Find experienced partners, adopt a service mindset and deliver value: Experts on how startups can make inroads in the public sector
If startups have to achieve scale and impact, especially in a country like India, working with the government can make it possible. However, on ground, entrepreneurs find it challenging to make inroads into the public sector. Policy regulations and its mode of operating can seem alien and complex. That’s why there is a growing interest in the startup community to understand what it takes to work with the public sector.
AWS, with its technology solutions and programmes, is positioned to help these startups navigate the complexity of government procurement mechanisms and scale up their solutions and engagements with public sector customers.
To demystify this customer acquisition and revenue realisation process in the public sector, YourStory, in association with AWS and IKP Knowledge Park, organised an insightful session on the opportunities for startups working in the public sector, how they can overcome sectoral challenges, the role of support ecosystems like investors, incubators and technology providers like AWS, among others.
The need to overcome the initial inhibition around public sector processes
The session began with a keynote address by Vikram Manchanda, Country Leader, Govt Digital Transformation WWPS, Amazon Internet Services. Vikram highlighted how AWS has been working with the government to address challenges in healthcare brought by COVID-19, public food distribution systems, and even those related to security and surveillance.
“Having worked extensively with the government, I understand the inhibition of the startups with respect to the complexity of the procurement process. But the fact is, once you go through the process a couple of times, you will realise that the processes are very similar, even if you are working with different governments or their agencies. This makes it much easier to scale your business.”
He added that the government was also making a significant effort to address challenges by simplifying the process. “They have created platforms like e-governance marketplace. They are empanelling partners at the state level, and are even sponsoring hackathons to drive innovative solutions. All of this gives an opportunity for startups to make a headway into the public sector.” He also asked the startups to reach out to the AWS Public Sector experts, who would guide the startups navigate the journey.
Why identifying the right people and organisations to work with is important
Following Vikarm’s address was Gaurav Parchani, Founder and CTO, Dozee, who gave a keynote address on how Dozee pivoted from a sleep tracking solution to a healthcare solution with support from government agencies. “When we started to build the solution, we got a grant by the Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC). That helped us develop the solution, pilot it, scale and make it market ready. Being associated with BIRAC closely also helped us navigate through the regulatory landscape,” said Gaurav.
He added that the other key enabler was finding the right incubator to develop the product, carry out a pilot and validate it in clinical settings, which IKP Knowledge Park helped with.
“Working with the government is not something that you should do alone. It is always much easier and effective if you identify the right people and organisations to work with,” he said.
The event also saw an interesting panel discussion that offered key insights from the experiences of startups and experts working with governments.The panel discussion, moderated by Deepti Vikas Dutt Head – Strategic Initiatives, Public Sector Amazon Internet Services, saw participation from Kunal Prasad, Co-Founder and COO CropIn Technology Solutions; Tapan Gosaliya, Director, Amnex Infotechnologies; Sridhar Gadhi, Founder and CEO, Quantela, Inc; and Narayana Birakayala, Capture Business Development Lead, Amazon Internet Services (AISPL).
On making inroads into the government sector
Kunal from CropIn shared that it wasn’t a conscious decision to work with the public sector, but an organic one. “Back in 2013, we saw greater traction from the private sector. However, around 2015-16, we realised that once you are able to prove a strong value proposition, there is a dominant uptake from the government. Today we have the experience of working with around 10 state governments across different projects - from climate smart agriculture to farm digitisation. The scale that the government sector offers is immense.”
How to get the first customer and nailing customer acquisition in the public sector
Sridhar from Quantela shared a detailed overview of how they were able to prove value to the public sector with limited prior experience by building a lateral solution with the help of partners like AWS.
“When you have to work on a government project, prior experience is often a prerequisite. As a startup, you often don’t have the luxury of having a similar experience. So identifying the right partners will be key. For us, the partnerships with AWS, CISCO, Qualcomm and other key ecosystem partners were game changers,” said Sridhar, adding that the partnerships also bring in advantages of fueling credibility and customer outreach at a global scale.
He also also advised the startups to adopt a service mindset and drive value instead of just a product mindset while catering to public sector customers.
A replicable model that lends itself to scale
Tapan from Amnex talked about the differences between building solutions for public sector and private sector customers and also the role of partner. “Initially, while working with the government, it is important to stick to the requirements as given in the request for proposal (RFP). This means there might be less room for innovation initially. But, once you are able to deliver and prove the potential for innovation and value generation, you will be able to start working with the government on that front.” He also highlighted how working with the government brings in a replicable model.
“You will observe that there will be government agencies wherein the same model or solution can be applied. This will make it easy to achieve scale at speed,” he added.
