Incubation support for a thriving smart protein ecosystem


With more than 1,12,718 DPIIT-recognized startups operating across 763 districts, India is home to the third-largest startup ecosystem in the world. To cultivate this ecosystem, incubators play a critical role by providing support to early-stage startups in the form of access to infrastructure, mentorship, and an investor network. However, with new technologies and innovations sprouting at a rapid pace, it is essential not to view incubation as a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution. With the smart protein sector comprising 100+ startups working on innovations across plant-based, fermentation-derived, and cultivated protein, it is essential to take into account their unique challenges and needs. 

In June 2023, GFI India hosted a consultation session with IKP Knowledge Park, a 200-acre science park and incubator, to understand the challenges smart protein startups face in navigating the incubation ecosystem in India. Based on the key findings that emerged through this session, this report illustrates the current state of the incubation ecosystem in India and provides recommendations for private and public players looking to incubate and support smart protein innovators.

Key insights from the report

  • Smart protein startups require access to specialised equipment and common infrastructure for their early-stage R&D, as owning and maintaining such equipment is a CAPEX-heavy and time-consuming investment. However, currently, plant-based startups often find the equipment at incubators that support conventional food processing startups outdated or unsuitable. Similarly, fermentation and cultivated protein companies are unable to find suitable downstream processing equipment as it is either over-engineered or under-engineered to meet the needs of pharmaceutical or biotech startups.
  • Even when key pieces of equipment are available, they are often fragmented across incubators, preventing startups that are not incubated at the host institution from accessing them. To allow cross-ecosystem collaboration and accelerate product innovation, it is critical to develop a framework for fostering partnerships between incubators and creating dedicated, centralised facilities.
  • Besides accessing equipment, startups working on cutting-edge innovations in fermentation and cultivated protein require mentorship from subject-matter experts to scale their process from lab-scale to pilot-scale. Incubators housed in academic institutions can not only provide access to their academic experts but also set up technology transfer offices to help founders navigate IP-related challenges and support the transfer of research from academia to industry. Incubators that are housed in academic institutions can not only provide access to their academic experts but also facilitate bilateral technology transfer by inviting experts from mature markets to collaborate with startup founders.
  • While smart protein startups in India saw a healthy flow of capital in 2021, due to the global economic downturn, venture capital funding has been hard to come by over the last two years. To decrease dependence on venture capital funding, incubators can support startups in building applications for public grants like the Startup India Seed Fund and the BIRAC Ignition Grant.

Download the report