Investors now can’t seem to get enough of fresh food startups

Source: ETRetail.com, Oct 27, 2020

There’s been a spike in sales and investor interest for businesses in the fresh food space such as FreshToHome, Country Delight, Gourmet Garden, and Licious, which focus on superior quality produce at source and customise their supply chain operations.

What’s luring investors is the intellectual property these companies have created in their sourcing and production methods, supply prediction algorithms and high repeats of the top 1% customers, leading to both social impact and better business economics. The pandemic has led Indian consumers to opt for better quality and safer food products.

“Fresh foods, milk and meats are a large market with very little segmentation on quality and price. Hence, there is an opportunity to have different product quality and price segments,” said Anup Jain, a partner at Orios Venture Partners. “There is also an increased realisation in the Indian urban consumers esp in the the top tier cities where affordability is higher, that products they consume daily are not ” fresh and pure” as they claim to be,” he said.

Country Delight, which sells milk, is in talks to raise $18 million led by Elevation Capital (formerly known as SAIF Partners), according to people familiar with the matter. The business focuses on superior quality milk by working directly with dairy farmers. At a scale of about Rs 32 crore a month, it operates at 45% gross margins. Akshayakalpa Organic Milk is growing 6-8% every month and became operationally profitable after closing Rs 60 crore in its top line last year.

FreshToHome has grown over fourfold in the past 12 months, generating 1.5 million orders per month, while Licious said it delivers 1 million orders a month with an average basket size of Rs 700, a 30% jump over the pre-Covid-19 era. Gourmet Garden said over 70% of its revenue comes from 17,000 households that are repeat customers every month.

“While most organised plays in F&V have gone after ‘making supply chain efficient’ by cutting through several middlemen to go as directly to the farmer as possible, the core customer need of quality and safety is still not addressed,” said Arjun Balaji, cofounder of Gourmet Garden.

Gourmet Garden has invested in research to develop soil-less, zero-pesticide farming – what it calls its naturoponic technique – as the answer to growing perishable veggies sustainably and get better quality produce at source. The company also has a local farm model that allows harvesting on the day orders are received.

Consumer needs have shifted dramatically in the past decade with them now demanding fresher, traceably safer, and nutritious produce. “The pandemic propelled the demand for high quality, safe, hygienic meat. All our product categories have seen growth. For example, the ready to cook segment like kebabs and pre-marinated meats and seafood saw a 3X in sales volume,” said Vivek Gupta, cofounder of Licious.

These businesses are also investing heavily in technology and supply chain capability to get products across to consumers faster than traditional channels.

Shan Kadavil, CEO at FreshToHome, explained that a typical fish supply chain in India has over three middlemen and it takes 3-4 days to reach the customer.

“Our platform ensures that the sellers are able to source without middlemen and the product reaches the end consumer within 24-36 hours,” said Kadavil. The platform’s wastage is 1.5%, while traditional grocery in fish and meat has wastage of about 15%. ET reported that FreshToHome is in talks to raise about $130 million.

Each of these businesses is investing to ensure quality produce. Akshayakalpa, based in Tiptur, Karnataka, has invested in automatic milking systems, a biogas plant, a bio-digester, fodder choppers and a chilling unit among other facilities that ensure quality and enhance productivity. Country Delight and Parag Milk Foods also follow similar models of pasteurising, testing and delivering milk.

Startup founders bat for an Indian app store

Source: The Economic Times, Oct 01, 2020

NEW DELHI: A number of leading technology entrepreneurs are joining hands to petition the government seeking support to create an overarching Indian digital app ecosystem to counter what they view as the dominance of US technology giants Google and Apple.

At a meeting on Tuesday, the group discussed ways to establish a large-scale platform that will host local apps and break the duopoly of Google’s Play Store and Apple’s App Store, as well as a national-level lobby group to represent their interests, people privy to discussions told ET.

