Outlook 2021: 25 founders and entrepreneurs on what the future holds for the startup ecosystem

By Meha Agarwal
January 04, 2021, Updated on : Mon Mar 22 2021 03:08:55 GMT+0000
Outlook 2021: 25 founders and entrepreneurs on what the future holds for the startup ecosystem
What lies ahead after bidding adieu to a year that forced every company to go back to the drawing board? YourStory spoke to 25 founders and entrepreneurs to know more about their outlook and hopes for 2021.
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The year 2020 threw a curveball that no government, corporate, enterprise, or startup could ever have anticipated. The rapid spread of the COVID-19 pandemic brought countries to a standstill and upended businesses almost overnight. 

According to a McKinsey & Companyreport, no event since World War II caused an economic downturn of “quite such scale or scope”, leaving most leaders “deeply uncertain” about what would work and what wouldn’t.

Almost a year later, as we look back, it’s clear that leaders, founders, and entrepreneurs could keep business ecosystems afloat only due to their will, tenacity, and resilience. Now, with the coronavirus vaccine on the horizon, the Indian startup ecosystem is beginning to hope and anticipate a brighter 2021. 

Will companies and startups be able to put the ghost of 2020 to rest and move forward from uncertainty and unpredictability to a stable and somewhat secure future? 

We spoke to 20+ founders and entrepreneurs to know more about their outlook and hopes for 2021. Here’s what they had to say: 


Rise in investments and long positions: Sumit Gupta, Co-founder and CEO, CoinDCX

“2020 has been an iconic year for cryptocurrencies like Ethereum, which saw the deployment of its upgraded protocol Ethereum 2.0 and Bitcoin that performed 140 percent year to date. In the coming years, investments in cryptocurrencies will be driven by popular sentiment as an alternative investment class, particularly from retail players. I believe with governments' push and smart, sensible crypto regulations in place, we will see many financial institutions, hedge funds, and family offices entering the space and taking long positions in times to come."


We need to close bitcoin gap: Rahul Pagidipati, CEO, Zebpay

“In 2021, we will see exponential growth in crypto. To help India develop a healthy regulatory framework, we’ll continue to communicate with those who influence policy. Indian investors are learning to see bitcoin as an asset class that belongs in every long-term portfolio, but they own less than 1 percent of the world’s bitcoin. Being left behind will create a strategic disadvantage for the Indian economy. In 2021, we expect more institutions and government officials to recognise that we need to close the bitcoin gap.”


Digital Lending

New products on scalable architecture likely: Ranvir Singh, Co-founder and MD, Kissht

“Smart policies will help to serve the underserved and unserved masses of the nation. The sector will be looking to build new products on scalable architecture with initiatives such as account aggregator. We believe it will revolutionise the lending industry in ways similar to what UPI did for payments and AEPS withdrawals in rural India.”


Increased demand in remote areas: Dilip Modi, Founder, Spice Money

“India’s semi-urban and rural markets are steadily moving from cash to a cashless model. There is an increasing demand for digital offerings from India’s remote corners. In the coming year, we will see product innovation from fintechs. Adoption of these digital products will go hand in hand at an unprecedented pace.”


Neobanks to redefine money management: Suman Gandham, Founder, Finin

“Neobanks will continue to rule the charts in 2021. Neobanks will redefine money management, savings, and investing experience by understanding user behaviours and patterns better. This will help offer hyper-personalised and relevant solutions. Digital is the way forward and neobanks are a high-return bet in this gamble.” 


Healthcare, Fitness & Nutrition

Growth of alternative food regimes: Aanan Khurma, Co-founder and CEO, Wellversed

“2020 has been a year of prioritising health and wellness, which is why the digital healthcare industry has experienced a boom. [There have been] many new entrants in the field: robot nutrition, neuro rehabilitation, metabolic profiling, and other advanced nutrition and healthcare segments. In 2021, we see a lot of people moving towards functional foods and dietary supplements for health management. We also expect to see a massive surge in the transition of people to alternative food regimes."


