The Demo Day of the sixth cohort of NetApp Excellerator, NetApp’s flagship startup accelerator programme, embraced a new virtual route. The accelerator had earlier pivoted into a virtual programme for its sixth cohort, wherein the selections, workshops, coaching sessions, mentoring sessions and PoCs took place entirely online.
“COVID-19 is truly a black swan event — both unpredictable and with a devastating impact. Besides the thousands of lives lost and disrupted, it has completely dislocated the fabric of organisations and the lives of people that work there. However, this is not the first, nor will it be the last Black Swan event that we witness. We, as an accelerator along with our startups, took up the challenge to come out of this battle better, faster and stronger to move the programme completely online and ran it in a virtual mode,” Madhurima Agarwal, leader, NetApp Excellerator and Director - Engineering Programs at the NetApp Excellerator said in her opening address at first-ever virtual Demo Day of the NetApp Excellerator.
Madhurima added that the feedback they received from the startups was uniform - at no point did they feel things were not business as usual.
Of pivots, exits and launches
In her address, Madhurima also shared how startups of the current cohort as well as alumni developed new offerings in the light of the pandemic. For instance, Securely Share has developed a solution for sharing of data securely during the work from home base; Cardiotrack has developed an offering for enterprises to manage their workforce who are getting back to work and Senseforth.ai which is working with international organisations like NHS, is making a meaningful impact for thousands of patients. Moreover, startups like Cyborgintell, Koinearth, Curl Analytics, EDER Labs and AiKaan Labs are also working on some fantastic offerings in Supply chain, AI, ML and IoT.
In a happy coincidence, the Demo Day of the sixth cohort coincided with the third anniversary of NetApp Excellerator and Madhurima took this opportunity to share key highlights from the NetApp Excellerator’s three-year-long journey.
“In the last three years, we've had over 1,600 startups reach out to us, of which 35 were onboarded and have graduated from the programme. They have done nine PoCs over the course of cohort five and cohort six. Three of our alumni startups have had successful exits and 70 percent of our startups have raised follow on funding. The programme today also has a global reach. We now have startups participating across the globe, India US, UK Israel that have been part of the programme.”
A major announcement on the demo day was the launch of NetApp ExcellerateHER, an exclusive accelerator programme for women-founded startups.
“This is a programme especially for women entrepreneurs, and we are going to do selections based on the common application and ensure that they are on par with world-class enterprises,” said Madhurima.
Decoding sales acceleration for SaaS companies
The inaugural address was followed by a fireside chat between Sameer Brij Verma, MD, Nexus Venture Partners and Madhurima on SaaS solutioning for the new normal. Sharing his perspective on the SaaS landscape, Sameer said, “SaaS is one of the most resilient sectors, which was true not only during the financial crisis in 2009, but also today. This is because of the recurring revenue contracts, which is especially true for for mission-critical software and also because you are not acutely affected by supply chain disruptions.” However, he added that SaaS businesses must be product-driven, wherein user acquisition expansion, emotional tension, are all driven primarily by the product itself.
Sameer also spoke about how the current market environment has provided an opportunity for startups to go back to the drawing board and think about what they are building, the amount of value creation, and if they are actually creating a category, because that’s how SaaS enterprises are built.
It also deep-dived into the sales acceleration strategies that enable startups to scale not just in the Indian market but also globally. “Identify your customer profile, understand the customer user journey, track your sales funnel, track patterns and act on it fast.Make sure you position your offering in a mission-critical way. Focus on how you can own the category you are building the product for,” Sameer said.
Action-packed startup pitches
The key highlight of the Demo Day were the six startup pitches by Aikaan Labs, Cyborgintell, IQLECT, Koinearth, Kubesafe, and Myelin Foundry. From predictive analytics, edge computing, and integrated supply chain management, to cloud-native application protection using Kubernetes, the startups displayed diverse AI, ML and Blockchain based innovative solutions.
A whitepaper co-authored by NetApp and Curl Analytics, a startup from its fifth cohort, was also launched. It focuses on an integrated solution to improve the efficiency of AI processes, resulting in efficiencies and cost savings. This whitepaper is a result of the sponsored Proof-of-Concept (POC) that NetApp offered Curl Analytics as part of the program.
Rebooting constantly to scale
The second fireside chat of the day between Ravi Chhabria, MD, NetApp India and Vijay Arisetty, Founder, myGate, chronicled Vijay’s entrepreneurial journey, while also drawing out some key takeaways. Vijay in his conversations highlighted why it was important for organisations to reboot at every stage the startup achieves growth. “When your organisation grows, the problem statement keeps changing continuously. The kind of problems that you encounter changes every time a startup achieves 2x growth. Sometimes, you will need a technology intervention, sometimes a culture intervention or sometimes it will be related to the process. But, that needs to be fixed.” He also highlighted that while a product or tech challenge is easy to solve during scale, operational changes are not and that’s why you need to get the fundamentals in place and continue to build on strengthening the core operations.
He advised startups to remain focused and not carpet bomb use cases in the initial days. “A common mistake a lot of entrepreneurs do is that they try to do multiple things at the same time, and split it across multiple cities and geographies. I would suggest to focus on the key high frequency use cases, focus on those, and grow slowly because after a point you will automatically reach escape velocity that will keep you going.”
He also stated that India is at the right juncture for entrepreneurship. “The opportunities, the ecosystem, everything is great. Take calculated risks and get started. It’s a fulfilling journey and one with lots of learnings.”
Koinearth, Cyborgintell, and Myelin Foundry wow industry
The Demo Day culminated with an award ceremony to recognise the startups part of the cohort, with Shradha Sharma, Founder and CEO, YourStory, Octavian Tanase, SVP, ONTAP, NetApp and Madhurima announcing the winners. Koinearth was awarded the best growth strategy award, Cyborgintell took home the best innovative product and Myelin Foundry won the investors’ choice award. The winners were chosen by a compelling jury comprising NetApp leaders, and the mentors who were involved with each startup.
Thanking NetApp for the recognition, Praphul Chandra, Founder, Koinearth shared,” The data governance, compliance, regulations, auditing data trails are all challenging. But, very few companies are actually focusing on that even when the world is becoming more serious about data, It is here, we are looking at blockchain as an enabling technology, especially enterprise blockchain to enable data sharing between enterprises. We really believe that this is going to be a very critical part in the emerging data architecture of the future.”
Gopichand Katragadda, Founder and CEO , Myelin Foundry, shared, “Video is one of the most complex forms of unstructured data and to be able to process video to do fantastic things, to enhance the quality, to introduce various other aspects of what can be done before it hits the screens, is what we are excited about.”
Suman Singh, Founder & CEO, Cyborgintell, thanked the NetApp team for their incubation efforts and their extraordinary support and motivation. “ This award is a validation of our hard work and has upped our morale. Today, unlocking the potential of data is the most important gradient for any business and our mission is to help enterprises become data & predictive intelligence-driven to its fullest,” he said.
Applications are open for the cohort 7 of the NetApp Excellerator programme.
NetApp Excellerator is NetApp’s global startup program that aims to fuel innovation by partnering with DeepTech startups. The accelerator works with startups working on cutting edge technologies and takes them to the global map by providing access to NetApp’s customers. If you are a B2B startup specialising in the cloud, IoT, big data and analytics, machine learning, virtualization, data security, data management, storage, and other related subjects, apply now.
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