Ten Indian startups shortlisted for Google’s Launchpad Accelerator programme

Suraj Patil
Oct 12, 2019 · 6 min read
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In the year 2000, the percentage of internet users to the total population of the United States (43%) towered over India (0.52%) and China (1.78%). Today, the combined internet user base of India and China is 4x higher than the total number of internet users of North America. Asia is the biggest internet market in the world — about 50% of the total 4.4 Bn plus internet users in the world are based out of Asian countries, and around 63% (or 1.38 Bn) of these users are based in China and India alone. The technology revolution enabled by tech startups in India and China has been the driving force behind increasing this development.

Google ‘Launchpad Accelerator India’ programme is designed to accelerate Indian startups that are using scalable technology like AI and ML to address socio-economic issues. These startups will get access to mentorship from Google teams and industry experts, free support, Cloud credits and more, the company said in a statement. The startups will undergo an intensive 1-week mentorship bootcamp which will begin with a detailed and thorough understanding of their problem areas across domains, followed by mentorship sessions, and end with setting clear and specific goals for the upcoming 3 months of the program. The 10 startups that made the cut for the third edition of Google’s Launchpad Accelerator programme are as follows —

  1. Agricx is helping over 450 million stakeholders such as farmers, food processing companies etc. to standardize, digitize and enable discovery of agricultural produce using Artificial Intelligence (AI).

Just a few decades back, the United States of America was considered the only economy for a scalable and sustainable market for consumer internet products. The shift in investor confidence from western startup economies to Asia is due to changing consumer market landscape in the East in terms of rising household income, increased access to internet and favourable policies. Whereas in the US, the consumer market was already mature and as a result many sectors have reached saturation point. In US, the majority of the startups are concentrated in the valley. In India the startup ecosystem is thinly spread between Bangalore, NCR, Pune-Mumbai and Chennai. Although the Indian startup ecosystem has come a long way since 2015 when compared to the prominent global startup ecosystem such as the United States and China, the progress made by the Indian startup ecosystem so far looks paltry.

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Since 2017, overall investments into Indian startups have increased in value. Since the start of 2018, the number of unicorns, or startups valued at more than $1 billion, have nearly tripled. Mega-funding rounds have again become the norm at fast-growing startups. But Government policy changes and regulatory hurdles have suppressed startup supply and growth despite rising demands in India. The decline in the overall deal volume and in new startup formation is linked and it is caused by many factors, investors and entrepreneurs said. One obvious reason is the threat posed by large Chinese and American internet firms. Whenever an established foreign internet firm — Amazon, Uber and ByteDance are the most prominent examples in this decade — enters a sector, the number of local startups shrink. Usually, there are survivors such as Flipkart, Ola and ShareChat that continue to thrive. But the space for others shrinks dramatically.

While deal volume has dropped sharply over the past three years, exits for VCs have, however, touched new highs. In May 2018, Walmart agreed to pay $16 billion for a majority stake in Flipkart, enriching the latter’s investors such as Tiger Global, SoftBank, Naspers and Accel. Dev Khare, partner at Lightspeed, a VC fund, pointed out that as many as 70% of founding teams that go on to receive Series A funding now have prior experience of working at an internet startup. As employees of older internet companies such as Flipkart, Myntra, Ola and Freshworks leave to start their own firms, their startup experience helps them expand faster and make fewer mistakes. What has improved significantly in the past four years is both the “quality” of entrepreneurs and the strength of startup ideas. People have now figured out that the startup game is not for everybody. The average age of founders has increased. It’s no longer kids out of college who are starting up, and these are very healthy indicators.

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With the positive indicators such as young population and increasing purchasing power, the demand side in the context of India startup economy looks solid, whereas the supply side (market players and regulators) seem to be lagging, which has created an imbalance where the opportunity is massive but the means to grab that opportunity are limited or curtailed. The Indian startup ecosystem will only be able to grow at its full potential if the government startup policies are implemented smartly and election promises are honoured. As the demand side stays strong, disruptive sector-specific policies — eCommerce bill for FDI, data and merchant rules, ePharma bill, Fintech data localisation as well as the promise of seed funding under the government’s Startup India initiative and others — need to be implemented in a more collaborative manner to minimise market disturbance.

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The Minimalist — a leading design and digital consulting startup founded by IIT-B Alumni

Many investors believe that deal volume may continue declining until Indian startups can pull off successful initial public offerings (IPOs). Silicon Valley is what it is because it is where investors have made dizzying returns on the small angel investment cheques they wrote. But that task seems to have become tougher than ever after the poor market debut in the US of Uber, and the shelved listing of WeWork. Many Indian unicorns have pursued a growth-at-all-cost strategy, similar to that of Uber and WeWork, and are nowhere near attaining profitability. This makes a big bang IPO by an Indian consumer internet firm an unlikely prospect for the near future. Many of the new unicorns are not ‘exitable’ as their margins are really bad and they will have to go through serious restructuring (to launch an IPO). This will make it very challenging for investors at such startups to get big exits.

But there is hope as the ecosystem is becoming fairly strong due to incentives like DIPP and other schemes. On the other hand, US is struggling with a uniquely complicated structure of insurance, a high cost of living and a precarious political situation. As India’s startup story grows beyond the metros and the next wave of the country’s 100–200 million users become well-versed with these apps, more growth potential looms for these companies.

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