Open market healthcare model will emerge: Gaurav Gupta, Co-founder, Navia Life Care

“The health ODE (Open Digital Health ecosystem) being implemented by NDHM will change the dynamics of market plays substantially. It is estimated that over the next decade, NDHM can potentially unlock an incremental value of over Rs 1.5 lakh crore for the healthcare industry. An open market model will emerge where patients can access any provider through any platform. Healthtech companies stand to gain the most and the NDHM will drive market expansion and consumerism in the industry.”


2021 will be about new business models: Jitendra Chouksey, Founder, Fittr

“The fitness industry saw an opportunity in digital adoption, making 2020 a turning point. From being an industry that was largely dependent on physical, on-ground fitness centres, it went online with an entire gamut of services. This year, companies that invested in digital transformations and tech became stronger than ever. Moving forward, 2021 is expected to be about new business models - leveraging a mix of online and offline offerings, innovations, revival, and strengthening of businesses.”


Tier-II and III towns will emerge as sunrise destinations: Rohit Manglik, CEO, EduGorilla

“We foresee gamification and cloud technology to drive engagement and boost the user experience in e-learning. Tier-II and Tier III cities will emerge as sunrise destinations as we look to witness path-breaking reforms such as the institution of a single educational regulator and the introduction of a common entrance test to central universities to streamline the system and ensure hassle-free access to education.” 


Integration of higher education with corporate learning: Sumit Kumar, Vice President, NETAP, TeamLease Skills University

“The new guidelines for degree apprenticeships that have been proposed by the government will help higher education to integrate with corporate learning and make way for creating employable talent and bridge the skill crunch. Adoption of digitisation was brought forward by a decade in 2020 which also led to the redrafting of regulations on online education by the government.”


Real Estate

Coliving will remain a lucrative business: Kahraman Yigit, Co-Founder and CEO, Olive 

“The lockdown induced a strong need to find new ways for building and sustaining human connections than ever before. Keeping in mind the extensive offerings that co-living spaces and shared accommodations offer, along with ensuring enhanced safety protocols, this alternative will gradually become a necessity for modern migrants as they adjust and familiarise themselves with the new normal. As long as there is rising demand for affordable accommodation in cities, coliving will continue to be a lucrative business.”


Demand likely to recover to 2019 levels: Dhruv Agarwala, Group CEO, Housing.com, Makaan.com, and Proptiger.com

“We expect that the increase in sales seen since October will gain further momentum in the coming months on account of low-interest rates, stagnant housing prices, and attractive offers by developers. Demand in 2021 is likely to recover to 2019 levels and may even surpass it if there are no unforeseen negative events.” 


Tech will continue to play a leading role: Abhishek Kumar, Co-Founder and COO, MyGate

“Startups that were able to prove their existence and offerings attracted funding and sustained in the market. This trend is expected to continue in 2021. Technology will continue to play a lead role in many businesses across sectors even after we get back to our ‘old normal”. As per our estimates, around 40 percent of all housing societies in India will have adopted a community management solution by the end of 2021, as compared to just 6 percent at the end of 2019.”


EV adoption set to accelerate: Saurav Kumar, Founder and CEO, Euler Motors

“We feel that two and three-wheelers will drive strong electric vehicle demand trend in the next two years. We will see a tipping point where the curve of EV adoption starts to accelerate and become linear over the next five years. Battery prices have been drastically reduced in the last decade, and we expect them to come down further, which will help achieve the much-needed price parity for EVs. We also expect the government to incentivise Li-On battery manufacturing and achieve a significant degree of standardisation to have battery packs that suit Indian conditions.”


New opportunities and use cases will come up: Karmesh Gupta, Co-founder and CEO, WiJungle

“2021 will be a year where adoption of cloud-delivered security will be witnessed significantly and more number of local players will mark an entry in this space. In Parallel, the probable introduction of 5G by the end of 2021 could add new opportunities and use cases, leading to the new cybersecurity categories.”


