As startup culture is facing a major boost in the country, there is a need to get the right infrastructure and policies to enable their growth. Especially in tech-driven areas like analytics, artificial intelligence and robotics, where the right resources are directly related to growth.
This week, Analytics India Magazine spoke to the founding member of a seed-accelerator programme called India Accelerator which is helping startups in the new tech areas with the right infrastructure, mentorship and funding.
Ashish Bhatia, the CEO at India Accelerator, comes with more than two decades of experience and infuses immense resourcefulness into the startup ecosystem with his experience as a senior strategist and consultant. He has been at the helm of IT leadership at various esteemed MNCs and has played a key role in facilitating startup businesses by being an ingenious investor and mentor for novices in the industry. Bhatia co-founded IA with Mona Singh.
As the originator of India Accelerator, which was founded in April 2017, Bhatia has rendered successful creative insights to a variety of startup initiatives. It is bringing the building blocks for a startup under one roof, offering the much-needed mentorship, network, technology and peripheral services. It also helps startups raise capital through a well-connected network of high net worth individuals and angel investors. It is the only GAN partnered (Global Accelerator network), mentorship-driven, programme in India.
In a candid conversation with AIM, Bhatia shared his thoughts on the startup culture in India, criteria for startups to register for incubation programme, success story and future plans ahead.
Analytics India Magazine: How are you helping startups in the areas like AI, analytics, IoT and robotics grow? What is the assistance provided by India Accelerator?
Ashish Bhatia: We are designing mentorship programmes that include assigning support of mentors who are specialists in these domains for product strategy and marketing. We are also looking at growing the AI ecosystem by helping the startups with necessary inputs from our in-house technology team that has experts in deep technology. Also, our consulting LOB has a network of senior architects who work as virtual CTOs for the startups to help tackle technical issues in the long run.
AIM: What are the criteria for choosing companies for the accelerator programme? How can a startup register for the incubation and accelerator programme?
AB: Our criteria are based on the startups’ resilience. Since we are spoilt for choice, we take great care in choosing startups for our programmes. For us, the first important parameter for choosing companies is the commitment of its founders and the team. The programme is designed with great care to offer support to all aspects of running a business and hence they have to be fully dedicated to it. Also, we look at the pain areas and what kind of solutions we can provide to them. The business ideas have to be sustainable and yet there can be problems but it has to go on in the long run since eventually, it is about making money. Also, the revenue potential of the business should be clear. We also concentrate on the market opportunities that the startups are looking for. Since the competition is very high, there is often a lack of opportunity for a startup to test their solutions and measure their ability to scale up. We handpick up to eight promising startups twice a year by enrolling them in our three-month accelerator programme.
AIM: While gauging POCs by startups, what are the key metrics that you look for?
AB: In today’s world, the competition is very high and simply innovating is not enough. One has to stand out, making a mark for themselves. There is always a pressure to deliver along and hence synergy and shared work efforts are very important to this process and we provide just the perfect settings to the startups to put this into practice. But we also look for product scalability of an organisation that can withstand the harsh competitive environment as well. A startup has to be able to tailor into the market needs with their product which has to be superior to the others. We can then provide a widespread network of expertise and experience to flourish further.
AIM: What makes the programme offered by India Accelerator unique?
AB: India Accelerator runs a mentorship-driven, incubation programme which is dedicated to providing strategic direction to the startups. We have an extensive hands-on approach with our programme structure that is based on three themes – Design, Execution and Pitching. Our curriculum is an amalgamation of classroom sessions, deep dives, one-on-one with the mentors, sessions with industry leaders and cross-pollination between founders. We also bring in all the building blocks for a startup under one roof – the required mentorship, the technology and the peripheral legal and financial services, and of course the capital. And since we are backed totally by a technology services company, we have a broad-based pool of excellent quality industry professionals that have the required technical and business skills who aim at forming a global network of entrepreneurs, investors and programmes. Our manifesto highlights a founder-friendly accelerator and hence we go all out to help build a strong base.
AIM: It is the ONLY GAN partnered (Global Accelerator network), mentorship-driven, programme in India? How does it give India Accelerator a competitive edge?
AB: As compared to other programmes, we have a global reach and connect to help the startups flourish and accelerate their growth in an unprecedented manner. And since we are the only GAN-partnered programme in India, it does make us stand out among our competitors. With GAN being a consortium of 70 leading accelerators, we have access to the best in-house growth hackers, UI and UX designers, legal teams and tax consultants in the world. We focus on transformative and technology-driven ideas to create solutions that foster a culture of innovation and modernisation. We are committed to building a thriving startup ecosystem that can make the world a better place to live in.
AIM: How many startups in AI, chatbot and analytics space have you helped transform into meaningful companies?
AB: Nearly one-third of the startups in our first cohort were AI and Chatbot-based solutions. There were very-talented startups creating new products in algo-trading and AI-based platform that helps deaf people to be heard. As of now, we are in the early days of startups going into the seed stage but the MVP is out and we already have our first set of customers ready in the market.
AIM: How has the startup scenario in India evolved over years? What are the challenges they face?
AB: Presently there is a lot of positivity in the markets. The startups are booming with energy and optimism and investors are buying into their optimism. So in this process, the startups are considerably reshaping the entrepreneurial structure of business today. Earlier businesses were focused mostly on small-level innovations but now there are bigger and bolder ideas and potentials are rising rapidly, which is a good sign for the future. However, despite open policies provided by the government, India still maintains a dull status in the ease of doing business and that creates the biggest challenge for startups today. There are a maze of rules and regulations that take quite an effort for entrepreneurs to start a business as compared to other countries. And after it is set up, there are so many other efforts to be taken to abide by the laws of states, sectors, and different departments and so on.
AIM: What are the changes that need to be in place to boost the startup culture in India?
AB: Startup culture in India is here to stay. Even though it is a little difficult for startups to sustain initially owing to very high competition in the market, the business needs a lot of buoyancy to sustain. It surely is not a bubble but needs to attract more consumer base in a bid to help companies grow. A startup’s success is limited to its target audience and the reach of the supply chain network. Many startups are criticised for their lack of innovation and hence the market needs a lot of research that can enable in creating new technology, ultimately helping the customers. The government must also encourage research because long-term sustenance of a business is the primary driver for an industry.
AIM: Indian startup ecosystem has shown immense growth in B2C and B2B segment. What kind of success is seen in product-based B2B startups?
AB: A B2B model focuses on improving customer support management for various companies through interaction at various levels. Hence, this sector is bound to hit bang on their targets. Also, new trends are up-and-coming in this space within weeks and months thus increasing awareness and responsiveness in the market. Proficiency, originality and availability of monetary resources are stimulating the B2B segment in India. There is no clear-cut data at the moment but according to Tracxn Data so far in 2018, Indian B2B startups have raised $1.31 billion, with Pine Labs raising $125 million from Temasek and PayPal.
AIM: What are the tips or advice that you would like to share with startups in the tech space in India?
AB: In India, startups in the tech space face lack of availability of grants. Startups looking for investment in tech space should approach investors who are already familiar with the sector, so as to not waste time in convincing them. Also, the investment should cover a long-term plan in the process and not just an urgent need-based requirement.
Tech ventures also have the capability to scale faster. There are some challenges that this sector faces including a longer sales cycle and of course competition at the global level and hence the benchmarks are pretty high. But again patience is the key. This sector is very promising and according to industry data, 5 percent of the total funded companies in tech domain last year came from businesses that have grown at a five-year compound annual growth rate of 30 percent, which is higher than 13 percent rate of B2C ventures.
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