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The India Clean Air Challenge (ICAC) is $1 million + competition to identify and scale future-ready, clean air innovations that can solve pollution problems today.  

To create pathways to scale, Challenge Winners will be invited to demonstrate winning solutions in collaboration with MoHUA or state governments in North India .  For late stage startups with market-ready products, Air Pollution Action Group (A-PAG) will assist with strategic deployment, business support and government partnership. Throughout the duration of the funded deployment, selected startups will benefit from mentorship and business advisory support from the ICAC and ACT networks. Successful demonstrations with be showcased to corporates, potential government partners and investors to enable scale up.  

To create a pipeline of technologies able to address the broad scope of pollution sources, the Challenge will additionally select Early-Stage Winners who will be eligible to receive incubation, acceleration, and grant support from Social Alpha. Some might be considered for Seed Investment by the Social Alpha committee, subject to due diligence.

Innovation adoption is critical to improving air quality.  Innovators need market access, capital and opportunities to demonstrate their value proposition.  Governments across India seek pollution solutions.  Government needs technologies that are effective, affordable and de-risked.  

The Challenge will source and implement the best fit-for-purpose solutions from across India to support the National Clean Air Programme, State Pollution Control Boards, Municipal Clean Air Action Plans, and Smart City Initiatives. 

ICAC is a partnership between government and the startup community. Led by ACT Grants, the Challenge was designed in partnership with the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development (MoHUA), State and Municipal governments. Social Alpha leads incubation and anchor partners are the Air Pollution Action Group (A-PAG), the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), Green Artha and a number of climate focused think tanks, Entrepreneur Support Organizations (ESOs) and investor networks.  BBDO leads all communications strategy.

The partnership has been curated to ensure outreach to the best startups, funding, demonstration opportunities, business support, corporates and governments interested in procuring clean air solutions, investors, incubators, accelerators and other resources to create an ecosystem of support for the scale up of clean air innovations.  

Challenge Winners 

Winning ready-to-deploy innovations and technologies will receive funding and facilitation to support a meaningful demonstration with the government, including definition of demonstration terms, metrics and integration support. In addition, market-ready innovations will have access to:

  • Growth, scaling and business advisory from ACT Environment, A-PAG and network of entrepreneurs and funders
  • A-PAG will assist the winning startups in the end-to-end process of deployment.
  • Showcase opportunities with government bodies, corporates and investors 
  • Communications, messaging and outreach support 
  • Access to follow-on funding through the ACT Environment network

Early Stage Winners

Winners in the early-stage category will be selected for physical incubation at Social Alpha – Atal Incubation Centre (SA-AIC), set up under Atal Innovation Mission, the flagship initiative of NITI Aayog, Government of India. 

Start-ups selected for incubation will receive customised incubation support, which may include:

  • Prototype and minimum viable product design and development support along with requisite certifications
  • Business model design Support
  • Mentorship from technical and business experts
  • Access to incubation services such as Legal, IP, communication, branding, fabrication, and others

The start-ups that are eligible for acceleration will be eligible to attain 

  • Techno-commercial early stage testing and pilot opportunity 
  • Product market fit discovery and business model validation support
  • Market access support
  • Access to pre-seed and seed funding from Social Alpha

For more information on incubation click here.

Challenge Winners will be invited to deploy their technology with a relevant state, municipal or other government body. Terms of the deployment and operations will be negotiated between government, winning startups, A-PAG and ACT.  ACT and other financial partners will pay for the implementation and any operating expenses that might not be covered by regular operation for an agreed period of time. Funds will be paid directly to the startup and would be related to the contract, with some additional funding to support business readiness as required.

Incubation and Acceleration grants will be determined by Social Alpha, pending due diligence.  

The Challenge Statements have been developed in consultation with multiple state and municipal governments and experts. These cover a wide variety of innovations including:

  • Transport
  • Green/ Sustainable Building
  • Waste Management
  • Agricultural Emissions
  • Carbon Capture 
  • Air Quality Monitoring 
  • Industrial Decarbonisation

Specific subcategories are identified in the challenge statements.

The scope of statements is broad, in part because of the varied responsibilities for urban, rural, state and local government bodies, as well as because the air pollution causes can vary regionally. Winners will not be selected for every challenge statement, rather the challenge statements represent the range of priority areas identified by government partners.

Elegiblity

To be eligible, the startup must be registered in India, or willing to register upon selection/ set up a JV, and be a business in good standing. 

 

 ​​Should an innovation from a non-startup business apply and based on the various criteria be determined to be the best, they would not be excluded; however, the jury would need to see the catalytic benefit of funding the implementation.   

The India Clean Air Challenge has divided innovations into two evaluation categories to be able to provide the right type of support through the startup lifecycle. 

The Challenge will support ready to demonstrate solutions.  To be eligible for this track, the applicant will need to have incorporated feedback from successful commercial pilots into an MVP and have obtained all required operating or safety certificates. This track is focused on creating market access by enabling full operational validation and showcasing the model to potential government and corporate customers as well as relevant investors.

The early-stage track will select start-ups in their lab to market journey based on their pilot readiness and Go-To-Market (GTM) readiness.

Applicants are requested to select the category based on the development stage/technology readiness level of your product/idea/research. 

To be eligible for the ICAC Challenge and demonstration with the government, a startup must have completed a successful pilot and developed their prototype into a fully functional, MVP with lab certification/testing and feedback from users.