The founders, including Paytm’s Vijay Shekhar Sharma, Yashish Dahiya of Policybazaar and Murugavel Janakiraman of Matrimony.com, also plan to approach the country’s banking regulator as well as the finance ministry seeking redressal for Google’s recent move to increase commission on purchases made on its app store.

‘App Neutrality’Sources said such a move by Google would sound the death knell for the Indian startup ecosystem. “If India has net neutrality, why can’t we have app neutrality,” said Janakiraman, who added that over 80% of those accessing the internet in India do so through digital applications and “it can’t be completely controlled by Google since they own the Play Store.”

“A body monitored by the government can ensure app neutrality, fairness and openness,” he added.

Vishwas Patel, founder of payment gateway CCAvenue, said, “The government has to certainly step in and take the lead on this.” “If there is some kind of restriction imposed due to geopolitical tensions, an Indian app store can save the day for everyone,” said Patel who is also the chairman of the Payments Council of India, a payments-centred industry body.

A government official said they have not received any request from the industry so far. “But we will take up the matter if they approach us,” the person said. Google did not respond to fresh queries sent by ET.

Terming the meeting as “an informal one” to collate issues from all stakeholders and identify grievances, CCAvenue’s Patel said the next step would be to identify the right authority to approach for resolution of multiple issues.

The group plans to approach the ministry of electronics and IT (MeitY) to push the case for an Indian app store while also approaching the Competition Commission of India, National Payments Corporation of India and the Central Board of Direct Taxes for other related grievances.

The need for an Indian app store gains urgency in the backdrop of India’s smartphone market being dominated by Google’s Android operating system.

Founders arguing against Google’s move to enforce a 30% commission on in-app purchases said that current Indian laws don’t allow any MDR (merchant discount rate) or transaction charge on UPI (Unified Payments Interface) transactions. “We are currently discussing which should be our first port of call,” said Patel. Also present at the meeting were founders of startups like ShareChat and Innov8, sources said.

The meeting was spurred by the ‘abrupt way’ in which Google decided to implement its policy. “The company is forcing developers to use its own payment gateway, it is also controlling how ads appear and there are issues on search; they seem to have an unabated power over the entire ecosystem which we are against,” said Patel.

Sources within Google said that there has been misinterpretation over the fact that only Google Pay can be used to make the payments. “Any UPI app can be used, and it’s not restricted to only Google Pay. People have confused Google Play billing with Google Pay billing,” said the person who did not wish to be identified.

The founders view the establishment of a body such as the NPCI, a public-private initiative enabling digital payments and settlement systems in India, as a goal post.

The multi-stakeholder model adopted by NPCI, an initiative of the country’s central bank and the several top banks of the country, has successfully managed to break the duopoly of “foreign card companies and has reduced dependence on them since RuPay card is used by close to 630 million people now”, people in the know of the discussions said.

On Tuesday, Google reiterated its policy under which it will deduct 30% commission for all in-app purchases for digital goods. While this will not impact physical deliveries such as ecommerce, food delivery or ride-hailing firms, it will dent the revenues of dating, education, video and music-on-demand, and other apps that rely on subscriptions from users.

Google said that the policy — which is being enforced globally — will only impact 3% of all apps on its ecosystem. The companies have the option of redirecting users to their own websites to download the app, it said. They can also use other third-party app stores to download the apps.

Such customised apps are already offered by handset manufacturers such as Xiaomi and Samsung. In India, users have the option of downloading apps from play stores run by local language operating system Indus and Bharat APK, which is already being touted as India’s first Atmanirbhar app store and has several gaming apps such as Paytm First Games. The government also has an app store, but it currently hosts only governance-centric apps.

Despite the overwhelming push for an Indian app store, some of those present at the meeting shared their concerns with ET. “Who will take care of issues such as safety and security on the Indian app store and who will ensure transparency,” said an executive.

