Why Western Digital is keen to strengthen its engagement with Indian deep tech startups
Western Digital executives (from left): Supria Dhanda, Vice President and Country Manager, India; Guruswamy Ganesh, Senior Vice President - Data Storage Products Group, and Siva Sivaram, President - Technology and Strategy
India’s startup ecosystem has seen significant growth in the past decade, with many homegrown startups developing innovative solutions that have disrupted the industries they operate in. And despite the COVID-19-fuelled slowdown, the entrepreneurial ecosystem continues to attract organisations and enterprises keen to be part of India’s growth story.
US computer hard disk drive manufacturer and data storage major Western Digital is among the enterprises that is deepening its engagement with Indian startups. The company, which offers data management solutions for the surveillance, telecommunications, banking and finance, and entertainment industries, has launched the Data Innovation Bazaar to tap into the opportunities that deep tech startups present.
Launched in association with the Government of India’s Startup India and Invest India initiatives, the event invites applications from young entrepreneurs, startups, innovators and students from around India. The focus area: disruptive inventions that drive social change in the fields of healthcare, education, transportation, cleantech and renewable, while leveraging data.
Siva Sivaram, President, Technology and Strategy, Western Digital, says, “Our job is to make sure the ground is fertile for many of the applications that are created. In India, we can create true intellectual property using data infrastructure.”
The Data Innovation Bazaar also aims to look for innovation outside of the large metros, and aims to create a foundation in data technology for startups to offer innovative applications.
Supria Dhanda, Vice President and Country Manager, Western Digital India, says, “Data Innovation Bazaar is a marketplace for ideas and it is our endeavour to catalyse the startup ecosystem in the country.” She emphasises that many more jobs are created when the startup ecosystem is catalysed.
Delivering and storing data
Startups need sound data technology infrastructure to develop or create innovative applications.
As Siva says: “Data is exploding, but, in the end, it has to be stored in some physical device.”
As a leading manufacturer of hard disk drives and data storage solutions, Western Digital says more than 45 percent of all such information in the globe is stored on their devices.
Siva says the key challenge has always been how to deliver the data to the right place, with access, adequate security, and ease of use. This is where Western Digital creates a data infrastructure platform that others can use to innovate.
“We wanted to reach the depths of India through Data Innovation Bazaar and make it valuable for startups at various stages,” Supria says.
Growing traction and engagement
The Data Innovation Bazaar started its first programme in December 2018, and received around 522 applications from startups. In 2020, this number almost doubled to 963. Western Digital is also collaborating with other bodies like Startup India, Invest India, and TiE Delhi-NCR to enlarge the reach of this programme.
Western Digital is extremely happy with the response it has got from entrepreneurs outside the top eight metro cities in the country.
Supria says, “This year, around 85 percent of applications were from outside the metros. Also, around 15-18 percent of startups that applied were led by women entrepreneurs.”
The Data Innovation Bazaar is also actively engaged with academic institutes. “We want to ingrain entrepreneurial spirt in young minds,” Supria says.
Focus on India
India is critical for Western Digital as a market and R&D hub. Over the last 15 years, its employee strength in the country has gone from 300 people to over 3,000.
Guruswamy Ganesh, Senior Vice President - Data Storage Products Group, Western Digital, says, “The team in India is strategically aligned with all key developments on data infrastructure in the company, including fundamental technology.”
Natural then that given the strong connect with the talent pool India, the next logical step was engagement with the tech startups.
The US-headquartered corporation has been always been connected with startups across the world. Western Digital Capital, its venture capital arm, has been making strategic investments in these young companies.
Western Digital Capital was founded in year 2000 and has invested in around two dozen startups across the globe. The three main categories where it makes its investments are: data centre and enterprise, IoT, consumer devices and services, and components and subsystems. It has invested in startups across the US and Israel, besides other startup hubs.
Siva says, “We have strategic objectives: either we want to grow in a certain area or understand a certain area better. The best way to do it is to invest in a company, watch how it grows, and learn from it.”
The company has taken a slightly different approach in India as compared to US, which is a mature ecosystem. “In India, we have extra responsibility; we want to grow the ecosystem,” Siva say.
In the process, they have involved others in the ecosystem, including government bodies, academia, and VCs. “As this idea becomes bigger, a lot of partners will join, give inputs, and open up opportunities for startups,” Supria says.
Enabling diversity and inclusion
Western Digital offers startups the much-needed technology heft and connects.
As Siva says: “Hundreds of startups go through our doors every quarter, and they are data-related entities. This is a win-win situation for both of us.”
The main idea was to enable startups to come up with innovative solutions and also make participation of women a top priority.
The Data Innovation Bazaar is stage-agnostic. This year, around 45 percent of submissions were at the ideation stage.
Supria says, “We started with the intent to do good. We want to make it as comfortable as possible for startups when they apply for this programme.”
But there’s plenty more to be done, and Western Digital aims to do that with Data Innovation Bazaar.
“We are in a geography that is growing dramatically with bright engineering minds and a natural sense of entrepreneurship. As a corporate, that is why we invest…we see a high likelihood of success,” Siva says.