Since it was founded in 2013, Reliance’s JioGenNext startup accelerator has been a strong catalyst in empowering India’s startup ecosystem. Based on the pillars of talent, technology, and trust, JioGenNext has been working to spot and encourage 'talent'; help them harness their 'technology'; and support them with complete 'trust'.
Over the years, it has accelerated 130 startups in 10 batches covering verticals as diverse as Healthcare, Education, Fintech, Retail & Logistics, Travel, Gaming, Media, Original content, Adtech, Agriculture, E-Commerce, Learning and Development, Cyber Security, Enterprise IT, and Telecom.
The selection of the finalists for the 11th cohort was recently held on December 14, 2019 at Reliance Corporate Park in Navi Mumbai. As part of Startup Innovation Day, 17 startups pitched to a jury of venture capitalists and high-ranking Reliance Industries officials including Sanjay Nath of Blume Ventures; Vivek Saxena of Equanimity Investments; Ankit Agarwal of Innoven Capital; Venkatesh Peddi of Chiratae Ventures; Ashwin Khasgiwala of Reliance Retail; and Jasminder Singh Gulati, Co-founder of NowFloats (SaaS startup recently acquired by RIL).
Sharply focused curation of startups
The main theme for this year’s event was the role that startups are playing in building technologies and products specially curated for the needs of SMEs and SMBs - an area Reliance is increasingly focussing on.
Venkatesh Peddi, Executive Director at Chiratae Ventures, observed that the quality of the startups presenting was very impressive. “This was a very focused and curated event where the overall idea was to look at retail and how SMEs are seeing some level of innovation from startups,” he said.
Vivek Saxena, Co-founder and CEO of Equanimity Investments spoke about the role the accelerator was playing in fuelling innovation. He said, “The big focus was on how startups can solve problems in the MSME business. The SMB/SME space needs strong innovation, which these startups can provide and a great distribution network, which Reliance can offer,” he said.
Investors also pointed out that the perspective offered by a diverse jury would only further enrich the innovations and products that the startups were working on.
Peddi said, “The interesting part was that the jury not only consisted of outsiders, but also business leaders from within the Reliance Group. It was good to hear their opinions, and there was a continuous emphasis on how the Jio ecosystem can have synergies with these startups.”
Aligned with RIL’s business needs
Ashwin Khasgiwala, the CFO of Reliance Retail, praised the Jio GenNext programme for being “very professional and systematic right from the start”.
“The programme is now more focused and aligned with Reliance’s needs. At the end of the day, you do not want something that is already done by somebody else. Repeat solutions do not get any value. Uniqueness is important. Also, building the solution in a more agile and cost-effective manner for SMEs is important,” he said.
It further helps when the pitching startups get to interact with actual people in business, who are looking at the “practical aspects” he said.
“The insights startups get from the various industry leaders who are invited to be part of the jury and the internal Reliance leadership helps them understand what is happening in the real world. Startups are then able to come to reality, and refine their technology further. That add-on is needed,” Khasgiwala explained.
Rubal Chib, Co-Founder and CEO, qZense Labs, an IoT solution provider for food solutions, said, “We are trying to solve the spoilage issue in fresh fruits and vegetables with the help of data. But, both our co-founders are from a technical background. So, we are trying to understand the food supply chain in India and refine our business model accordingly. We hope that industry veterans (like Reliance Fresh) who understand the problem will be able to help us. That is why we applied for the JioGenNext programme.”
Seeking distribution, scale and exposure
While some founders who have applied to the programme are looking to tweak their business models with the help of mentorship and guidance from Reliance Industries, some others are trying to earn better ecosystem connects and scale up fast.
Advait Makhija, Co-founder and CEO, Eatabl, said, "We are first-time founders and quite young. Our main expectation from this programme is to cut our learning curve into half. We know that Jio is at the core of digitising most of India today. And, we are trying to build on top of the infrastructure they have already created. Also, the kind of mentorship, industry connects and insights that Jio GenNext can offer is far more than many other accelerators out there."
Even as founders scouted for ways to grab the VCs’ attention on Startup Innovation Day, seasoned early-stage investors like Blume Ventures focused on looking for “real use cases”.
Sanjay Nath, Managing Partner at Blume Ventures, said, “The two key things from the startup’s perspective is the validation of the product and the validation of the market. What I found interesting was that there are actual business users involv`ed here. So, the startups here are focused and are not those which are building technology just because it is something cool.”
Main advantage of corporate accelerators like JioGenNext
Blume’s Nath shared that corporate accelerators backed by large organisations like Reliance help young startups with distribution, go-to-market access, strategy and business expertise. “Real use cases are being looked at. That’s really important. The same tech mapped to a less relevant use cases doesn’t make sense.”
He added, “That is why Jio has been able to attract some high-quality founders into its ecosystem, and even acquire VC-backed startups like Haptik, Embibe, NowFloats, and others.”
Equanimity’s Saxena also shared how regular accelerators are often focused on the short-term vis-a-vis corporate accelerators that are in for the long haul.
He explained, “A regular accelerator is just looking at the economics of it. They are always looking for the next unicorn. They want to see what will hit the next bell curve and so on. But, when you attach with a corporate accelerator, you are looking for business synergies and creating long-term impact.”
These eight startups were chosen to be a part of JioGenNext’s 11th cohort.
eShipz - Have developed a flexible app that makes it easy to manage first-mile logistics to ease the outbound shipments from warehouses. ship and track by saving time. It reduces manual efforts by 80 percent
Iobot - Have built an IoT-led platform for the digitisation of SME business processes, manufacturing, production and logistics solving real world problems with innovations in the fields of Robotics, Internet of Things, Cloud Apps and Embedded Products.
qZense Labs - Are building a next-generation IoT device for quick, accurate and non-destructive internal quality grading of fresh food, thereby enabling retailers to deliver the finest quality fresh food to their customers.
Shoppre - Have built an assisted retail marketplace that enables global shipping of products from India. Their logistic solution covers storing, repackaging, consolidating and shipping and reduce costs by 60-80 percent.
Eatabl - Have created a platform building personalized dining experiences using Artificial Intelligence. It is digitizing the process and using machine learning to tailor-make every dining experience
Aerchain - Have built a platform that powers procurement and seamlessly connects relevant stakeholders, brings visibility, improves efficiency and spreads intelligence across.
SpiderG - Have built a book-keeping app and online bill generator for SMBs
It connects SMBs to financial institutions such as NBFCs and banks for funding based on the transaction data generated on its platform.
Headlight - an IOT-led mobile platform that brings real-time transparency to vehicle and automotive repairs