Indian start-ups attracted $63 billion investment between 2016 to H1 2020

Source: Financial Express, Sept 30, 2020

India’s start-up ecosystem has attracted $63 billion between 2016 and H12020, making it the world’s third largest tech start-up hub. With close to 35 unicorns now, the country now boasts a bunch of businesses that are expected to thrive and survive.

Players such as Paytm, Byju’s, Swiggy, Zomato and OYO have each received more than $1 billion from investors, some more than $2 billion, and are among the success stories. Some players have acquired the status of a unicorn without using even $1 billion of capital. While funds have flowed into the food delivery and ed-tech spaces this year, 2019 saw a staggering $20 billion invested, across 1,854 deals.

Cumulatively, the valuation of start-ups that were launched between 2014 and 2019 has touched a little over $60 billion, the report showed. “E-commerce and tech start-ups have shown resilience during Covid fundamentally altering their unit economics to become more sustainable,” Madhur Singhal, MD, Praxis Global Alliance, said.

Ministry of corporate affairs eases deposit rules for start-ups

Source: Financial Express, Sept 09, 2020

The ministry of corporate affairs (MCA) has amended the rules related to acceptance of deposits by companies, a move that offers more flexibility to start-ups for raising funds at a time when Covid-19 has severely impacted the economy and businesses, especially MSMEs and start-ups.

The amendment allows start-ups to raise funds through corporate bonds or other convertible instruments for 10 years as against 5 years earlier.

Under the new rule, an amount of up to Rs 25 lakh received by a start-up in a single tranche by way of a convertible note (convertible into equity shares or repayable within a period not exceeding 10 years from the date of issue) in a single tranche, from a person will not be considered ‘deposits’ under company law compliance.

MCA amended the Companies (Acceptance of Deposits) Rules, 2014, to change the period of repayment from five to 10 years. A convertible instrument is an investment that can be changed into another form. These generally are convertible bonds and convertible preferred stock, which can be converted into common stocks.

Welcoming the development, Partner at Nangia Andersen, Sandeep Jhunjhunwala said the relaxation in acceptance of deposits norms promotes the ultimate goal of a strong ecosystem for start-ups in India. “With the pandemic causing a mammoth impact on the Indian economy, start-ups are looking for ways to raise funds and revive their business. Flexibility with an extended term of repayment of 10 years provides start-ups registered as a private limited company an alternative opportunity to attract investors and raise funds up to 25 lakhs in one tranche via the option of convertible instruments without facing the risk of being regarded as a deposit, which is otherwise prohibited under the Companies Act,” he added.

India fourth in terms of start-up unicorn numbers

Source: Financial Express, Aug 05, 2020

When it comes to start-up unicorns, India is the fourth biggest behind the US, China and the UK, housing 21 of the global total of 586 in terms of valuation. The combined valuation of these 21 unicorns stand at $73.2 billion. An additional 40 unicorns have been founded by people of Indian origin which are mostly headquartered in Silicon Valley, US, according to the Hurun Global Unicorn Index, 2020. The value of the 40 which have Indian origin founders, but headquartered outside India, stands at $99.6 billion.

The US has 233 unicorns and is closely followed by China with 227 and both of them together account for 79% of the world’s unicorns. UK is third with 24 unicorns.

“The US and China continue to dominate with 80% of the world’s known unicorns, despite representing only 40% of the world’s GDP and a quarter of the world’s population. The rest of the world needs to wake up to providing an ecosystem that allows unicorns to flourish,” Hurun Report India MD and chief researcher Anas Rahman Junaid said.

Start-ups with over $1-billion valuation are called unicorns.

Interestingly, of the 21 Indian unicorns, Chinese investors like Alibaba, Tencent and DST Global have invested in 11 of them. Japanese investor Softbank has investments in 9 of them, while the USA’s Tiger Global has invested in 5.

The number of Indian unicorns is just a tenth of China’s 227, according to the Hurun list. Further, China has only 16 businesses started outside the country by its diaspora as against India’s 40.

