Mumbai: Google Launchpad’s India accelerator programme will continue to focus on AI startups, led by their ability to scale up quickly, its India head Paul Ravindranath said. The programme opened applications for its second class last week.

Ravindranath also indicated that agriculture and healthcare technology are two strong emerging themes in India which Google Launchpad is likely to back in the future given their scalability and high impact potential.

“As a company, we have AI-first approach and it aligns very well with our expertise, our technology stack and platform and our extended community of mentors," Ravindranath said in an interview. “Thus, I expect the focus to continue in 2019. AI (Artificial Intelligence) and ML (Machine Learning) applicability is sector-agnostic and allow an idea to be implemented on a large scale. For markets like India and Africa, these are main tools to be able to do that," he said.

Google Launchpad started its India accelerator programme in July 2018 with Bengaluru as its hub. While the accelerator allows for engagement with startups for a period of three months, Google Launchpad conducts several short duration engagements with newly set-up ventures and student startups.

Speaking on Google Launchpad’s decision to start an India-focused accelerator programme, Ravindranath said that while the global programme allowed Indian startups to be coached by mentors in its global network, the ability to advise based on the local ecosystem was missing.

“Towards the latter half of 2017, we decided to pursue a regional strategy for the global accelerator programme. Globally, we were moved into a regional strategy to achieve customization and scale for the startups and the mentorships," he said.

Apart from India, Google Launchpad has also opened up accelerators in Sao Paulo, Tel Aviv, Nigeria, Tokyo and Singapore. Google started its global Launchpad accelerator programme in 2016. So far, it has mentored 30 startups in India through its global accelerator programme.

On the selection process for the program, Ravindranath said although the accelerator likes to cast its net wide and is stage- and sector-agnostic, the process of selection is very rigorous. Apart from full-time founders and dedicated teams with ability to act quickly on feedback, the startups should have a “minimum viable product with real users".

“They (startups) should have a product that is being used by real users and it is not at an idea stage. We also take into account the problem they are looking to solve and if those problems can be solved in a scalable manner. The next filter that we apply is based on the technology that is being used—AI, ML , deep tech and data-driven ways to solve problems excite us as they allow for scaling up," Ravindranath said, adding the ability to gain traction among users is also a key criterion. In 2019, the accelerator programme will be mentoring 20-25 startups through two batches. Some of the startups in its first batch, which concluded in December 2018, include Genrobotics, Multibhashi, Wysa and CareNx, among others.

On the startup ecosystem in India, Ravindranath said the wave of entrepreneurship which began 3-4 years ago has begun to settle. “Two-to-three years ago, we had thousands of applications coming in for various Launchpad programmes. Despite that, it was difficult to pick 20 good startups from that pool. Over time, this has corrected. The ecosystem is maturing and we see a lot of startups coming to us after doing a lot of ground work. Even from mentoring standpoint, we spend lesser time in discussing business model and user base which gives us more time to deal with deeper challenges," he said.

Ravindranath said Indian startups tend to fare much better than their emerging market peers based on performance, given their ability to act quickly on feedback. “They are extremely action-oriented and time to impact is very less too. That is also because market is primed for experiments given the large population."

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