Google vice-president Rajan Anandan says several Indian firms have proven that they can compete with the best in the world and win. And now that opportunity is there for the start-ups. Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint
Google vice-president Rajan Anandan says several Indian firms have proven that they can compete with the best in the world and win. And now that opportunity is there for the start-ups. Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint

Rajan Anandan dreams of Indian startups that address Indian challenges

The most exciting and transformational opportunities for Indian entrepreneurs will be built by addressing the core challenges that Indian consumers face, says Google VP Rajan Anandan

I have been extremely fortunate to get an opportunity to work with some of the most successful entrepreneurs and leaders during different stages of my professional life. And each one of them has contributed to my understanding of what goes into building incredibly successful and large businesses. And it all boils down to having a very clear idea: what problem or user you are targeting, and then pursuing it relentlessly with the right team.

India has a glorious history of some of the most successful and visionary entrepreneurs: the highly respected Tata group is celebrating its 150th anniversary and it truly defines what Indian entrepreneurial spirit can achieve. Starting with a textile business, it went on to set up an iron and steel company, generating hydroelectric power, educational institutions and many more. It has always pursued every venture with the aim of making it the best in the world.

Just in April, Tata Consultancy Services got into a $100-billion market cap club—making its mark by competing with the best in the world in their home markets. Reliance Industries has also joined the $100-billion market cap club, and has built the world’s best refinery. The point here is that in spite of their challenges, Indian companies have proved that they can compete with the best in the world and can win because they compete in an open playing field.

And now that opportunity is there for India’s fast-growing start-up ecosystem. In pretty much every vertical, there is an established Indian company that is either a leader in that space or competing neck-and-neck with the best in the world. MakeMyTrip in travel, Naukri in jobs, Zomato in food tech, Ola in transportation, Flipkart in e-commerce, Paytm in payments, and many of them are now expanding their footprint in other global markets. And it’s important that we continue to do that because it makes Indian companies much, much stronger.

And the most exciting part about these companies is that they started with India first, and then have steadily built a robust business that is now ready to compete with the best in the world. In fact, we at Google have invested in building many solutions that cater to the needs of Indian users first, and these solutions and learnings are helping us to improve our products across the world.

And while one might feel that the start-up space is already crowded, I would urge you to think again—the largest companies get built by addressing the largest problems. When we use that lens, we have not even scratched the surface. The most exciting and transformational opportunities for Indian entrepreneurs will be built by addressing the core challenges that Indian consumers face.

There are many sectors where we have huge unmet needs and they’re all very large-scale opportunities for start-ups: Education, healthcare, agriculture, energy, water, sanitation and air quality are all areas where we need massive innovation. Entrepreneurs who can build solutions to tackle these challenges will truly be the next generation of businesses. And they will be very different from the first generation of internet start-ups in India. These businesses will be built based on a deep understanding of the specific domain and needs of Indian consumers.

We’re already beginning to see such enterprises—Niramai has developed an Artificial Intelligence (AI)-led diagnostic platform that uses patented thermal-image processing and machine-learning algorithms for reliable and accurate breast cancer screening at a much earlier stage. As you can imagine, any solution that can advance the detection of a deadly disease like cancer can transform healthcare not just in India but across the world.

Similarly, SigTuple uses AI to dramatically improve the speed, accuracy and consistency of screening processes to enable doctors to serve more patients, with fewer errors. In a country where there is a huge shortage of doctors or diagnostic facilities, this can be game-changing.

Another very exciting example is that of Nebulaa. It uses deep learning to analyse the quality of grains and provides the most accurate results 20 times faster than any human expert. Their vision is to set a national scale/benchmark that conveys the quality of commodity that a seller is offering to the buyer. This, in turn, will help farmers who are still unaware of the quality pricing criteria and make online agri trade a win-win for everyone.

These are only a handful of examples, but they really give an idea of the kind of businesses that India needs and should support. These type of businesses require new mindsets, new skills and a different kind of investor ecosystem.

Currently, our entrepreneurial ecosystem is following a Silicon Valley-style model of innovation and funding. But, as India develops and deploys the latest cutting-edge technologies like machine learning and AI, there is huge potential to not only create successful, world-changing companies but also a whole new innovation model for the world.

Rajan Anandan is Google vice-president, South-East Asia and India, and is responsible for sales and operations in the region. Anandan is focused on expanding the internet ecosystem in the region, increasing adoption among consumers and businesses and accelerating innovation.

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