[Startup Bharat] Despite coronavirus, acceleration and incubation continue in Bharat

By Sampath Putrevu|22nd Apr 2020
Notwithstanding the overall economic slowdown, the scare of layoffs, and the possibility of businesses shutting down, startups in Tier II and III cities are innovating to tackle the many challenges that the coronavirus pandemic has thrown up.
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The coronavirus pandemic has effectively brought India to a halt over the last month. According to the International Monetary Fund, the economic downturn due to the global pandemic is set to be the worst since the Great Depression.


But despite the overall economic slowdown, the scare of layoffs, and the possibility of startups shutting down, hope floats amid startups in Tier II and III cities of India. Startups in Bharat are taking up the many challenges that COVID-19 is throwing up with zeal and positivity, and working hard to innovate.


Startup Bharat incubators and accelerators



According to a report by NASSCOM, the Indian startup ecosystem has the potential to create up to 12.5 lakh direct jobs by 2025. In fact, the ecosystem had created up to 4.3 lakh jobs in 2019.


While one would naturally think that startups, with pockets that are not very deep and fewer resources, would fumble to manage cash flow and sustainability, many are playing a pivotal role in combating the COVID-19 situation.


However, the catalyst for most of these startups is the critical part of early-stage growth: accelerators and incubators.

Back to the drawing board

Rutvik Doshi, Managing Partner at Inventus India Advisors, in an earlier conversation with YourStory, opined that founders have started to think of plan A, B, or C to ensure business continuity as many of them are not geared to work remotely.


For instance, Rajasthan, known for its active and dynamic entrepreneurial startup community, saw its startups return to the drawing board to bring innovation to their business models. They went on to identify newer sets of demands in the changed scenario.


Frontier Markets, a Rajasthan-based startup engaged in the distribution of solar lamps, has been using its network to distribute essential goods to the last mile — to villages across the state. Similarly, DealShare, a renowned B2B startup from the state, is enabling the transportation of essential goods to kirana stores.


Last week, the leadership team at Deshpande Foundation, a non-governmental organisation based in Hubli, Karnataka, had a discussion with the local administration authorities, regarding the strengths of the foundation and the areas it could contribute to.


The NGO’s incubator, Deshpande Startups, has looked at four impact units to help fight COVID-19 in the region — micro-entrepreneurship, agriculture, skilling, and startups.


"The startup ecosystem is coming together to address a possible solution for COVID-19 with Boonbox, freshboxx, Docketrun, LinkEZ, and printylx," says CM Patil, CEO of Deshpande Startups.


At present, Freshboxx, a Hubli-based startup, is delivering vegetables and groceries in the Hubli-Dharwad region. Boonbox, another startup supported by the foundation, is delivering essentials to both urban and rural populations.




Time for virtual mentorship

AIM Smart City Accelerator, born out of Ashoka University in Sonipat, Haryana, in 2016, was launched to empower startups primarily working in three areas: - healthcare, sanitation, and waste management. It offers the same mentorship and support to startups from Tier II and III cities in India.


Despite social distancing and the nationwide lockdown, the accelerator has continued with activities like mentoring and reviews virtually. Even though startups have faced challenges in their business, the cohort startups have come up with products to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.


Amid the changing scenario, incubated startups are being offered special sessions on how to deal with the current situation and the way ahead.

Speaking of some of its cohort startups that have risen to the cause, Ekanto Ghosh, Manager at AIM, tells YourStory, "BasicShit has put together its resources and experience in building low-cost, mobile toilets that come with a full-body disinfection chamber. The prototype has been installed at Dr Baba Saheb Ambedkar Hospital, Rohini, New Delhi.”


Dial4242, an aggregator of ambulances, has been a blessing in disguise for citizens, requiring medical attention during the lockdown, he adds.


Mumbai Police is now acknowledging Dial4242's services, and tagging them in tweets while responding to citizen requests for emergency transportation.

Padcare, an expert in UV technology, has come up with UV-based sanitisation systems for the disinfection of areas and inanimate objects in hospitals.

Government-ecosystem connection

With policy being an integral part of startup innovation and go-to-market strategies, one must also focus on how various state governments are facilitating innovation in their startup communities.


iStart Rajasthan is a flagship initiative by the Rajasthan government for startups in the state, and aims to foster innovation, create jobs, and facilitate investment.


Chaahat Kattar, a programme manager at KPMG India, is actively involved with iStart and tells YourStory that many tech startups are utilising tech prowess efficiently to develop stellar solutions for the need of the hour.


He says, "The Government of Rajasthan is facilitating discussions with our startups to incorporate developed and tested solutions in its initiatives and technology platforms."

The coronavirus era, or the “quarantine economy”, has promoted the use of video conferencing platforms like Skype and Zoom. In fact, Zoom, a video conferencing tool has been one of the biggest gainers since the COVID-19 outbreak, as people worked from home during the lockdown.


Startups from non-metro cities are also not shying away from the use of such tech tools. This has extended to the level where even state governments and their innovation departments are now endorsing video conferencing and conducting review meetings on the platform.


(Edited by Suman Singh)


Edited by Suman Singh

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