Besides mentoring the founders, firms are acqui-hiring many early- and growth-stage startups for their domain expertise. (Photo: iStock)
Besides mentoring the founders, firms are acqui-hiring many early- and growth-stage startups for their domain expertise. (Photo: iStock)

Aspiring unicorns get a leg up from firms in India’s budding startup ecosystem

  • Companies such as Bharti Airtel, RIL, Accenture, Microsoft, SAP and Google are nurturing startups in India
  • In 2017, Bharti Airtel Ltd acquired a strategic stake in Juggernaut Books and a strategic equity stake in Seynse Technologies, a fintech company

BENGALURU : Two years ago, Vikas Sethia, co-founder of distribution logistics platform Udaan Logisure, conceived of a petroleum transportation service in collaboration with Reliance Petroleum, a unit of Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL). What took shape was the outcome of the 2017 summer cohort of JioGenNext, a startup accelerator backed by RIL.

Not only did RIL guide Logisure by alerting them to all the “logistics challenges they face" but it “also made us a part of their initiatives to optimize their logistics", said Sethia.

JioGenNext has mentored 131 startups including Udaan Logisure in agritech, digital consumer services, edtech, fintech, healthtech, fitness, and retail with more than $60 million of funding raised.

Udaan Logisure is a case in point that the startup ecosystem has never had it better. Thousands of aspiring unicorns across India are being nurtured by multinational and homegrown companies, including Bharti Airtel, Reliance Industries, Accenture Ventures, Google, Microsoft, SAP, and Oracle. Besides mentoring the founders, companies are also acqui-hiring many of these early- and growth-stage startups for their domain expertise.

In 2017, Bharti Airtel Ltd acquired a strategic stake in Juggernaut Books and a strategic equity stake in Seynse Technologies, a fintech company. In 2018, the telecom company announced an acqui-hire deal with AuthMe ID Services, a Bengaluru-based AI startup. The Accenture Ventures programme that seeks to provide Indian startups a global platform tracks more than a thousand business-to-business (B2B) deep-tech startups at any given time, said Avnish Sabharwal, managing director (MD), Accenture Ventures and Open Innovation in India and the Middle-East.

“In India, we track more than 1,300 B2B deep-tech startups, engage with nearly 200 startups and have deployed more than 100 startup solutions with clients in the last financial year. We work with B2B growth-stage, deep-tech startups using disruptive technologies such as AI (artificial intelligence), analytics, blockchain, IoT (Internet of Things), and automation," said Sabharwal.

On its part, SAP Startup Studio, a 75-seat accelerator programme for early stage startups, on the SAP Labs India campus in Bengaluru, incubates 10 startups at present. Over the last two batches it has accelerated 24 startups. “To support employees who want to pursue their entrepreneurial desires, SAP Labs offers an entrepreneurship sabbatical," said Sindhu Gangadharan, senior vice president and MD, SAP Labs India.

Microsoft, too, has several initiatives worldwide to support startups. Its ScaleUp programme supports Seed or Series A funded B2B and select business-to-consumer tech-enabled startups to co-sell with Microsoft sales teams, get access to top technology venture capitalists globally and receive mentorship from the startup ecosystem. Microsoft for Startups has closed more than 120 co-sell deals with more than $126 million in active pipeline for startups, in about 18 months, the company said in June.

Homegrown software-as-a-service major Zoho engages with more than 2,400 startups in India. Kuppulakshmi Krishnamoorthy, global head, Zoho for Startups, says, via this programme Zoho “is associated with over 35 startup bodies" in India. This includes incubators, accelerators, co-working spaces, and government initiatives.

Corporate accelerator and incubator programmes in India are growing at an average rate of 37-40% per annum, said industry body Nasscom’s vice-president, industry initiatives, K.S. Viswanathan. “Corporate accelerators leverage the innovation that is available in the ecosystem. Not all innovation necessarily needs to take place within the enterprise," he said.

Sudhir Sethi, founder and chairman of VC firm Chiratae Ventures India Advisors, feels more such programmes are needed. “The places that can mentor and help a new company start, whether it is from a corporate or educational institution or by a venture investor are all needed," Sethi said.

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