Tapan also spoke of how they patiently built their credentials by partnering with bigger players before building their own solutions. “For niche public sector projects, we started partnering with bigger partners who came with niche domain expertise, which helped build our credentials before taking up small projects on our own. That actually helped us get deep into the government system, understand the process and execute larger projects.”
The government’s ongoing efforts to remove entry barriers for startups
In his address, Narayana from AISPL shared why startups must look into the opportunities in the public sector and how today the government is making an effort to ease the entry barriers for startups.
“The public sector is a huge market and everyone today wants to maximise the opportunity there. But the traditional tender process and mandatory requirements like past experience have made it challenging for startups to participate. But, today the government understands that they need access to innovations that only startups can bring to the table. They also acknowledge that they need to remove the entry barriers for startups to participate. Hence, multiple states have made policy changes to wave off the tender fee, deposit or past project experience,” said Narayana.
He pointed out that the Kerala Startup Mission is one such government agency that enables startups to win work orders of Rs 20 lakh without having to go through the tender process.
In their closing remarks, all the speakers unanimously highlighted how the public sector is realising how partnering with the private sector can help address challenges, which is a big opportunity for startups. They added that it’s important for startups to find the right partners and adopt a service mindset to deliver value to make headway into the public sector. They also added that startups must take the first step to understand the government’s requirements and complex procedures. And they can effectively do that by reaching out to experts and experienced partners in the ecosystem.
The AWS advantage
The startup has been working with the Chennai Municipality, Ministry of Ayush, and the All India Institutes of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) to provide remote patient monitoring in COVID-19, which helps keep nurses safe from infection and reduce their workload. It is also working with leading hospitals and telemedicine companies to home quarantine COVID-19 patients.
Dozee uses Amazon SQS for messaging, AWS Spot Instances for compute and AWS S3 for storage, which give it reliability and scalability to its core operations of compute and healthcare data processing. The pay per use model ensures cost effectiveness and allows Dozee to focus on optimising their core operations, which reflects in their ability to make better solutions for the healthcare problems they are tackling.
CropIn’s farm management solution ‘SmartFarm’ provides a clear visibility of the registered farmers and plots along with the acreage, which helps the government to provide incentives to the farmer. It collaborated with the state government of Karnataka to digitise 3,68,632 plots that positively impacted 1,33,812 farmers, and worked on a similar project on the Central Government’s National Rural Livelihoods Project (NRLP) that was supported by the World Bank. It also worked with the state government of Punjab to introduce tamper-proof traceability through a QR code system for packets of potato seeds to ensure their quality and credibility in the seed market.
Using multiple AWS solutions, CropIn evolved from a monolith application into microservices architecture for multiple use cases. With AWS EC2, CropIn was able to scale the instances without downtime smoothly, handle higher loads and scale for the demand. CropIn runs huge Machine Learning (ML) workloads with Amazon SageMaker and AWS ETL. It runs ML-rained models on serverless frameworks with AWS Lambda and also runs an analytics pipeline and a data lake. AWS has provided CropIn with data security and auditability across products like AWS Lambda, Amazon SageMaker, Amazon Elastic Container Service, Amazon Kinesis and Amazon Athena, among others.
Quantela has created a Coronavirus Emergency Response Software (CoVER) which is used by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, and the state governments of Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, among others. It also developed a central solution for tracking various urban initiatives and smart city solutions on a country wide basis for the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, and a Smart Cities Command Centre Platform for the American cities of Las Vegas and Golden, among others.
Quantela optimises runtime costs with AWS EC2 AutoScale. Amazon CloudWatch has been instrumental for Quantela in being able to meet its Service-level agreements (SLAs). Services such as AWS Lambda, AWS Elastic Beanstalk, and Amazon RDS, among others, help it to create flexible architecture models. As a result, Quantela was able to create a multi-tenancy environment to quickly build new tenants of CoVER platform and preconfigured dashboards for different cities in as less as one to three days. They were also able to reduce the per tenant footprint at least by up to 75 percent when using a multi-tenanted AWS cloud compared to an on-premise deployment.
Amnex has been leveraging AWS technology solutions to power the delivery of its diverse array of services with disruptive technologies like Internet of Things (IoT), AI, Geospatial Engineering and many more. Using these services, they have been making developments in the field of Urban Solutions, Mining, Agriculture, Dairy, Logistics, Marine and Ports, Energy and Utilities. Some of its smart solutions include Smart Streetlights, Solid Waste Management, Urban Mobility, Intelligent Parking and Adaptive Traffic, among others. With AWS, Amnex was able to develop several solutions with varied architectures and ensure their optimal performance simultaneously across several functions, including, but not limited to, ease of deployment and scalability with minimal hassle.