Stellaris Venture Partners and IFC announce AI4Biz to support early-stage AI-based SaaS startups

AI4Biz, by Stellaris Venture Partners and IFC, will create a cohort of up to 10 early-stage AI-based SaaS startups and help them with reach and network.

Stellaris Venture Partners and IFC have announced the launch of a new programme AI4Biz to support early-stage AI-focussed enterprise SaaS startups. It is an initiative in collaboration with Infosys, Cisco, Amazon Web Services (AWS), GitHub, and Freshworks to identify and support promising Indian AI-enabled SaaS startups.

AI4Biz will create a cohort of up to 10 startups, which will be selected by a reputed jury after a two-stage shortlisting process. The selected startups will have the opportunity to engage commercially with relevant companies from within IFC’s global portfolio of investments. 

Selected startups will also be able to explore synergies with Cisco and Infosys, in addition to substantial credits from AWS and Freshworks, free access to GitHub’s enterprise version and mentorship sessions with relevant experts. 

Finally, the most promising startups will be considered for investments by Stellaris, IFC and potentially by other collaborating organisations. 

They will also have the opportunity to engage commercially with IFC’s global portfolio of investments, and to explore go-to-market opportunities with Infosys and Cisco. In addition, these startups will get access to substantial credits from AWS and Freshworks, free access to GitHub’s enterprise version and mentorship sessions from relevant experts.

Focussed on early-stage ventures, the team will look closely at how the companies are using AI and if it is a self-learning system or not. The software of the product should evolve and grow.

(From left) Rahul Chowdhri, Alok Goyal, Ritesh Banglani

Why start the programme now?

Speaking of why they chose to start the AI4Biz programme, Alok Goyal, Partner at Stellaris Venture Partners, said, 

“We believe AI to be the next big disrupter in the enterprise software space. This doesn’t mean existing companies will vanish, it just means new opportunities are going to be treated. With AI4Biz, our goal is to identify the most promising early-stage AI SaaS companies in India.” 

He adds the team is now looking at figuring out the size of the opportunity, different components of the opportunity, which are more attractive for SaaS companies out of India. “We are also looking at what can be done at an ecosystem level or a policy level, to be able to help Indian companies better capture this opportunity,” explained Alok. 

AI-enabled applications will be the next significant disruption within enterprise software. The team said that India has an opportunity to be at the forefront of this disruption and India has the right combination of expertise around creating both product/services businesses, the knowledge of enterprise go-to-market in foreign markets, and access to a large base of trained manpower for both data enhancement (cleaning, annotation etc.) as well as processing the same through algorithms.  

Ruchira Shukla Regional Lead, South Asia, Disruptive Technologies - Direct Equity and VC Funds - Active Board Member and LPAC Member, IFC, said that over these years, India has proven itself as a strong services provider, but now it is time to stand strong as a global product leader. 

“These SaaS companies are creating great products that can be sold beyond Indian borders and a good upside can be realised. The next big boom we see is SaaS products that are built out of India for a global market,” she added. 

The focus on digitisation

Ruchira explained IFC has been pushing strongly on the digitisation agenda. Enterprise digitisation is very important to enhance productivity and efficiency of the corporate world. 

She said, “The extent that SaaS-based solution has moving paper-based solution with an SME, to a digital environment for better governance and monitoring, brings great power even to the country. The SMEs can then start scaling, and become eligible for several financing products.” 

She added that many banks don’t lend to SMEs because most of their financial transaction is on paper and hard to track and monitor. But digitisation captures data and this improves financial access as well. 

Apart from this, the pandemic has pushed the world to automate processes.

According to Alok, software is about both automating processes within enterprises, as well as, enabling better decision making and creating higher effectiveness. COVID has made this even more vital, as there is an increased need for efficiency. 

“All of us are working from home, and there are many processes that could be done with people, a lot of those processes now have to be done with people sitting in their home sometimes in different cities and often in different countries. This means we need software has to be working independently and with minimal human intervention. This means AI has to be smarter, so AI powered SaaS is going to be big,” added Ruchira.
Edited by Saheli Sen Gupta