Last April, Intel reached out to NITI Aayog, the policy think-tank that replaced the Planning Commission in 2015, with a research report on designing semiconductor chips in India. It pitched building a fabless semiconductor ecosystem in India—one that is organised around the design, sale and consumption of chips, rather than one that focuses on their manufacture.
It knew that India’s ambitious fab-centric policy initiative was unravelling on a slow burn in the background. Vinod Dham, a former Intel vice-president and one of the designers of the Pentium chip, had even written an op-ed in the Times of India not so long ago, titled ‘Does India really need a $5bn semiconductor unit’.
“What we were trying to tell the government was that manufacturing is good, you know, but India’s real strength is designing,” says an Intel executive privy to that meeting. He requested not to be named as he is not authorised to speak with the media. “We are constrained because we don’t find enough people in India. If there is a design ecosystem and capabilities are built, then our ability to work out of the country increases.” In its more than 25 years in India, Intel has spent $3 billion on R&D in the country. Naturally, it wants to see more significant outcomes.
Following the April meeting, a committee was set up by NITI Aayog to figure out how best to promote the fabless semiconductor industry in India. Intel would spearhead it. Just months later, Intel partnered with NITI Aayog to set up the first 10 of the 500 ‘Atal Tinkering Labs’ in schools, which aim to introduce students to new tools and technologies. Each of these labs cost about Rs 20 lakh, and usually, in projects like these, private partners bear the infrastructure cost, while the government covers the training cost.
This sort of a give and take, otherwise known as a ‘win-win’, is not limited to Intel alone. Multinational tech giants like Google, Microsoft, Amazon and Uber are all eager to work with the government. “Oh, you have this problem? It concerns us as well, so we’ll be happy to do this for you. In turn, could you please hear us out?”
It is about mindshare. The more mindshare you enjoy with the government, the greater are the chances of you having your say on policy matters. Once policy matters are sorted, it is get-set-go for your plans; be it market development or technology development.