The start-up movement in India has gone through its ups and downs, which is not an unusual phenomenon, given the economic turbulence that has characterised global economies in the last two years and more. The initial fascination with B2C commerce that led thousands of entrepreneurs to throw their hats into the ring has flagged a little but, in its wake, there is a spurt of entrepreneurial activity across almost all sectors. With both domestic and global focus across the start-up spectrum that augurs well for the future, the new energy is a welcome renaissance and will generate a true entrepreneurial ecosystem in the country that will be a spur to get India to a sustained 10 per cent growth in the near future.
Nothing succeeds like success and today there are enough success stories that reflect the confidence that start-up India is well on its way to find its own place in the sun. Disruptive companies can quickly grab market share from incumbents and also get disproportionate opportunity share in new fields. Examples of entrepreneurial firms in the first category are ORO Wealth and Skills Alpha. ORO is addressing the massive opportunity in the fast-growing Indian wealth management space and has built an online platform that enables retail investors and offline intermediaries to access zero-commission products and high-quality wealth management services. The company is attracting both retail and B2B investors at a fast clip. Skills Alpha is another platform disruptor that has found its space in the sun between traditional human resource management information systems, learning management systems and community platforms through a unique AI-enabled algorithm set that enables learners to map out career options, plan and access the skills needed to build and enhance capabilities and become part of learner communities and participate in mentoring and career development. After generating initial traction in the B2B2C corporate segment, the company has launched versions for colleges and the social sector and is on track to have thousands of young enthusiasts on its platform from each of these categories.
In the new opportunity category, there are quite a few leaders emerging in every segment. One such space is that of unmanned aerial systems in India where a 10-year-old company, ideaForge, has been making waves, developing vehicles for surveillance, reconnaissance, imagery and industrial applications. With their ability to target specific applications, including search and rescue the company has operated at high EBIDTA and shown great ability to attract investment. In a completely different segment, the high growth one of consumer gaming, one company Gamezop has built a network of instantly playable games, targeting the Indian mobile gaming market that is expected to cross a billion dollars in value by 2020. Gamezop is able to aggregate high quality HTML5 games from top studios, optimise across devices, browsers and operating systems and distribute across apps on phone from multiple telcos. The company is benefiting from its ability to play on the browser and minimise apps downloads and use of phone memory and the fast-growing user adoption of more and more powerful phones.
There are also new innovations emerging in the Indian start-up ecosystem that will find purchase not just in this country but globally. An exemplar in this area is WhatFix which is addressing the $ 3 billion market for internal training in mid and large enterprises on popular software platforms like Salesforce, Service Now, Success Factors and also training on large rollouts of custom-built applications for these enterprises. The innovation in their approach is that they are able to incorporate a Google Maps kind of real time help even as the user is navigating and using the software and will soon provide predictive support to users for navigating tricky aspects of the software and prescriptive solutions to problems the user may encounter. This company and indeed all of the hundreds of emerging success stories we are seeing through our research efforts at 5F World and Kalzoom Advisors demonstrate three new characteristics of the Indian entrepreneur, the first is a passion to find a road less travelled and venture out without fear of navigating muddy and unknown waters. The second is the willingness to learn from examples anywhere in the world and pivot their models to attack emergent opportunities and hitherto unexplored segments. And third and most important is the complete lack of fear of failure and the willingness to fail fast when needed and move on to explore a different route to success. A couple of years ago, many including this author would point out that this was a Silicon Valley and Israeli entrepreneurial trait that was missing in Indian entrepreneurs, spoilt by relatively easy success in the services segment but now one can proudly say that Indian product and innovation entrepreneurs are coming of age.
The ecosystem is being boosted by the opportunities in the hundred smart cities, health care and agriculture and even in the integration of artisan networks across the country. Global research by McKinsey & Co points to several cases of cities creating entrepreneurial momentum, which could provide a wealth of learning for smart city start-up hub creation in creative cities like Pune, Jaipur, Bhubaneswar, Nagpur and many others in the country. Tel Aviv, Singapore and Dubai are exemplars for supporting start-ups with single window access through friendly web sites and government to all procedures for incorporation, getting data and facilities and incorporating firms in the start-up zones. San Francisco provides a start-up in residence programme that directly links start-up with the government to eliminate pain points and London goes a step further with the creation of a co-investment fund with £50 million commitment from the mayor’s office and over a hundred million pounds from private sector to jointly create over 2500 jobs through more than a hundred companies. Berlin hosts an open-air tech festival, which is one of the largest entrepreneurial events in the world. The encouraging sign in India is that the government has shown clairvoyance in easing the environment for start-ups to set up, grow and succeed. There are multiple schemes in place and every effort has been made to make it easy for entrepreneurs to succeed. The opportunity exists, the chocks are off and this is a great time for innovation to take flight in India.
The author is chairman of 5F World, Kalzoom Advisors and Social Venture Partners India