A third of the 21 Indian unicorns, which include Paytm, Oyo Rooms, Byju’s, Ola Cabs, etc, are in the e-commerce sector and Bengaluru is the unicorn Capital of India being home to 8 such enterprises, the report said. The youngest Indian unicorn is the 2017-founded Ola Electric, followed by Udaan and Swiggy, it said, adding on average, it takes 7 years for a start-up to achieve unicorn status in India as against 5.5 years in China and 6.5 years in the US.

Valued at $16-billion, Noida-based Paytm is the highest valued unicorn in India, while Robinhood, co-founded by Baiju Bhatt, is the most valuable unicorn which is based outside India. Hangzhou-based Ant Group, spun out of Alibaba in 2014, is the world’s biggest unicorn with a valuation of $150 billion, on the back of its impending IPO in Shanghai and Hong Kong. At the second place is Beijing-based ByteDance, founded by Zhang Yiming in 2012, best known for its news aggregator platform Toutiao and short video platform TikTok. Taxi-hailing app Didi Chuxing, founded in 2012, is the world’s third largest unicorn with a valuation of $55 billion. Last year Didi started expanding outside of China. The Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) have emerged as the lead source of unicorn founders, with 36 of the founders being from these institutes and IIT-Delhi being the most preferred one. From a gender perspective, the ratio is not favourable, with 104 Indian unicorn founders being male and only five of them being women, the report said.

Sequoia raises $1.35 billion to invest in India, Southeast Asia startups

Source: Business Standard, Jul 06, 2020

New Delhi: Silicon Valley-based venture capital firm Sequoia’s Limited Partners, have collectively committed $1.35 billion to two new Sequoia India funds. This includes a $525 million venture fund and $825 million growth fund, according to Sequoia India managing director Shailendra Singh. Sequoia is an early investor in companies like Apple, Google, Oracle and WhatsApp.

Sequoia India now operates seed, venture and growth funds, a structure that allows Sequoia to remain a relevant partner for founders at all stages of their journey. The three Sequoia India funds will continue to invest across India and Southeast Asia (SEA).

“We are excited about the depth of opportunities in this region, which is undergoing a massive technology-led transformation,” said Singh in a LinkedIn post. “The start-up ecosystem in both India and SEA has come a very long way in the last few years; the market gets deeper and the crop of founders, and their achievements, becomes more impressive each year.”

He said the combined GDP of India and SEA is expected to cross $14 trillion and the number of mobile internet users will likely cross 1.5 billion by 2030. This region will become home to a number of massive technology companies during the next decade.

He said a fundraise represents a massive responsibility to deliver attractive returns to Sequoia’s Limited Partners, the majority of which are non-profits, foundations and charities. However, founders in India and SEA face a challenging, high-friction environment in which they have to build companies.

“This year, in particular, has been difficult for many of us – for founders, employees, investors, and for society at large. The Covid-19 pandemic is raging on and we’re in an unprecedented humanitarian and economic crisis. It has also been a time of reflection.

Where are we in the journey of the startup ecosystem in India and SEA? What type of future should we aspire for?” said Singh.

He said the startup ecosystem in India and SEA has had a tumultuous journey over the last decade. During periods of exuberance, investors have rushed in to invest large amounts of capital into startups. This has, expectedly, resulted in short term over-funding and hyper-competition amongst start-ups. These periods have been followed by down cycles, cost-cutting and negative sentiment. These cycles have enhanced startup mortality and left many founders, investors and startup employees scarred.

Besides other challenges, Singh was of the view that startups in India do not have the benefit of a regulatory framework that allows listing on foreign exchanges like Nasdaq. In this market context, most start-ups have chosen to remain private, and raising capital has become a proxy for success.

