This has been the year for India, entrepreneurs, VCs, consumers, and enterprises, says Varsha Tagare of Qualcomm Ventures at TechSparks 2021
Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, Indian startups suffered a major funding crunch. However, as digital adoption in the country spiked and startups figured ways to power through the crisis, investor appetite, too, increased globally, especially in homegrown Indian startups.
According to YourStory Research, the year 2019 saw 579 early-stage investments, which rose to 616 in 2020, and 606 by August 2021.
At TechSparks 2021, YourStory's flagship startup tech event, Varsha Tagare, Managing Director, Qualcomm Ventures, spoke about the driving force behind this interest and why homegrown startups are a better investment option today.
As the Managing Director of Qualcomm Ventures, Varsha oversees a $150 million fund dedicated to India and cross-border investments focused on 5G, Digital Enterprise, AI, Auto, and IoT.
Fighting it out with resilience
According to Varsha, although the last 18 months were a dark time for Qualcomm's portfolio companies, they pulled it together through resilience, resourcefulness, and compassion.
Some of its portfolio startups include, Jio Platforms, , , and YourStory, among others.
"This has been the year for India, for entrepreneurs, VCs, consumers, and enterprises. The Freshworks IPO gave me goosebumps, a decacorn born in India arriving in New York in style is a landmark win our country," she says.
Moreover, deeptech companies showing good traction, entrepreneurs not worrying about liquidity anymore, and widespread adoption of businesses across sectors for both the Indian and global market are some trends she noticed in 2021.
Why invest in homegrown startups?
Varsha believes in the potential of homegrown tech solutions to create a global impact. Qualcomm Ventures-backedbecame the third Indian SaaS startup to become a unicorn with a valuation of $1.2 billion.
According to her, SaaS businesses have proved themselves in three aspects. First, the ability to build enterprise-grade products from India. Second, the ability to sell the product worldwide and get global acceptance. And third, the ability to onboard customers cross-border and efficiently provide customer support around the clock.
"We're witnessing progress in SaaS companies. Initially, they used to build the product in low-cost geography and sell in higher-revenue geography. Today, we see the proof of the pudding. They've come a long way from just a concept to a large revenue-generating company," she says.
Another of Qualcomm’s portfolio companies —— is among the top five companies in the global wearables market. It is the first Indian brand to do so.
An innate focus on the product and understanding the consumer taste contributed to its growth. The company works with Qualcomm on sound technology to provide a fantastic experience on low bandwidth for user audio.
"BoAt has been at it for years. They come up with new ways to improve user experience and ensure the product appeals to the mainstream Indian customer. That's been their secret sauce," she said.
In the logistics sector, Qualcomm is enabling Locus to become a global last-mile automation leader. A majority of the company's revenue comes from international markets, especially North America.
With Locus' deep AI and technology background and Qualcomm's knowledge share in the US market, it was a meeting of minds.
Recently, the Indian Army signed a contract of about $20 million with IdeaForge. The Qualcomm Ventures-backed company is over a decade old, and this breakthrough is a testament to why investors should bet on homegrown startups.
"Ideaforge is a product of passion. They're growing a homegrown high performing drone that can survive our borders and can do long-range flights on a budget of power and capital," says Varsha.
The company works with Qualcomm on a WiFi Tech collaboration to enable drones to have a good range of communication. It is also collaborating with Qualcomm’s business team in India and the technology team in the US to understand new trends in product and design and to build Qualcomm's next-generation robotics platform.
Where Qualcomm looks to invest?
Going forward, Varsha says Qualcomm is focusing on the mobility ecosystem. It is also keeping an eye out for companies applying AI, working on 5G-related infrastructure technology or applications like gaming, helping auto or IoT devices, and security companies.
Varsha concludes, saying, "We think the networks, development tools, and the ability to build quick models using AI technology is here. All the developer issues are resolved. and the network issues to deploy this technology is resolved. This is the perfect time for entrepreneurs to pick up any of these verticals and run with it."
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