Corporate startup accelerators seem to be the flavour of the season.
With companies like Target, Cisco, and Microsoft already in the fray, NetApp India also launched its startup accelerator programmme, Escape Velocity, on Wednesday.
Still in the concept stage, the accelerator plans to take two cohorts (batches) in a year with around six companies in each cohort.
According to Deepak Visweswaraiah, Managing Director, NetApp India, the company plans to launch the equity-free accelerator by the middle of this calendar year.
This news comes along with NetApp’s opening announcement of its Global Center of Excellence in Bengaluru. The Rs 1,000-crore engineering centre is spread over 15 acres and will not only house NetApp’s largest R&D team but will also act as an Asia-Pacific hub for customer support.
Speaking on the occasion was George Kurian, Chief Executive Officer, NetApp, who said,
“Through the accelerator, we are expanding our ecosystem of innovation and partnership as we believe that the next breakthrough technology can come from Bengaluru. Together we would like to balance our capabilities and learn from startups, through partnerships, while continuing to build the ecosystem with innovation.”
He didn’t, however, mention how much is being invested in the accelerator.
In India, at present, the company is participating with the government, involving itself with banks and payment gateways to provide their solutions. The Fortune 500 firm is also talking to the government in sectors of smart cities, airports, as well as e-governance.
In a conversation with YourStory, Deepak speaks about how NetApp plans to leverage the startup ecosystem better:
YS: What was the thought process behind launching the programme and how does it fit with your strategy, here in India?
Deepak: The idea was to put across a startup accelerator which was unique and one of a kind, which we believe in. So, why are we doing this?
From a NetApp perspective, although we have been here for the last 25 years, we were a startup once and have gone through the journey. It is also one of the unique companies where you will see the founder (in this case David Hitz) still active.
And the passion, energy, and thought process (of a startup) is still a big part of the NetApp culture.
While startups fit in (to our ideology) from a culture perspective, we have seen a huge amount of disruption in the market, and we believe that data is an important part of this disruption.
We have always believed that data is the currency of the digital era, it’s like the latest currency. Therefore, for us, the opportunity lies in what companies will do with data, especially as it continues to multiply.
YS: So how does NetApp benefit from helping early-stage startups and businesses?
Deepak: A stronger ecosystem has always helped us from a market perspective. We look to build that ecosystem as we aim at innovating further.
The whole idea is to partner, and we believe that no one organisation can solve every problem that they reach to solve. To be able to build a capability of data management and the adjacencies of data management is really a huge focus for us, and this partnership with early-stage businesses will only strengthen this focus.
The thought process is to be able to help these businesses. This could be in terms of helping a business understand whether an idea makes sense and has business worth, or just simply accelerate them from taking the idea concept to the market.
Moreover, the luxury of having a new campus is that we have a private space, so there is no IP contamination or anything related to that. Our intent is not to take equity but really develop the ecosystem as a whole.
YS: What are the key areas NetApp is focusing on through this accelerator?
Deepak: For us, application, performance, and analytics are big areas, especially where you have large amounts of data. This also includes decision-making system layers, which sit on top of data and convert it to knowledge.
We are looking at those big data systems, analytics, things in the data management space. This could be the entire stack, right from an infrastructure to application perspective.
We have great experience from the infrastructure point of view and quite some experience on the application front, talking about how the data is managed. The idea is to make IT jobs simpler and help IT leaders make decisions quicker. These are the primary areas we are looking to drive partnerships in.
YS: How would you differentiate yourself from the other corporate accelerators in the ecosystem?
Deepak: We are obviously different in our areas of work. The other way to look at it is what we bring to the table. We have the expertise and technical capabilities to architect large systems. With a strong business perspective, we also have the expertise to see how we treat a certain data in the sense of how it flows.
Further, another strong point would be market access as to how we can have customers talk to these companies and help them grow the ecosystem.
Our main aim is to give meaningful help to startups.
Another differentiation is in how we would operate the accelerator.
We look to operate in a fashion where some of our go-to-market teams, along with our global technology teams and local business expertise teams, are involved.
That’s the triangle we will form to help this programme.
YS: What, according to you, is the major roadblock for startups, especially early-stage?
Deepak: There are a number of entrepreneurs who want a place where they can give their idea a stage and potentially go talk to some investors in order to get some funding.
The initial thought usually is about how to get beyond the idea stage. That, I think, is one of the challenges.
The second thing is access to customers, which is a huge challenge. While they are great in terms of coming up with ideas to build something, what can be tough is to go find customers who use their products and give feedback, and that’s real validation for the business.
The third thing, really, would be to fail fast. Do I know if something works or not? Can I determine whether it is going to work not work? So those, essentially, are the early-stage problems companies go through.
YS: And lastly, what is in store for NetApp in 2017?
Deepak: We have focused around our ability to handle our customers’ data, not just making it secure but also managing it end to end.
We have shared with our customers a vision relating to what we call the ‘data fabric’. This is our vision, at least when it comes to customers. It includes how customers should operate in a hybrid cloud world with data being placed and generated in multiple places.
The point, then, becomes about how you manage your data present in multiple places while also having a single view on who is accessing it and whether compliances are being followed.
We are making huge progress in realising that vision and this will probably be one of the big areas of our focus.
For financial year 2015-16, NetApp made $5.5 billion in revenues. Opening up its Indian operations in 2000, as of last year, the company had filed 500 patents and been granted 250 patents since inception.