This article is brought to you in association with Microsoft Ventures in India
27% accelerated companies are now funded. India team may soon do equity investments. Increasing applications from women founders and tier 2 and 3 cities.
Microsoft Ventures, Microsoft’s arm for supporting and nurturing startups with community building, accelerators and funds, has been active in India for the past 2 years. Till date, about 52 companies have been part of the Accelerator program of Microsoft Ventures in India. These startups have been selected from over 2000 applicants spread over four batches. Globally, Microsoft Ventures has presence across nine countries, including the US, the UK, Brazil, France, Germany, Israel, China and India.
Starting this July, Mukund Mohan, who heads Microsoft Ventures in India, will shift his base from Bangalore to Redmond, Washington, to join the global headquarters and help build presence in the US. He will also continue to lead Microsoft Ventures in India along with Ravi Narayan and Kattayil Rajinish Menon.
While Mukund takes on a global role at Microsoft Ventures, we caught up with him to take a quick look into the progress made so far by Microsoft Ventures in India, and to know what’s next for India specifically –
Edited excerpts & highlights from the conversation with Mukund Mohan –
How it all began
Almost a year and half ago, Mukund had applied as part of a startup team for batch one at the Accelerator program of Microsoft Ventures in India . This introduction helped him to interact with the team behind the Accelerator program at Microsoft Ventures in India and network with other teams that were part of the batch. Amaresh Ramaswamy of Microsoft asked Mukund to join and lead the team at the Accelerator and help groom the budding ecosystem.
Sharing those memories, Mukund says, “I thought that this opportunity would enable me to make more impact in the startup ecosystem in India. I jumped at the opportunity.” He has been evangelizing in the ecosystem and promoting early stage startups, and has several startups get early adopters through his network.
Maximizing impact at the Accelerator
Microsoft had various programs ranging from BizSpark to various college-level programs to support and help the startup and developer ecosystems in India. Similar programs were also run in Beijing and Israel along with India. But it was way too much chaos with various programs running in parallel, and at times didn’t reach those critical masses - entrepreneurs. Mukund says,
We were doing so many different things for entrepreneurs, but they were confused about what exactly was Microsoft trying to do for the founders. To bring all these activities under one umbrella and to have a focused approach, Microsoft Ventures was launched.
In a country which values ROI the best over anything, we always doubt and are curious about the impact one has over the market/community. When quizzed over the impact of the Accelerator over the Indian startup ecosystem, Mukund states, “An interesting question for us to ask would be are these companies better off than they were before the acceleration? Did they reach that stage faster with us than they would have on their own?”
He believes that they were successful in helping budding entrepreneurs get access to more customers. “We opened doors for them with customers whom they would not have reached on their own.” Discovery in this competitive world is a game changer, he emphasizes, adding, “We have helped many startups get discovered by the media, VCs and investors”.
He shares the experiences of helping NowFloats get connected with the right teams at Nokia and Microsoft. They have since reached 10,000 customers in less than a year. Another startup, i7 Network, was able to get customers like NetMagic. Scibler was able to secure funding because of the introductions Mukund was able to make for them to potential investors. He also shared the example of SupportBee, in which case the Accelerator has played a key role in helping startups overcome their key challenge of hiring the right talent.
Pleased with the achievements of the Accelerator, he says, “27% of companies of the Accelerator have secured Series A. Many of the B2B companies have been able to gain customers, as they were able to leverage our ecosystem.”
Trends noticed from the sidelines of the Accelerator
The first batch at the Accelerator was a 60-40 split of consumer internet vs B2B startups. The second batch had about 40-50% startups focused on mobile sector. In the third and the fourth batch, there have been companies from all spectrums.
Over the years, Mukund believes that the maturity of entrepreneurs is also increasing dramatically. One can gauge the maturity of the Indian ecosystem from the type of companies that are applying to the accelerator; some companies are coming in at a later stage with paying customers and revenues.
Increasing participation of women entrepreneurs is an emerging trend in the Indian startup ecosystem. Back then in the first batch of the Accelerator, there wasn’t even a single application from women entrepreneurs, but now in the fourth batch there are three to four women founders/co-founders. The last batch itself had about 26-31 applications from women founders, which is a staggering improvement from the first batch.
What’s the role of an Accelerator
India is becoming the next go-to market and we do have amazing startups emerging here. However, we haven’t seen the expected growth both in quality and quantity of incubators and accelerators.
Echoing the same sentiments, Mukund says, “More is always better. For the number of startups we have, we would obviously need more accelerators. Most of the times startups just need mentorship, or they may just need some money; in fact, startups now have many choices.”
Several Indian startups are applying to accelerators abroad like YC and 500 Startups. He believes that most Indian accelerators are not able to provide the same kind of support entrepreneurs expect and which international accelerators are able to provide.
Being frank about non-performing accelerators, he opines that those should shut down operations. Accelerators should be able to provide customer access, talent access, and investor access to entrepreneurs for them to survive and do well. Providing great office space shouldn't be the primary support accelerators provide.
One question he believes every accelerator should introspect about is,
Are you able to help entrepreneurs do what they would in 12 months in a span of four months instead? If the answer is yes, then you will survive. I don’t think they look out for anything else. We, of course, give them great office space etc, but these are secondary help.
“We have a very programmatic approach to it. We ensure there are a certain programs that entrepreneurs go through. We have advisory board meetings each month. There is certain specificity in terms of when certain things are going to happen. If entrepreneurs choose not to come it is okay. “
As of today, the Accelerator hasn't invested in any of their participating startups since it doesn’t take any debt or equity from them.
Word to budding entrepreneurs
Helping entrepreneurs with resources and mentoring isn’t always a noble cause, especially when critics are ever ready to attack, but Mukund and the Microsoft Ventures in India team are resiliently continuing their work.
To all budding entrepreneurs, his advice is, “Just do it. Too many people waste too much time worrying about things.”
Attend the fourth batch demo day on May 23, 2014. For details, click here.