Cisco LaunchPad’s head on why corporate-startup synergies drive true, scalable innovation

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As Cisco LaunchPad invites applications for Cohort 7, Sruthi Kannan, Head of Cisco LaunchPad, throws light on the accelerator programme’s journey so far, its continued support to partner startups during the pandemic, new opportunities and much more in this freewheeling chat with YourStory 

Sruthi Kannan heads Cisco LaunchPad, where she works with deep tech startups for co-creating end-to-end digital solutions. Through LaunchPad, she drives meaningful outcomes for startups in their scale-up journey by providing access to a wide gamut of resources including joint Go-To-Market and Tech Integrations. Over the last 4 years, she has worked closely with over 100 CXOs of deep tech startups as well as mentors across various organizations. Sruthi is also on the CII National Startup Council and also a Charter Member at TiE.

Q. Could you give us a brief overview of Cisco LaunchPad and what’s in store for Cohort 7?

Over the last five years, Cisco India has been creating an exciting environment for high potential startups with Cisco LaunchPad. This is a startup ecosystem outreach initiative and accelerator programme that enables startups to network, develop new skills, and get inspired to reach the next level of growth. 

Since its inception in 2016, 47 startups from 6 cohorts have benefited from the programme’s end-to-end tech solutions and have collectively received over $64 million in funding, while raising $54 million as follow-on funding. The programme offers tech and tech-enabled startups an opportunity to be part of an innovation initiative that supports and nurtures co-development, co-creation, new business models and joint GTMs, among others. 

We have opened applications for the seventh cohort and would like to invite startups to benefit from this corporate - startup collaboration. 

Q. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, how has Cisco LaunchPad supported startups to thrive and innovate?

The relationship between startups and accelerators needs to go beyond the paradigm of cohorts, to a continuous, supportive and evolving alliance. At a time when most businesses and startups are struggling to tide over the COVID-19-related challenges in their business, Cisco LaunchPad continues to extend mentorship, connections and support to all its current and previous startups. In fact, several of our startups have gone on to enjoy significant success, even during this pandemic. Mumbai-based computer vision and AI startup, Orbo AI, which was a part of Cohort 5, acquired US-based startup Gemia, while Cloudneeti, part of Cohort 6, was acquired by Zscaler.

Despite COVID-19 shaking up the entire ecosystem, we have taken it as an opportunity to connect and collaborate with our startups who have come up with really practical solutions. Be it in the healthcare sector or AI driven contact centre operations, IoT offerings or farm intelligence or so on, our startups have made their mark with quite a punch in all spheres thanks to their grit and determination in embracing the challenges as opportunities. I want to thank Cisco mentors, engineering teams and leadership who guided and assisted the startups in making their mark in this tough time in a hassle-free and rewarding manner.

Q. Could you share with us some success stories from your past cohorts? 

The core of Cisco Launchpad has always been building solutions and synergies to solve problems. In today's unprecedented scenario, our startups have been on the frontlines of containing the pandemic with their solutions and products. Some that come to mind are Cloudphysician, from Cohort 5, which is extending quality intensive care by remotely connecting its command centers with hospital ICUs using their proprietary platform RADAR and Cisco Meraki.

Cisco Collaboration-based E-ICU from Teslon Technologies from Cohort 1 allows doctors to monitor, consult and advise patients remotely. They have come up with Carenation Cart and Backpack, Carenation Health App, Patient App and a centralised monitoring and management solution that have proven to be a boon for mankind at this really critical and challenging time.

Apart from that, Kalki - Cisco LaunchPad’s very own VR-based interactive and Immersive Experience Centre built in association with Cohort 2 startup Imaginate, enables you virtually meet your client and showcase your capabilities in the most engaging and interactive way possible.

Q. CiscoLaunchPad’s core focus has been to propel deep-tech startups. Could you throw some light on the idea behind this?

Cisco LaunchPad’s mission is to propel deep-tech startups working in disruptive technologies. Deep-tech can impact any sector, from dairy to defence, and involves both hardware and software. Moreover, deep-tech is in line with Cisco’s goal of developing solutions that bring value to the organisation and the society through collaboration. 

Q. With the pandemic changing the business landscape, Edtech and Healthtech have emerged as great opportunities. How is Cisco LaunchPad leveraging this opportunity and renewed interest in these two sectors?

We have always believed in the scope and potential of the Healthtech and Edtech domains. The market is really warming up for these domains and there is high potential to contribute more to use cases that are springing up in these key segments. And the onset of the pandemic has surely added more confidence in us to focus more on these two key areas.

Q. Now its fifth year, what is your outlook for the programme for the next 18-24 months? What are some of the verticals that you will be focusing on or exploring?

I believe we have come a long way since we started. Now is the time to keep the momentum going, and contributing to the ecosystem considering all the challenges and bottlenecks that lie ahead. We have really opened up a floodgate of opportunities for startups who want to be part of us representing any of the broad pillars – Enterprise Tech, IoT and Digitization and Futuristic Tech.

Q. How does Cisco LaunchPad continue its association and engagement with startups after they graduate from the cohorts? 

With the assistance of Cisco’s expert pool and contacts, we have continually provided our portfolio startups with opportunities to showcase their products, acquire knowledge, obtain hands-on mentorship from global subject matter experts, and share their stories.

To this end, we are also enabling the success of deep-tech startups — from providing the right exposure, strategies, and opportunities to scale up and deliver solutions. Even after graduating from the cohort, the startups continue to receive support, online mentoring sessions, business continuity plans and more via webinars on Cisco WebEx. Many of our ex-cohort startups also got the golden opportunity to showcase their offerings in premier global events like Cisco Live.

Q. Personally, how do you see the corporate – startup collaboration over these years?

The corporate-startup collaboration has always been an exciting and fruitful one. The marriage of the agility of startups and stability of large enterprises really creates an environment that’s suitable for growth, innovation and accomplishment. At Cisco LaunchPad, we have fostered a three dimensional approach while working with some of the most interesting and powerful startups – firstly, in our existing format, we work closely with early- stage deep tech startups; secondly, we focus more on the scaleup phase where we work with startups and sales teams and take them to the market. And lastly, we engage with academic incubators and technology business incubators to empower and enrich students and budding entrepreneurs.

It was Helen Keller who said, "Alone We Can Do So Little. Together We Can Do So Much." On this note, I invite all high potential deep tech B2B startups to apply for our Cohort 7, and welcome partner organisations to join us in transforming tomorrow together.


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