In today’s world of intense competition, it is not enough to simply innovate. To truly stand out, startups need to be the first off the mark and capture first-mover advantage in their respective fields. With mounting pressure to deliver, the question is how to make one and one three in the shortest span of time. As if that wasn’t enough, one needs to do all this in the face of stiff competition. So how do you get a head start in this race? Moving fast and breaking things is well and good, but how do you ensure learning along with success? Synergy and collaborative work efforts are integral to this process, and accelerators provide the perfect environment for startups to imbibe and implement this within their organisations.
So what are accelerators? In crude terms, they are organisations that equip and enable startups with the necessary business acumen to develop a minimum viable product (MVP). They provide professional global-scale mentorship, often for limited periods of time, sometimes less than six months. Accelerators are oft compared to a graduating school for startups (at the end of it, one even has to matriculate!).
However, not every startup can get through to become a part of this environment. Accelerators are intent upon nurturing those “ideas that will impact the next billion users.” Selecting and recognising potential teams of forward-thinking people to make them successful leaders in the fray, accelerators aim to scale their startups’ ideas not only on the home ground but also globally.
A startup may have a proof of concept, but it is the accelerator that tailors it to the market needs. Accelerators often possess a widespread network and are known for the expertise, experience, and contribution that professional industry veterans provide.
In India, we can see a gamut of accelerators in various industries. Here are some that have gained attention and developed enviable portfolios and best practices:
While traditional accelerators seek big returns on equity, corporate accelerators are focussed on accessing and absorbing new ideas and technologies that add to their assets. Here are a few big ones:
Microsoft Accelerator: This is a global programme that was launched to empower deep tech start-ups in their growth stage so that they could create a collective impact through shared learning. Microsoft Accelerator is a Bengaluru-based programme with Partner Accelerators in Mumbai and Hubli, that focuses on building a sustainable business ecosystem that gravitates towards value by building a robust networking environment. It’s a four-month programme with a jury comprising of VCs, entrepreneurs, four CXOs (from TCS, eBay, Cisco, and ICICI Bank), and Microsoft employees.
ThinkNext 2018, the programme’s recent partnership with Accenture Ventures, showcases a commitment to facilitate the growth of innovative B2B Startup enterprises that specialise in Artificial Intelligence (AI), Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR), blockchain, fintech, big data, security, and customer experience solutions. Their vision is to co-create and co-innovate through open innovation, and accelerate the adoption of the ‘new’ technologies with a view to strengthen and support ‘Startup India’ and ‘Digital India’ programmes.
GenNext Hub: The Jio GenNext hub is a “Scalerator” platform that Reliance Industries provides, where the startups get to scale up their product through guidance in the form of mentorship and discussions. The four-month intensive programme is in collaboration with Microsoft Accelerators. GenNext Hub aids in fine-tuning the idea, from a ‘minimum viable product’ to a ‘minimum viable company’. Here, startups gain access to funding, business mentors, industry-specific technical and design experts, and a plug-and-play office space, among other resources. GenNext conducts funding workshops and various closed-door interactions that startups can benefit from through an ecosystem of prominent investors.
GenNext Hub nurtures technology-based startups that concentrate on telecom, mobile apps, retail, fintech, healthcare, media, SME solutions, messaging, cloud services, and industrial or consumer IoT, with a specific focus on machine learning, analytics, SaaS, deep learning, augmented reality, and virtual reality, among others.
NetApp Excellerator Programme: NetApp’s programme was launched in 2017, with a powerful message to anyone kickstarting their company: “Launch yourself in the league of successful startups.” This four-month cohort programme, called the NetApp Excellerator, is designed to cater to startups that create world-class products and innovative solutions that are market-ready. They are paving the way for the ideas that are potentially sound but need to be sculpted further through their global industry experts to help them qualify for the target market out there. The selected startups will also be given an equity-free grant of $15,000.
The areas that NetApp is looking to empower include hybrid cloud, storage, data management, IoT, big data and analytics, machine learning, virtualization, data security, and other adjacent areas. Absolutely data-driven, this programme seeks to provide the startups with the best ecosystem to achieve success in.
Autonebula: The first incubator-accelerator falling under the bracket of Vehicle to Infrastructure (V2I) tech, this programme concentrates on creating innovative solutions with an underlying concept of “Connected Transport”. They have the capacity to guide about 20 startups in a span of 16 weeks. Autonebula provides startups with workshops that include advice from global experts and gives them a platform to network and interact. They even provide various opportunities to raise seed funding.
The wide array of startups that they enable include ones that provide solutions for safe convenient road travel and transport through vehicle management, vehicle logistics, telemetry, navigation, and infotainment, addressing and tackling issues related to traffic management, intelligent transport, and infrastructure. Autonebula supports startups through various stages of their evolution, from early innovation and research to growth and training.
