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Published on: April 2, 2023, 4:36 p.m.
Biocube is all set to make a mark in the world stage
  • Agrawal: looking at an exponential growth

By Ritwik Sinha. Consulting Editor, Business India

Even for successful entrepreneurs, 60s in their life cycle is unlikely to be considered the phase when one should kick-start a new venture on a large scale. There are, in fact, very few examples of entrepreneurs in this age-bracket having embarked on something new and eventually made them big. But this is what precisely Subodh Agrawal (65), a London-based NRI and serial entrepreneur, has chosen to do. 

For the past over five years, he, along with his associates in India and leading markets across the planet, have been trying to put up different components of a big-ticket biometrics play. His venture Biocube, a dedicated technology firm with specialisation in biometric services offering several differentials, is now raring to go, having successfully gone past the proof of concept stage in several projects in different geographies. 

The company is rooted in India in terms of positioning of product development and R&D team, while it will have decisive global footprint with contracts being executed in other countries. “We have created a strong base to make a mark in the fast-growing biometrics space,” says Agrawal. “And, we are looking at an exponential growth from the next calendar year. This is the biggest bet of my life so far,” The serial entrepreneur (executive chairman & CEO, Biocube) has quite a long list of achievements in his career of over four decades, wherein he has dabbled in multiple businesses across several geographies. 

Expanding horizon 

But, before unravelling Agrawal’s (he comes from a business family in Bareily, UP) epic scale intent, here is a quick take on the churnings in the business of biometrics – both globally as well as in India. Quite interestingly, while it may have skipped the attention of many that biometrics services have emerged as a major technological offering of the digitalisation era, the fact (as several studies reveal) is: it has fast evolved as a formidable business, which is growing by leaps and bounds. And, those who think that it is primarily used in many advanced offices to mark attendance may just be living in dark ages. 

As per a report released by a global research agency last year, the global biometrics market had stood at $32.48 billion and is expected to jump to $60 billion level in 2026, registering a CAGR of 16.25 per cent. North America was the largest region in the biometrics market in 2021 and Asia Pacific is expected to be the fastest-growing region in the forecast period.

“The main types of biometrics include Iris recognition, hand geometry, facial recognition, signature verification, fingerprint, voice recognition, and palm vein. Biometrics including contact, non-contact and combined devices are used by the government, the military, banking, finance, consumer electronics, healthcare, commercial safety & security, and logistics,” says the report. 

An India-specific research paper recently unveiled by TechSci Research had confirmed domestic market emulating trends in the global market. “The Indian biometrics market has witnessed high growth in recent years owing to the increasing adoption across the private and government sector,” says Karan Chechi, founder & research director, TechSci. “The usage of biometric technology has also been boosted by government efforts such as the issue of e-passports, the rise of e-banking and the use of biometric technologies for identity and verification reasons in visas”.

  • Biocube is looking for a global play with its operational base in India

As per the TechSci report, the value of biometrics services in India had stood over $2 billion in 2022 and by 2028, it will well cross $5 billion mark maintaining over 15 percent CGAR in the forecast period (see graphs). The report specifically mentions the hard push from the government in adopting biometric technologies for identification and verification of individuals in various e-governance applications such as RSBY (Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojna), UIDAI (Aadhar), e-passport, driving licence, etc. “Some of the other factors driving the Indian biometrics market include rising number of smart phone users, improving internet connectivity, increasing security concerns, etc,” the report further says. 

Moreover, after Covid 19 pandemic, contactless biometric systems have also taken strong roots, with emphasis on solutions like face and voice recognition for identity authentication. Currently, the finger print recognition modality dominates the Indian biometrics market, with a market share of 46.52 per cent in 2022. Furthermore, about 56 per cent of biometrics-related business is derived from the government sectors, followed by banking and finance sectors. 

The business has seen emergence of a set of players who are collaborating with government and private firms, providing them with generic or customised solutions. IDEMIA, HID India, SecuGen India, NEC Corporation, ESSL Security and Honeywell International are some of the leading firms in the domestic biometrics fray. 

Trigger points 

Talk to anybody in the technology business today and in all probability he will strongly emphasise the inevitability of more innovations in biometrics applications in the time to come. “Biometrics is becoming a major tool for data authentication,” points out Varun Bhalla, country manager, Provenir. “A major emerging trend is the deployment of AI in biometrics solutions, which significantly improve the value of data and provide critical support in areas like fraud detection. It helps in quick decision making”. 

And, it is in this growing environment that Biocube is promising to make a mark, spearheaded by Agrawal, with his vast global experience, at the helm. Hailed as a visionary entrepreneur in business circles, he is credited to have led a consortium of leading petrochemical firms in the 1990s, pioneering private partnership under PPP model in liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal business in India.

Later, he developed a deep interest in investment banking, for which he shifted base to London in 2002. He founded Euromax Capital, which facilitated some large scale mergers and acquisitions (M&A) transactions for companies in the telecom, steel, oil, gas and mining sectors, with a maximum valuation exceeding $30 billion. 

Biocube is his new baby, which he founded in 2017, following his realisation that visa application process for many countries is full of hassles as one needs to visit physical visa centres, submit paper documents and biometrics and a host of other logistics activities. Around the same time, he became a victim of identity theft and incurred a major financial loss due to hacking of his multiple bank accounts. The incident propelled him to do something as the issue of solving identity fraud and hacking would become a major challenge in a digitizing environment. 

