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At NetApp Excellerator Demo Day, third cohort startups showcase innovative B2B solutions

Jerlin Justus
1st Feb 2019
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NetApp Excellerator has been supporting and nurturing innovative B2B startups since 2017. Now in its third cohort, the programme showcased solutions from six innovative startups at the Demo Day held on January 17, 2019 at Conrad, Bengaluru. The six startups from the third cohort that graduated from the NetApp Excellerator Program are FirstHive, Praktice.ai, InstaSafe, Cardiotrack, ZScore, and CloudOptimo.

The event had a number of dignitaries and business leaders from the investor community and the startup ecosystem in attendance.

Creating over 100 GTM opportunities in 2 years

The Demo Day began with a keynote address by Ajeya Motaganahalli, Sr. Director, Engineering Programs and Leader, NetApp Excellerator. "This is the third time we're doing Demo Day, yet it feels like the first time every single time," he said. He added that in the course of two years since the programme was launched, they had interacted with over 1,000 startups. On how the programme came about, Ajeya said that as the company turned 25 years old and inaugurated their own campus in Bangalore in January 2017, the idea of the accelerator was conceived. The vision was to help startups bridge the gap to go to market much faster. So far, 18 startups have been incubated in the programme.

He added that NetApp Excellerator seeks to foster innovation in the ecosystem, encourage divergent thinking startups, and create value. “As leaders in the data space, we want to partner with startups to co-create good products and good markets,” he said.

Over the last 18 months, NetApp has entered into six strategic partnerships with startups from the programme, which has over 50 mentors, and saw disbursal of grants worth $300,000. The programme facilitated over 100 go-to-market opportunities and helped with multiple new product launches. "We say we have 18 startups and not just six startups today, because our alumni still get access to working space, mentorship and other privileges,” added Ajeya.

The programme focuses on companies in Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Analytics, Cybersecurity, Big Data, Cloud and Hybrid.

Inviting applications for the fourth cohort of the programme, Ajeya concluded, "We started off with startups working in Bangalore, then we went national and currently, we also have a few international startups. We will be a global accelerator located in Bangalore and be the breeding ground for world-class innovation."

How to create scale through technology and speed

The Demo Day also saw a panel discussion on how NetApp is helping their customers with digital transformation by enabling them to use their data to make better decisions. Participants included senior executives of the NetApp global team: Joel Reich, EVP, Products & Operations and Anthony Lye, SVP & GM, Cloud Data Services BU, and the discussion was moderated by Deepak Visweswaraiah, SVP & MD, NetApp India.

Over the years, these senior leaders have seen various transitions in NetApp's data centre. On the next big transition that could take place, Joel says, "Speed is the new scale." He used the example of David and Goliath to illustrate his point. "You would of course bet on Goliath winning because he's 10 times the size of David and has a huge army. But the big transition we have now is that David doesn't just have a slingshot anymore, he has several other technological weapons, hence he has a better chance of winning.” Comparing Goliath to large enterprises, he continued, "It used to be that bigger companies had a better chance at winning because of a lot of physical stores and capital expenditure. But now all you need is technology and a credit card to scale."

When asked what startups can leverage in terms of the cloud data services that NetApp has to offer, Anthony said that we live in a world where every single market has essentially been reopened. The concept of digital relationship or data mining didn’t exist earlier. Today, smaller companies can build things much faster with less capital than their predecessors ever could. They can now focus on fundamentally disrupting the relationship the company has with the customer, and huge cloud infrastructure has made this possible. They can leverage technologies that bigger companies can’t' because their data may be tracked. "NetApp enables people to liberate their data and put it in a place where it makes more sense. We're trying to build a set of services that enable IT organisations to extend to the cloud, but equally enable startups to leverage NetApp’s core IP," said Anthony.

Looking at technology and innovation in the future, the panellists were asked to share specific areas they were looking to invest in. Joel said, "When we think of how customers can use their data to develop their digital transformation strategies, that's where we see value. We're looking for technologies that give people the value of their data."

According to Anthony, on the technology side, voice as a user experience is clearly transforming consumer relationships. He added, "I always like startups to consider who loses when they win. It’s much better to attack someone else than dream of your own market. If startups say they don’t have a competition, it’s a red flag for me as an investor," he said. "Secondly, it’s better to pick a fight in a market where you know you can win. Define a market segment which is of a size where you have the confidence you can come first."