Target Accelerator Program: Target launched their corporate accelerator programme in the year 2014 to harbour ingenious solutions in the retail sector. With Walmart and Amazon giving them cutthroat competition, Target hoped to gain an upper hand by tapping into the thriving startup culture. Through this process, the retailer aims to improve their business and their general approach in the retail domain. Target aims to provide distinctive opportunities for startups to develop technology-driven ideas. They have introduced a four-month immersive programme where they focus on creating solutions for the retail space.
After the startups pitch their product, they stand to receive some amount of funding if selected, close to about $30,000. Selected companies benefit from the thought leadership and mentorship provided by the programme and assistance in enterprise business areas including finance, legal, HR, marketing, and IT Services. Supported startups usually focus on areas that include artificial intelligence, machine learning, computer vision, natural language processing, analytics, and digital experiences.
YES FinTech: India’s first bank-led innovation programme, YES FinTech is in the quest for creating innovative solutions for the banking retail space and corporate customers. Its primary focus is on B2B payments (digital), real-time data analytics, process automation, digital banking, WealthTech, and investech.
YES FinTech has created a network of 20-plus global startup ecosystems, expanding its network across strategic fintech markets such as the US, UK, Europe, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East, including Israel. They are on the lookout for entrepreneurial spirit and creativity; in addition, they provide a funding of over $1 million (without equity). They are even creating a community to share, learn, grow, invest, partner and share through a platform called #FINTECHack to gain accelerated learning and create successful businesses.
ISME ACE: ACE (Accelerating Creative Entrepreneurs) is India’s biggest fintech accelerator programme that is stepping in to provide innovative FinTech solutions through an ecosystem of innovation and creativity. Entrepreneurs enter into a four-month intense acceleration programme from which they can avail a range of benefits such as funding, space, mentorship, marketing help, technology support, student interns, and accounting and legal help.
This collaborative atmosphere is further bolstered by partnerships with Microsoft, IBM, AWS, Indian Angel Network, TiE, LetsVenture, and KPMG, among others, to facilitate a cohesive support mechanism. ACE provides funding from $100,000 to $200,000 in exchange for an 8 percent stake in the startups’ equity. Their startups cover an entire range of FinTech services from alternate lending, insurance, and wealth management to stockbroking, payments, and remittances. ISME ACE plans to accelerate 100 such startups in the next three years.
Shell E4: Shell’s E4 (Energising and Enabling Energy Entrepreneurs) programme is on the search for avant-garde business models that have the potential to change the future. In exchange, it offers technology development and product commercialisation along with guidance and capital funding (up to $20,000).
Believing in the concept of People, Partnerships, and Innovation for India and the world, E4’s vision is to empower the energy sector with clean energy solutions. #Makethefuture Accelerator India was their initiative in 2017 that countered energy challenges that take us to a low carbon world.
Dalmia Smart City: This is a four-month accelerator programme that is designed to focus ideas on smart cities and works in conjunction with healthcare, education, infrastructure, and transportation sectors. Smart City synthesizes teams of startups that work towards developing sustainable models that are financially viable, appeal to customers, and are technologically fit. If they suit the above bracket, they receive an investment of Rs 1,000,000.
The wider range of concepts that Smart City is on the lookout for includes water supply and air quality management, energy efficiency, sanitation and solid waste management, healthcare solutions, and affordable housing, to name a few.
NASSCOM Foundation: As India matures into a global startup hub, NASSCOM’s Incubator/Accelerators (I/As) play an important role in this growth through numerous programmes by providing mentorship, nurturing ideas, providing technical support, and generating funds. Each programme is different and curated to varying methodologies, but all mainly function on three main parameters: financials, training, and mentoring and management.
NIPP – NASSCOM Industry Partner Program – is a virtual corporate accelerator programme that fosters the integration of corporates and innovative technology across India. It is one of India’s largest platforms for early-stage technology startups.
Bosch DNA: With a motto “Invent for life”, Bosch – with its 125 years of rich legacy – has embarked on a journey to support techpreneurs with the concept of ‘Lab to Market’. In 2016, Bosch introduced its first-ever accelerator programme that was introduced in India with an 18-month corporate venture programme, DNA (Discover, Nurture, Accelerate). Bosch India wants to support and nourish bright ideas, and enable avid thinkers through its intense development, mentoring, and piloting platform. Through the accelerator, startups are able to build products that can foster technologies and claim the title “Make in India.”
DNA’s area of focus concentrates upon internet of things (IoT), deep learning, analytics, cloud, virtual reality, and blockchain, with a view to cater to new market spaces and develop disruptive business models with multiple applications in mobility solutions, smart manufacturing, smart cities, meditech, agritech, and energy.