A visit to his nearly 200-seater headquarters in Gurgaon today clearly emphasises the point that Biocube is looking for a global play with its operational base in India. With a manpower pool of around 100 (mostly IT professionals with specialisation in software development and research), the company claims to have created a cutting edge operational base and with a host of prestigious contracts in its kitty both in India and in countries like the US, the UK and Australia, it is now all set to see the fruition of its efforts.

  • Source: TechSci Research

    Source: TechSci Research

Operational differentials

According to the top brass of Biocube, the real high point for them is not just the arrival in a fast-growing segment but rather reaching there with a series of differentials which is helping it to eventually draw the attention of its prospective customers – be it the government agencies or private sector businesses which need identity mapping and authentication, often at a humungous scale. 

“All biometric systems globally are based on specific hardware. This is the first system which is hardware agnostic. It can work on any hardware system, even on your mobile. Furthermore, our system is the only one where data is not stored by anyone. Nobody has access to data unless the user permits it,” Agrawal explains. This is made possible by keeping the data in the encrypted form.

“Given the kind of data security concerns which has emerged in the recent past, encryption of data in all forms is the big frontier for players in the biometric space everywhere. Things are heading in that direction,” points out Pratik Patel, VP, Biomatiques Identification Soultions, a Surat-based start-up. 

Biocube today calls itself an integrated AI powered multi-factor, multi-modal biometric identity and data analytics platform which is committed to set new paradigm in its space. According to a company presentation, the company has developed capabilities for generation three-face match that ensures fast and foolproof biometric match; cutting edge voice and finger match modalities as well as augmented intel extraction, which helps in accurate analysis of body posture, crowd density, activity monitoring and object or incident detection.

Based on these capabilities, the company is promising to redefine the identity determining biometric processes particularly for sectors like health, agriculture, public distribution, law and order, digital id system and gig economy. 

“The most satisfying thing is that our defining solutions have been developed in-house,” Agrawal informs, while adding that the company has filed for multiple patents.

Incidentally, the company bagged its first patent around the end of the last month in the US. Here are a couple of examples that explain that extra bit coverage by Biocube solutions. The company currently is doing an interesting project with a leading educational institute in Singapore wherein the exact carbon footprint of a visitor to the campus (from entry to exit points) will be mapped.

Another interesting example is that of video analytics wherein its solution is helping in instant analysis of an event/activity in a live format rather than storage of footage and its analysis in a later date. The solution is particularly tailor made to make government schemes more efficient. 

According to Agrawal, explaining the multi-modal offerings and their benefits to prospective buyers have been quite an exercise and the company had to indulge in proof of concept exercises at a large scale. “Especially in government departments, I have heard senior officials saying at our face that they don’t believe in our claims. We have done pilots in different ministries in India, Africa and the US. We have done 16-17 pilots and everyone has been successful. Either they have converted into contracts or are being negotiated for final conversion in contracts,” says Agrawal.

“One social project run by a Central government ministry has been stopped because our pilot project detected fake users and beneficiaries. I think, with this kind of result, people are taking us more seriously now,” adds Ashutosh Agarwal, MD of the firm, who is spearheading the operations.

  • Source: TechSci Research; Others include Multiple Biometric, Signature, Middleware, Heartbeat Reader, etc.

Real show begins now 

Having gone past the proof-of-concept stage and validation by way of patent grant have begun, the company has a host of prestigious projects in its kitty. And with their execution process picking up steam, the company is expecting the regular revenue earning modality to fall in place from this calendar year.

“Our regular operations have commenced and after the current calendar year, you may find us growing exponentially. This year, we are expecting a revenue of around $9 million. But with more projects reaching to the signing stage, our projection for next year revenue is $115 million. By the end of 2025, we are expecting to touch $400 million mark in revenue,” says Agrawal. 

Largely rooted in pay per use model, the company has just signed a major deal with an educational institute in Australia and is close to inking a three digit million dollar deal at the governmental level (for visa and migration) with a country in Asia. Meanwhile, in the coming years, the company is looking at earning 70 per cent of its revenue from international markets while 30 per cent will be contributed by projects in India.

Agrawal does not provide much details on the deal saying it will be the biggest of all Biocube has signed so far. He is also evasive, when it comes to sharing details on other critical parameters like the investments made in creating the firm saying there has been no capital challenge. He, however, confirms that outside investors have put in over $4 million either in the form of equity or convertible debentures.

The best thing for the company, as the top brass points out, is the pat it is getting from associates and other leading stakeholders for its cutting edge offerings now. The likes of Amitabh Kant, former CEO, Niti Aayog, have complimented the company for its solutions, which are aligned with the government’s ‘Make in India’ programme.

“Biocube is a core technology business, with tremendous intellectual property, a robust product, a strong management team, and many vertical markets to be addressed. Biocube can be an example of an India-developed technology product making a mark in the world at large,” Gaurav Dalmia, chairman, Dalmia Group Holdings, had recently commented. And it is comments like these which seem to be infusing a new sense of enthusiasm in Agrawal and his team to take Biocube to its desired destination.

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