about how the Indian government taps on Manthan, as both an enabler and a participant, Manthan’s focus on emerging tech, and what are the next steps for the platform.

Government as an enabler and a participant


“Many innovate without having the demand for it or even understanding what the demand is for it. Manthan is a demand-driven platform. We [help] bring in the demand to raise the problem statements,” says Dr Poti.


Demand-side users can submit problem statements of their own, and the supply-side users can then submit proposals to address these problem statements, which are organised in accordance with United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).


This platform consolidates demand from both the public and private sectors.


There are currently 17 ministries in India that have submitted problem statements on the platform and put forward funding support for successful projects.


Notably, Dr Poti indicates that it is “now high time for private sector participation.”


When it comes to scaling up emerging technologies, whether it is an early-stage R&D or a market-ready innovation, innovators need different kinds of support, so an entire value chain is needed, she explains.


Government agencies can only do so much, she adds.


This is why PSA wants to encourage industry players, academic institutions, governments from other countries, and philanthropic foundations to come together to bring the ecosystem to the next level.


In developing the Manthan platform, PSA also partnered with a non-profit organisation, philanthropist, and Amazon Web Services for funding and computing infrastructure support.

‘Many of the emerging tech are aligned to SDGs’


Dr Poti shares that these emerging technologies play a critical role in achieving both SDGs and national priorities for India, which include goals in the sectors of defence, agriculture, and population health, but such technologies require both research and funding support.


“All the research that needs to be done in the future needs a center of excellence, and support from subject matter experts and opportunities stacked under the respective SDGs.”


These emerging technologies include AI, quantum computing, and biotech.

Manthan matches emerging tech innovators with UN's sustainable development goals. Image: Manthan 

When it comes to healthcare, Dr Poti adds that there are new opportunities in India’s One Health strategy launched in 2021. The national strategy is centered around the idea of integrated health of humans, animals, and ecosystems, and brings different sectors together to solve health, productivity, and conservation challenges in tandem.


According to PSA’s website on One Health, the government is targeting innovations that include novel disease surveillance and control methodologies, data analytics tools to improve integration and decision-making, as well as biotech tools like vaccines and therapeutics.


On the aspect of achieving SDGs, the government is also using Manthan to promote cross-border collaborations between international partners and Indian startups, with the funding support split between the Indian startup or company, and the international partner.


“We have nearly 13 or 14 other countries on the platform, including Sweden, Korea, Japan, UK, US, and more working with Indian startups. And they are not addressing issues only in India, but globally and hence, the focus on SDGs.”

How success of the Manthan platform looks like


Highlighting how Manthan monitors the success of its platform, Dr Poti says: “The first KPI for us is when an MoU is signed, funding is given, or a project is started. For an early-stage R&D, a successful outcome is when the R&D has been translated into a technology.


“The second KPI is when a social impact has been delivered from a project facilitated through Manthan, but a typical R&D project usually takes one to five years [to deliver its outcomes].”


Moving forward, Manthan is exploring an AI engine to widen its outreach to subject matter experts in India and around the world.

Emerging tech success stories enlisted on the Manthan website. Image: Screengrab from Manthan

Currently, its outreach efforts have been through airport advertisements and conferences targeting academia and ministries.


“We are now looking at an AI engine to pull out these challenges from Manthan and connect them to the respective subject matter experts.


“In building the AI engine for matchmaking, we will first look at the different centers of excellence from academic institutes in India, then internationally.”


Secondly, aside from being a marketplace for emerging tech innovations, PSA is looking to incorporate a placement platform on Manthan for PhD students, with a particular focus on industry research centers.


“We need to know whether there is demand and where is the demand for such researchers. Is it more in AI or space defense?


“We’re just having PhD students left, right and center studying any topic and doing dissertations. What PhD students are we encouraging and progressing towards? Is there any demand for PhD students in the country? We have no clue right now,” she explains.