Intel India Maker Lab: Headquartered in Bengaluru, Intel has been accelerating India’s budding hardware and software startups who are moving from a stage of proof-of-concept to an MVP. Maker Lab has created a platform that enables it to harness capabilities with comprehensive collaboration through governments, industry, and academia. Innovation has been its prime function to accelerate and fund their tech-intensive programmes with an upfront cash support of Rs 1,000,000. Maker Lab offers in-house mentoring, networking, a diverse plethora of tech support, and access to freebies (various developmental hardware and software kits, reference boards, design specifics, and testing and debugging equipment).
Intel’s prominence in the industry is an added advantage to assist these growing startups to scale and go to the market and thereafter showcase them at maker events and other platforms.
Maker Lab also has Plugin, an incubation programme in partnership with the Department of Science & Technology (DST), Govt. of India, and Society for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (SINE), IIT-Bombay. Plugin’s primary focus domains are medtech, smart cities, automobiles, cleantech, industrial IoT, consumer IoT, and other relevant technology areas.
India Innovation Hub: T-Hub (an initiative of the Telangana government), in partnership with Facebook, has launched the India Innovation Hub that focuses on VR-centric startups. Mentorship, training, and research have been compiled into a six-month programme that fosters growth and innovation in this tech space.
It shall cater to the needs of startups that function in the space of AR/VR applications in health tech, education, industrial manufacturing, corporate learning and development, hardware and accessories positioning, mobile hardware and enablement, gesture and eye tracking, video processing, camera, developer tools, and capture technology.
FbStart: FbStart was started by Facebook to provide tech support for a selective community of global startups. These startups can gain access to free credits for tools and services from premier partners and training. This year-round programme consists of two different stages of development: Bootstrap and Accelerate.
Launchpad Accelerator: Google’s Launchpad Accelerator is a part of the Google Launchpad programme. It is a six-month mentorship programme that is held in Mountain View, California, continuing in the startups’ relative markets and selected other international locations. Once selected, the startups have access to various tools that are exclusive to Google’s network from their global partners, mentors, investors, and experts, to local business partners, local PR, and regional VC fund connections. The programme is for mid- to late-stage startups where each startup will receive $50,000 in equity-free funding
Venture Capitalists/ Independent Accelerators
Independent accelerators essentially provide startups with the exposure to establish partnerships. Post the learning stage, VCs help shoot the company into a growth stage by providing them initial seed funding at an early stage (series A) and at subsequent growth stages (Series B and Series C). They also provide Mezzanine (expansion) funding.
ACCEL Partners: Accel Partners is an American venture capital firm, founded way back in 1983. They identify and invest in companies that bring about changes through next-generation industry-thinking. They contribute to and empower the startup ecosystem at the seed-early stage and growth stage. They are even into Series A and Series B investment. Accel Partners enables these start-ups to grow and adopt a way to function as world class, and category distinguishing businesses.
The co-founders developed the firm’s “Prepared Mind” investment philosophy based on the Louis Pasteur quote “Chance favours the prepared mind.” They inculcate a concept of deep focus to establish stronger business and creative values.
Their portfolio involves technology-based contributions in the field of improving infrastructure, media, mobile, SaaS, and security. Facebook is one of their most famous investments, with a whopping $104 billion pumped in in 2012.
Axilor Ventures: Axilor is a new-generation platform that supports and encourages early-stage entrepreneurs. Offering an investment of up to Rs 2,500,000, it helps you figure out the best way of conducting a business with a product that the customer really wants and loves.
Axilor seeks companies and founders who provide a tech-led solution for problems in the current scenario. It supports ideas based on deep tech, consumer tech, health tech, and enterprise.
Kalaari Capital: Pioneering in the Indian venture capital scene, Kalaari Capital has been on a mission to help technology-focused startups since 2006, enabling them to implement ideas that are fuelled by disruptive innovation. Kstart is a programme that was started to foster the progressive entrepreneurship enthusiasm with a singular focus on reshaping India. Providing fair capital, linkages with partners, guidance through mentors as “catalysts”, and binding them with knowledge, training, and networking – these factors are the core components that Kstart provides, apart from the invaluable perspectives and insights on product development at the nascent stages of business.
Qualcomm Ventures: With a $150-million India-focused fund, Qualcomm Ventures is the investment arm for Qualcomm Inc. Its avowed aim is to accelerate the tempo at which mobile technologies are panning out. Their investment strategy emphasises on applications in core technology, smart infrastructure, biometric devices, payment terminals, agricultural technology, medical technology, and rural IoT. Qualcomm maintains a keen aim to succeed by connecting entrepreneurs to resources, creating relationships and utilising deep industry expertise.
Many of the above-mentioned accelerators are India-based. There are few who are based outside India, but if you have a unique, innovative product or service, you are eligible to enrol your startup with them as well. FinLabs, Stanford University’s StartX, LeAd Sports, GSF Accelerator, and Techstars are a few other well-known names in the field of accelerator programmes. Each is a guru in their respective fields, and you can choose and apply for a programme that best fits your startup needs. So go ahead and enrol in one – it might be just the boost that helps you get ahead of the curve in a highly competitive space of emerging companies.