“The much-awaited personal data protection bill and National Cyber Security Strategy would also further add immense value to the entire ecosystem. It is expected that % of funded local cybersecurity companies will shoot up substantially, giving cut-throat competition to foreign silos and increasing their global prominence.”

Ease of doing business, Funding, and Trends

Companies that stay fit and maintain their muscle mass will thrive: Karthik Jayaraman, Co-founder and CEO, WaycoolFoods

“I believe consumer confidence will return quickly in 2021, as the vaccination programme rolls out. The business that wins in 2021 will be the ones that used 2020 to build substance and depth. Companies that stay fit and maintain their muscle mass through 2021 will make the best of the returning consumer spends. They will also be favoured in raising growth capital, as their capabilities begin reflecting in their performance metrics as well.”


India can become the manufacturing engine of the world: Anil Agarwal, Chairman, Vedanta 

“Today, mining in India accounts for less than 2 percent of GDP but its share can climb to 6-8 percent with progressive policies that focus on ease of business, sustainable mining, reducing the carbon footprint, and enhanced production leveraging technology and innovation, India has an opportunity to become the most responsible mining and manufacturing engine of the world, generating new livelihood opportunities for our people.”


Need to fast-track execution of initiatives: Prashant Singh, Vice President and Business Head, CPO, TeamLease Services 

“For improving ease of doing business, we will need to create an environment that will attract more investments and also to fast-track execution of previously rolled out initiatives like Atmanirbhar Bharat, Digital India, Smart Cities, etc. In 2021, the focus should be on creating ease in the execution processes of the landmark labour laws amendments like Industrial Relations Code, wage code, etc. By building comprehensive technology infrastructure, the labour law compliance landscape can be simplified by close to 35 percent. In fact, sectors like IT & ITES can see 75 percent of their employees working remotely permanently once compliance is simplified and more automated.”


Java and full-stack skills the need of the hour: Naren Krishna, Head, Careers, InterviewBit & Scaler Academy

“The major sectors that will be the key drivers of the job market will undoubtedly be high-growth startups, financial GICss & IT/ITes. From a skills perspective, Java and full-stack skills continue to be major skill requirements for most startups and product-based companies. Further, the pandemic has pushed companies to adapt to completely digital and virtual recruitment, on-boarding, and engagement model, with a significant focus on recruitment cost reduction.” 


Focus will be on healthcare, fintech, and edtech: Priyanka Madnani, Co-founder, Easy to Pitch

“The pandemic has led many founders and startups to come up with innovative ideas. I am speculating that next year, we will see a boom in the number of startup founders and investments. Healthcare, fintech, and edtech are likely to be favoured for investment in 2021.”


COVID vaccine should bring the economy back to normal: Navneet Singh, Founder and CEO, Avsar HR Services

“We expect hiring will see a downward curve in the next one to two months. But, successful clinical trials of the coronavirus vaccine will reprogramme people’s minds and help them get past mental blocks. With the advent of COVID-19 immunisation, life and the economy will return to normal. We are hopeful that we will reach 80 percent of pre-COVID level blue-collar jobs by March 2021.”


This is the best time to start up: Abhinav Jain, Founder and CEO, Shop101

“If you have been thinking about starting up, this is the best time to start. For founders currently running startups, it would be about making sure that you survive the downturn and come out strong on the other side. Teams and managers will need to ensure that energy and morale stays high as remote work will continue well into 2021. We will see many innovative models come up on how different teams manage their own energy and collaborate effectively.” 


E-health, ecommerce, edtech, fintech to grow: Harshit Vyas, SVP and COO, Franchise Business, OyoIndia & South Asia

“India continues to offer the combination of a mature market and a more significant opportunity in terms of untapped audiences to the startup ecosystem. Sectors like e-health, fintech, edtech, ecommerce, and consumer tech continue to attract investors. AI and ML technologies also continue to witness a major surge with respect to investment. Many of these startup trends have already taken off in 2020 and will continue growing in 2021. If startups solve a genuine problem with tech-first solutions, there will always be financial support from investors. I’m hopeful that 2021 will be an exciting year for startups.”

Edited by Teja Lele

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