“Our markets are deepening, our founders are world-class, our tech talent is formidable – but we need to hold ourselves to a higher bar. It’s time to aspire for massively large and profitable companies,” said Singh. “It’s time to build more products that can compete globally on quality, not just on price. We need more unique and innovative startups, pursuing original ideas in addition to “X of Y” business models. We need more examples of authentic leadership, improvements in gender diversity, and inclusive, safe and nurturing work culture for our teams.” He said the ecosystem needs exemplary, enduring, lighthouse companies of the future, that can prosper for decades and be resilient across market cycles.

Govt allows startups to issue sweat equity for 10 years after registration

Source: Business Standard, Jun 10, 2020

Mumbai: Start-ups can now issue equity shares to their employees for up to 10 years from the date of their incorporation or registration.

The Ministry of Corporate Affairs (MCA) has amended the Companies (Share Capital and Debentures) Rules, 2014, to allow start-ups to issue sweat equity shares not exceeding 50 per cent of its paid-up capital.

The earlier limit of five years was changed to bring the MCA provision in line with the Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade’s order.

Industry experts say the move will help start-ups better incentivise their staff and retain talent. This will also act as an alternative medium of compensation for employees and avoid pay cuts.

“Any help to companies and employees in terms of seat equities will help in retention of talent, and the entire ecosystem will, then, benefit considerably,” said Naganand Doraswamy, managing partner Ideaspring Capital, a venture fund and a start-up mentor.

Usually, start-ups issue sweat equity to their employees or directors against any form of intellectual property or technical knowhow without any vesting period. Employee Stock Options allotment, on the other hand, is linked to employees’ performance and based on completion of the vesting period.

Doraswamy downplayed the concerns that the rule may act as a deterrent to future fund-raising plans. “Ensure the employees benefit when the company does well and the venture capitalists (VCs) automatically make money,” he said.

Apoorva Ranjan Sharma, co-founder of start-up incubator Venture Catalysts and VC accelerator 9Unicorns, said: “The employees will also have a sense of ownership and can reap benefits as the valuation of the company increases.”

“Most of the start-ups usually take over 3-5 years to raise funding in bigger rounds. And, many a time, the top talent is known to quit after encashing the equity (in the early stages),” said Sharma.

Legal experts who worked closely with start-ups also welcomed the change. “It is a positive step, with reduced cash flow in the ongoing pandemic situation. This amendment will help the start-ups that are in operation for more than five years also to issue sweat equity to its employees,” said N Raja Sujith, partner – head (South India), Majmudar & Partners.

The amendment will also help start-ups attract fresh talent from the market. Also, VCs and PEs, typically, favour start-ups with such equity schemes as the employees have “skin in the game” and they perform better to increase the valuation of the company, according to Shalini Jain, partner, people advisory services, EY India. The MCA also dropped a provision that required listed companies with privately placed debentures to mandatorily set aside the reserves for every year.

China FDI constraints may put tech startups in a spot

Source: LiveMint.com, Apr 20, 2020

BigBasket, Paytm, Ola and other tech startups may become collateral damage of the government’s move to protect local companies from hostile takeovers by Chinese firms taking advantage of depressed valuations during covid-19.

Online grocery retailer BigBasket, digital payments platform Paytm and ride sharing platform Ola have so far received billions of dollars in investments from Chinese companies. These companies will be affected the most with the new foreign direct investment (FDI) norms announced on Saturday banning fresh investments from India’s neighbours, including China, through the automatic route.

The step makes it mandatory for all Chinese direct and indirect investors to seek government approval before investing in Indian companies. This is likely to affect further rounds of investment in Indian startups by top Chinese investors such as Alibaba and Tencent.

“The new FDI guidelines essentially imply Chinese capital would require prior government approval. In effect, given the uncertainty around approval, startups will shy away from Chinese capital. In the immediate future, this could impact PhonePe and potentially Paytm at a later date,” said Ashneer Grover, CEO and co-founder, BharatPe.

BharatPe is a digital payments firm with investments from India, Singapore and a US venture capital fund.