 

To be eligible for the early-stage challenge, a startup needs to have achieved TRL 3-6 on Social Alpha’s TRL model or be at the stage of developing a proof of concept to readiness to pilot test a prototype. (For more information on this scale, please see details in incubation section)

In case you select responses which put you in the wrong category, we will make best efforts to shift you to the appropriate category. You are advised to please choose the responses carefully to avoid confusion or disqualification. 



Innovation can be broadly understood as tech-based, business model or process innovations. The Challenge seeks products/ solutions/ processes that are category creators OR incremental solutions that demonstrate a minimum of 15% improvement over existing solutions.  Challenge Winners should be able to deliver significant improvements in air quality if adopted at scale.  Early-Stage Winners should have a high social and environmental impact potential.



Challenge Winners must be ready to deploy and will be eligible for funding specific to negotiated deployment. Certain government departments may have additional requirements. A-PAG and ACT will make reasonable accommodations to procure such additional licenses, certifications or approvals.  If it is not possible for a startup to meet any additional requirements, ICAC will try to arrange demonstration with an alternative partner; however, if the requirement is a standard requirement (such as an operation or safety certification) that cannot be met, the company will be disqualified.

 

Early-stage winners must consent to the terms and conditions of the incubation agreement (more information below). Some amongst the early-stage winners of the ICAC might be considered for Seed Investment by the Social Alpha committee, subject to due diligence.

Yes, the winning start-ups can find other funding partners.

ICAC will be operated annually. 

Challenge Winners will demonstrate market-ready and fit-to-deploy innovations with the government for a period of 6-18 months depending on the nature of the demonstration, partner-integration, technology and agreed metrics. This period could range from 6-18months depending on the type of technology, and metrics defined

The incubation and acceleration programs offered to early-stage companies are typically 12 months long; however, this will vary from case to case, based on the needs of the incubatees.  

Applications open: December 16th, 2021  

Last date to submit applications: January 22nd, 2022 

Technical and Business Diligence: Feburary 2022

Pitch and Jury selection: March 2022

Announcement* of winners: March end 2022

If you’re one of applicants shortlisted for the Jury round, you will receive an official communication via both an email and a call from the organizers. At this point, you may also need to send further details related to the idea/solution that you have proposed.

Unfortunately, if you don’t get back to us, we won’t be able to include you in the shortlist.

Given the current pandemic the ICAC team will organize the sessions keeping in mind the safety of the participants/ experts and the team. 

Challenge Winners will be required to be onsite for implementation and operation of their technology, including during lockdowns if the government deems their product as an essential service.  Showcase sessions will be in person, however, these sessions will be organized keeping safety in mind.  If it is not possible to safely conduct the showcase(s), the ICAC team will identify alternative solutions such as video tours and live q&a sessions.

The participants will have the option of attending cohort-based webinars/ sessions online. Similarly, mentorship and other support will be available online or by phone, except and unless agreed otherwise by participants. 

Incubation information

The incubation and acceleration programs are cohort-driven; however, the durations will vary based on the needs of the start-up. As part of the cohort there shall be opportunities to attend webinars and sessions organized by the ICAC ecosystem and its partners. Program structure details will be shared in advance with winners.

The Winners of India Clean Air Challenge will receive credits for availing the standard incubation services as a part of the award, which include services such as access to lab infrastructure, design for manufacturing support, branding and communication support, and (but not limiting to) seats in office space. If the start-ups want to access additional premium services an incubation equity will be charged for services including (but not limiting to) expert guidance for product development, market access and follow-on fund raising. 

The Challenge will source and implement the best fit-for-purpose solutions from across India to support the National Clean Air Programme, State Pollution Control Boards, Municipal Clean Air Action Plans, and Smart City Initiatives. 

There will be a regular interface between the winning teams and the Social Alpha program implementation team. Each start-up will be allocated a portfolio manager to help with customized requests who will continually and regularly engage with the start-ups. Early-stage category winners will receive even more hand-on support from Social Alpha. 

The partnership has been curated to ensure outreach to the best startups, funding, demonstration opportunities, business support, corporates and governments interested in procuring clean air solutions, investors, incubators, accelerators and other resources to create an ecosystem of support for the scale up of clean air innovations.  

The pre-pilot category is applicable to the start-ups that have a solution/ product at an early stage of development and need regular handle holding and product development support. In order to develop the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) that can be launched in the market, numerous prototypes are developed and tested to incorporate the feedback received from experts and customers. This process is facilitated by the Lab infrastructure that has been established to support the start-ups in their journey from lab to market. Therefore, the pre-pilot category winners are expected to be physically based at the Social Alpha AIC. 

Mentoring is a part of the continuous engagement with the winners of the ICAC. Some mentor support, particularly from the internal ecosystem, comes pro-bono as a part of the incubation services.  Some mentors and their advisory support may have a notional or actual cost, which may be paid in lieu of the free credits earned by the winners or in cash. Participation in specialized/additional events could be subject to a nominal fee.

TRL 3 to 6 is considered Early-Stage Category 
Technology Readiness Level (TRL) Description 
TRL 1 There are paper studies to support the technology’s basic properties
TRL 2 Technology concept / application formulated
TRL 3 Proof of Concept stage / Active R&D has been initiated. This includes analytical studies and laboratory studies to physically validate the analytical predictions of separate elements of the technology
TRL 4 Basic technological components have been integrated to establish that they work together
TRL 5 Technology has been put together and can be tested in a simulated environment
TRL 6 Prototype is being tested in simulated operational environment or in a high-fidelity laboratory environment
TRL 7 Actual system prototype or MVP is near completion or ready and has been demonstrated in an operational environment or is at pilot level
TRL 8 Technology is proven and developed but not yet operational or applied anywhere
TRL 9 Technology has been applied in its final form and is operational