India’s fintech sector has been seeing hectic activity with new technologies and new entrants looking to make their mark. Last June saw the launch of ISME ACE, which aims to be India’s largest fintech accelerator, which recently announced the names of the six startups which are part of its first batch.
The programme, which started around two months back, has already seen the cohort benefitting in terms of accelerated growth, a more streamlined approach, value-addition from sponsorship, support in testing and networking, enterprise support in the legal and accounting aspects of the business, and access to media.
Leveraging the fact that their space is located in the heart of Mumbai’s financial district, the programme’s organisers have ensured that the participating startups get inducted into the banking and finance circuit. Their partnerships with players like Microsoft, IBM & AWS for technology, Indian Angel Network, TiE & LetsVenture for investor & entrepreneurial network support, KPMG for knowledge & CFO support, Luthra & Luthra for advisory support, Let’s Talk Payments as innovation partner, and AWFIS as shared work space infrastructure partner, have also helped expedite this process.
Connecting and collaborating
“The main aim is to drive in different stakeholders, and so it’s important to have a meeting point. This programme is beneficial to our partners as well, as they can come here and host events and their products can be tested by our startups too as a lot of them are for the startup markets. Collaboration is the way forward,” says Radha Kapoor, co-founder of ISME ACE.
The six startups, selected after a stringent screening process of 547 applications received from 23 countries, made it through based on three criteria, according to Raakhe Kapoor Tandon, co-founder of ISME ACE. The first and most important was the existence of an untapped need for the product in the market. The second was the startup’s ability to rapidly scale. The last factor was the profile of the team and the experience of the founders.
An amount ranging from $100,000 to $200,000 was pumped into each startup as growth capital, in exchange for a minority shareholding. “The financial services industry is at an inflexion point owing to new technologies such as blockchain, AI, IoT, and Big Data, and Government initiatives such as IndiaStack, along with higher mobile and internet penetration. ISME ACE aims to leverage this change, by promoting and investing in disruptive B2B/B2C fintech startups. We plan to accelerate over 100 startups in the next three years,” adds Raakhe.
Accelerated growth, faster validation and better credibility
As stronger numbers have started trickling in, the first cohort startups share what they have accomplished through the programme so far:
Moneytor – rolling out newer offerings, faster
As one of the few startups disrupting the lending collections space in India, Moneytor has developed an automation tool for stressed receivables management. The tool is sold to lending institutions to help recover retail loans in default. They went live in November 2017, and early validation emerged through customer feedback. “The ISME team has a financial background, and helps us understand the workflow. The support from YES Bank also helped us. We could speed up our lifecycle and our learning process has been faster than what it would have been. We are rolling out our housing loan product with their help, and looking to do the same with our credit card offering,” says Anubhav Singh, co-founder of Moneytor. In fact, the Moneytor team was introduced to seven or eight lenders on the day of ISME’s India Fintech Forum, and a number of them have already converted into customers.
Open Financial – forging relationships with banking players
Founded by Anish Achuthan, Mabel Chacko and Ajeesh Achuthan, Open Financial is an SME focused neo-banking service which combines payments, banking and accounting into a single simple platform to help businesses efficiently manage payables/receivables reconciliation, invoicing and book keeping. “We were five months old when we started out with ISME. We had four banking partners, and were struggling to establish banking relationships. Because of ISME’s expertise, we have been able to partner with many more. We were also able to test our use cases. We launched the platform a month back and have 200 customers, as ISME has been able to help us with banking alliances. They are also helping with product development. We are on course to having 1,000 customers,” says Anish.
Trendlyne.com – inroads into the brokerage firm ecosystem
An integrated platform for proven and back-tested stock scores and strategies, stock market analytics, research reports, visualisation tools and trending business news, the founders Amber Pabreja and Devi Yesodharan aim to bring stock market analytics to ordinary investors, analysts, and advisors, with the help of technology. Trendlyne.com has seen impressive organic growth, with a six-fold increase in monthly visits to its website over the last six months. The site now delivers 2 million pageviews per month. “ISME ACE is a vertical, expertise-driven accelerator. Our product development, in terms of how easy it is to use, has changed drastically over the past few weeks itself with their feedback. We have grown 50 per cent just in this past month. ISME’s office is based in the heart of Mumbai’s financial district and they’ve already introduced us to very large brokerage firms. Just speaking to the analysts has given us a lot of insight in terms of what they would like,” says Devi.
Artoo – Identifying the right people and partners
Artoo is leveraging artificial intelligence and Big Data analytics to enable lenders to evaluate and disburse loans to borrowers having a limited digital footprint. Sameer Segal, the founder of Artoo, says that they joined the programme because they “wanted to figure out how to get to the next level faster”. “The discussions we have had with them and the focus they brought have been very beneficial. One thing that has really helped us is that we have been able to bring on board a major bank and are almost on the verge of closing that deal. We have been able to question some of our assumptions and identify the right people and partners,” he says.
Cashcow – making them chase more aggressive targets
This is an online marketplace for financial products which aims to bring a holistic solution for the retail banking needs of customers at their doorstep. It digitises the user journey by empowering micro-entrepreneurs to offer financial products to loan-seekers through a robust platform driven by artificial intelligence. “Since joining the ISME ACE cohort, disbursements of credit cards and personal loans have doubled, and that of home loans have increased by 50 per cent. We are now venturing into the car, gold and education loans space. Our model is very unit-economics heavy, and a lot of insight is required for this. They also have helped us to connect with a number of bankers and investors. Another major value-addition is that we are getting to know how fintech is evolving in the international markets. Today we have 50 plus lenders – but several of them still have offline processes. To get them on board and bring their processes online was a challenge that ISME helped us tackle. In fact, identifying the low hanging fruits has been done by ISME,” says Gaurav Goyal, co-founder of Cashcow.
“Cashcow was approaching the market with organic growth in mind, and we made them realise that there were ways to grow inorganically as well. While their aim was to bring on board 2,000 agents, we made them realise that this number can be 2 lakh. I personally connected him with a few players who can bring him 50,000 agents at one go,” says Aparajit Bhandarkar, Chief Acceleration Officer at ISME ACE
SmartCoin – connecting to potential institutional investors
A consumer micro-lending startup, Smartcoin provides access to credit to millions of mobile users from untapped segments. Their mobile app-based platform assesses a customer's risk profile based on advanced machine learning and data science over thousands of traditional and non-traditional variables. Loan disbursals have grown fivefold in the last six months, according to CEO & co-founder, Rohit Garg. “Our challenge last year was the proof of concept, and ascertaining whether alternate data scoring can work as a concept in India. They’ve helped us with relationships in the banking sector. Apart from banking, they have been good sounding board, right from the product to the go-to-market strategy, and connected us with a few institutions for funding,” says Rohit.
In it for the long haul
ISME is also assisting the cohort in getting their ISO 27000 audits done through one of their partner agencies, so that they can integrate seamlessly with the banking institutions. “Vulnerability assessment and penetration testing is a must for any organisation, and even the RBI policy talks about it – otherwise the sales cycle will be longer. We are now helping them with such pre- requites which are a must in the B2B space,” Aparajit explains.
He also reveals that they may infuse additional growth capital if required. “We intend to stay invested and work closely with the startups, with no plans to exit before Series C stage, or even IPO or trade sale in case of a couple of startups,” he signs off.