Think tank Gateway House said in a February report that Chinese technology investors have put in an estimated $4 billion into Indian startups. According to the report, 18 of India’s 30 unicorns are now Chinese-funded. Apart from Paytm, Ola, BigBasket, top Indian tech companies that have Chinese investors include Byju’s, MakeMyTrip, Zomato and Swiggy.

Fresh investments in these companies from existing investors will face additional scrutiny, increase approval times and lengthen the timeline for completing a deal.

BigBasket recently received funding of close to $50 million from Alibaba. The investment came at when the company was struggling to meet operational requirements due to restrictions imposed by the lockdown. However, future capital infusions in BigBasket by Alibaba are likely to be hit by the FDI policy change, which could force the company to look elsewhere for meeting its funding requirements.

Last year, Paytm raised $1 billion from Japan’s SoftBank and Alibaba’s Ant Financial. But growing competition in the payments space from US rivals such as Google and Walmart-owned PhonePe means the company needs to spend more to keep its edge in the market.

Restriction on investments by its single largest shareholder, Alibaba, could likely stifle Paytm’s growth.

“This could impact those Indian companies in which the entities from these countries, including China, have already made investments… Investors and the Indian companies could feel this change as a dampener as original investment was in the automatic route regime and now additional investment in the same Indian company will come under government approval route,” said Lalit Kumar, partner at law firm J. Sagar Associates.

BigBasket and Paytm did not immediately respond to queries emailed on Sunday seeking reactions on the new FDI policy. “It is likely that the definition of beneficial interest will draw from the Companies Act, 2013, and the Companies (Significant Beneficial Owners) Rules, 2018, and affect deal exits and transfer of ownership. Exit and transfer will be impacted in so far as the transfer results in the transferee becoming a shareholder in Indian company—such transactions could require government approval as well,” said Cyril Shroff, managing partner at law firm Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas.

Software startups stare at mixed fortunes

Source: LiveMint.com, Apr 08, 2020

BENGALURU: India’s software startups are seeing rising demand for collaboration and employee productivity tracking tools, as well as data protection services, as most corporate employees work from home amid the covid-19 pandemic.

However, Indian software-as-a-service (SaaS) startups are expecting a decline in revenues as companies reduce their overall spending even as some services, such as video conferencing provider Zoom and collaboration software Slack, witness a surge in users over the past few weeks.

Vertical SaaS companies that sell to speciality sectors such as hospitality, food and travel have been hit the most, said Girish Mathrubootham, founder and chief executive of India’s most valuable SaaS firm Freshworks. Horizontal startups, which cater to companies in diversified sectors, have seen a relatively lower drop in growth so far, he said.

Mathrubootham warned that this quarter will be worse for SaaS companies.

“While SaaS businesses enjoy some advantages over other industries—they are delivered over the internet and maintained in the cloud, they are easier to deploy, manage and support—they are not immune from impact. SaaS businesses should expect to see both new and existing revenue affected in (the current quarter). As such, all companies should look to conserve cash and reassess their hiring needs and growth plans given the current uncertainty,” he added in an email.

While Saas startups face tough times ahead, there are newer channels of demand opening up.

Freshworks, for instance, is seeing increased demand for products that enable companies to serve their customers remotely like a chat and call routing services. Another SaaS firm Zoho Corp has seen an increase in usage of products that boost productivity and facilitate collaboration.

“During the current virus outbreak, we have seen a spike in those products that specifically boost employee productivity and facilitate collaboration across remote locations,” said Rajendran Dandapani, director of technology at Zoho. “We even packaged them together into an easy to use suite (Zoho Remotely) that we are offering for free until this virus threat passes away.”

In the current situation, critical business data is at risk to potential security threats, according to Milind Borate, co-founder and chief technology officer of SaaS unicorn Druva.

Druva is now offering Microsoft Office 365 and endpoint data protection services free for six months to new customers.