Joel recalled an experience where a startup with a reasonable exit had to pivot too many times because they started with one technology and kept moving on to another idea. In the end, the people involved got tired. "Fatigues in startups is very dangerous. React to the market and competition, but don't pivot too many times," he cautioned.

Anthony said that we live in a time where technology is impacting every single industry there is. "In every vertical, digital is core and it's a great time to be an engineer and innovator. India has so many strong technical schools and so many people capable of advancing technology into so many industries." The panellists agreed that NetApp’s core innovation is taking place in India which has a vibrant tech ecosystem comprising experienced developers.

The next big bet for India’s enterprises and startups

The next panel saw an ardent discussion on the B2B and startup world and what the future looks like in India. The panel included two investors and two entrepreneurs: Samir Kumar, MD, Inventus Capital, Barath Shankar Subramanian, Principal, Accel Partners, Rohit Kumar Pandey, CEO & Co-founder, SigTuple, and Ankit Ratan, Co-founder, SignZy and was moderated by Madhurima Agarwal, Sr. Manager, NetApp Excellerator.

A recent report by NASSCOM states that B2B startups grew from 37 percent in 2016 to 43 percent in 2018. In recent months, Samir said three major changes have taken place in the Indian ecosystem. First, large exits have taken place and founders are taking risks in making big money. There is also transformation in the investment scenario where successful startup founders who had good exits have become investors. Second, many mature entrepreneurs are coming forward to pitch their ideas because of mentorship from angel investors and accelerators. And finally, investors are more experienced now. "From a founder’s perspective, this is important because inexperienced investors tend to panic at the first sign of a downturn, which is an inevitable part of an entrepreneur’s journey. An experienced investor will comfort you when you hit a roadblock," said Samir.

Rohit said that when he started off as an entrepreneur, there was friction around going digital, but not anymore. "Industries and big players who were hesitant to go digital back then have now realised that the only way to scale is to go digital. This has opened up enormous opportunities for startups."

Madhurima then shifted the context to the healthcare sector in India and asked the panellists about the trends in this data-intensive industry, and how startups could fill the gaps. Bharath mentioned that India has a unique healthcare consumer market, which is among the largest in the world. A major portion of the data resides at the consumer’s end, which means companies can build interesting businesses putting the consumer at the centre of the healthcare ecosystem. "We need to think of problems like how we can use AI or ML to improve overall time to market for a drug," he said.

Ankit, whose startup SignZY has seen multiple rounds of funding, shared the challenges he faced. "To the outside world, funding is an indicator of how well you’re doing. For a B2B startup, your customers and how much they’re paying you tells you whether you’ll get funding before you go and talk to the investors. It's very different from B2C startups." Samir, whose firm Inventus Capital has made investments in both the B2B and B2C space, agreed that there were significant differences in both these spaces. According to him, B2B startups have to demonstrate their customer traction, whereas B2C startups need to be prepared to raise a whole lot of money. From an investor standpoint, the former needs less money, so capital efficiency is the second hallmark for B2B startups.

The entrepreneurs were asked to share advice on how B2B startups could grow and succeed. Rohit said that it’s a misconception that the people we hire from day one will have the same vision as the founders. "You have to invest time to pass on the vision to the team. Don't expect them to understand it from day one.” The second point was about investment, which he termed as a journey. “It's important to convince the investor that although you don't belong to the same industry, your idea can cause a revolution."

Samir then spoke about some of the big bets coming from the startup world, namely in IoT and ML. "In India, we have very good system integration skillsets and we can bring these into the IoT world. On the other side, opportunities arise where there are problems. India is filled with problems, and there are technology solutions for each of them," he said.

The winners across categories

The six startups from the third cohort had the opportunity to pitch to an eminent panel of experts from the NetApp leadership team and other industry leaders. The award for 'Most Innovative Product' was awarded to Cardiotrack, the 'Investor's Choice Award' was presented to InstaSafe, and the 'Best Growth Strategy Award' went to FirstHive.

Following a successful third edition of the NetApp Excellerator, the programme is looking for applications from startups for its fourth cohort. The last date to apply is February 10, 2019. Send in your applications right away.

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