“It is clear that malicious actors are trying to leverage this situation for their own gains…Teams need to ensure data remains protected from malicious actors, and we are working to support businesses of all sizes, including non-customers, to minimize exposure of business-critical data. This has resulted in a wide range of discussions with customers and prospects about how to combat this new business environment. We’re seeing a large number of them seeking additional support to protect their now largely mobile workforce and expedite cloud migrations,” he added.

Neeraj Sharma, vice president – human resources of FourKites, a SaaS-based supply chain visibility solutions startup, said collaboration tools have reached “a new high in utilization worldwide.” “SaaS products have the inherent advantage of ease of adoption by being successfully deployable – training and getting the products to production mode can be done remotely and in a very short period of time,” Sharma said. He added that a recent virtual summit the company hosted had 1,039 participants from across geographies and verticals.

Startup Boost! Microsoft helps startups in Tier 2 cities go global

Source: Financial Express, Jan 30, 2019

Microsoft for Startups, a comprehensive global programme designed to support startups as they build and scale their companies, is keen on empowering innovative entrepreneurs in the country. From technical resources and free cloud to selling alongside Microsoft salespeople and partner channels, Microsoft is enabling the startup ecosystem in Tier 2 cities across the country to go global. Its initiative, ‘Highway to a Hundred Unicorns’, has selected 54 startups from Gujarat, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Kerala and Telangana.

Highway to a Hundred Unicorns, the Microsoft for Startups initiative, works closely with local governments to strengthen the startup ecosystem in each state. The fifth edition of the outreach program was recently hosted in Hyderabad in association with the Telangana government. Incidentally, Telangana state, which is competing with the likes of Bengaluru, Pune and Chennai, has been modeled as the ‘startup state’ and has introduced various incentives for startups and incubators which are propellants for the startup ecosystem.

More than 650 startups have benefited from the mentorship and guidance through technology workshops on Azure, Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning. Over 75 ecosystem players including the Global Entrepreneurship Network, TiE, Headstart, NASSCOM and Startup Grind as well as prominent investors, entrepreneurs and executives in the national startup ecosystem have actively engaged with the innovators at each of the locations.

“The entrepreneurial energy of startups is rising well beyond the known metropolitan hubs and is remarkably high in Tier 2 cities, despite the obvious challenges.

Through Highway to a Hundred Unicorns, we’ve been able to reach some highly promising innovators from each of the five states,’’ says Lathika Pai, country head, Microsoft for Startups – MENA and SAARC. “In the next phase of our journey, we look forward to engaging with more startups and providing them with Microsoft’s platform to go global,” Pai adds.

Microsoft for Startups is helping entrepreneurs build and scale their companies, by leveraging the cloud platform, enterprise sales team and partner ecosystem. Through its cutting edge technology expertise, strong focus on Microsoft for Startups, a growing partner ecosystem, and the venture fund M12, Microsoft is uniquely positioned to help startups evolve from being market ready to enterprise ready. “In India, the startup ecosystem is largely focused around metro hubs. But other states are also investing in their startup network. The India Inc goal is to have 100 unicorns by 2025 and our goal of ‘Highway to a 100 Unicorns’ is to go deeper and support the state governments and startups in tier 2 cities to empower them,’’ Pai says.

The ‘Emerge X’ competition provides the top 10-12 startups with an in-depth engagement.

This includes national and even global visibility alongside creating opportunities so that startups don’t have to move out of their cities to explore funding opportunities.

As Pai puts it, “The good news is that 54 startups have already been selected from the five states that we have visited so far and two of the ‘Emerge X’ winners have already received funding. We plan to reach out to more tier 2 ecosystems and accelerate their growth with Microsoft’s cloud platform to go global,” Pai explains.

Further, Microsoft ScaleUp, part of the Microsoft for Startups initiative, provides startups access to technology, mentorship and other community benefits. It has extended support to 18 startups in the last 12 months which focused on fintech, blockchain, health-tech and IoT, among others. Leveraging Microsoft’s tech expertise and global enterprise clients, the programme is designed to help startups explore emerging technologies and tap into newer markets.