[Tech50] From edtech to AI-as-a-Service: How CellStrat plans to unleash the power of its developers’ community

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CellStrat, a YourStory Tech50 2021 startup, has curated a global AI community of over 15,000 enthusiasts through its edtech platform and is now growing a global developer platform for AI projects and APIs on the Cloud
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The transition from simply delivering a product to building a community has the potential to unlock extraordinary competitive advantages, a superior business model and endless business propositions.  

When Artificial Intelligence (AI) expert Vivek and Vishal Singhal started out with a simple learning platform for AI enthusiasts, they had envisioned the potential of what they was building—a strong community of trained AI developers and the ensuing business opportunities to be built on top of it. 

In the course of educating and training AI developers through his platform CellStrat, the founders had discovered that his “alumni” (the ones they trained) did not have an easy-to-access “AI development environment” on which they can learn, develop and deploy AI efficiently. They realised they had to spend substantial sums in hiring tech talent. Even then, they found it hard to develop AI solutions and launch them due to complex algorithms and deployment architectures. 

There was a definite gap and potential business opportunity for CellStrat to leg up and go beyond training and learning. 

Moreover, it seemed only natural for the startup, which had built a community of over 300 AI scientists and a global AI community of more than 15,000 professionals on its platform, to launch a packaged cloud platform to ease the entire process for both the parties. 

This marks the beginning of the whole ideology of CellStrat, which is among YourStory's Tech50 list of most promising early stage startups, and what it offers today, at the back of its AI developers community.

Simply put, CellStrat, registered under parent company Etruevalue, is serving two segments with its single platform—edtech and enterprise. It offers training courses and bootcamps for both beginners and experienced AI professionals, and then equips them with developer tools and APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) to enable them to develop AI products for enterprises. 

Companies, especially startups and SMBs, can utilise the ready-made APIs offered by the platform and collaborate with developers for easy deployment of AI in their systems, mitigating the need of hiring large tech teams for the same.  

“Edtech does remain a core part of our offering but we are building something much bigger than that. Edtech is just a kickstart to bring together global developers on a single platform,” says Vivek, who worked across various enterprises in the US, including Schlumberger and AT&T, for years before coming back to India to start his entrepreneurial journey. 

The duo had previously co-founded Locville Online, a home and lifestyle ecommerce venture, and Healthiply, a healthtech startup focused on early detection of medical  issues.

The community builder 

The entrepreneurial bug had caught Vivek, an Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT) Roorkee and Georgia State University alumnus, during his startup stint at Healthiply, where he was looking at AI as a “differentiator” for predictive healthcare.

“AI itself is a hard concept to learn and it is even harder to find a simple-to-use AI development environment. Inspite of existence of big cloud and tech stack providers, learning, developing and deploying AI is challenging. Our aim is to simplify these three challenges together [sic],” says Vivek. 

He further explains, “Even for an enterprise, deploying AI can become extremely challenging as they have to hire an entire team of developers, architects and cloud experts. We realised the gap and decided to pick up the first problem with our edtech offering.” 

Soon after starting up, Vivek was joined by his brother Vishal as a Co-founder. Vishal had previously worked across tech firms and startups and is also author of book titled 'How should we use Artificial Intelligence?'

A dual offering 

CellStrat’s key clients are AI developers, learners, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMBs) and startups. 

It offers various “AI project packs” for beginners and professionals to choose from. These packs contain ready-made AI projects preloaded in an online coding environment, that will help learners get hands-on experience and practice. Learners can get started with Python, Machine Learning (ML) algorithms in Python, Deep Learning (DL), Natural Language Processing (NLP), Reinforcement Learning (RL), Generative Modelling (GANs), Graph Neural Networks and so on, and then operationalise these “projects” as Artificial Intelligence-as-a-Service (AIaaS) on the cloud. 

It has tied up with over 25 universities/colleges to offer these training courses and conducts bootcamps for rapid user adoption by students, including IITs and Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs). According to the startup, approximately 5,000 developers were using the platform within six months of launch in 2021, witnessing 50 percent month over month growth rate in users. 

“We have conducted close to 500 webinars to date and the number is growing by each day. India alone has 4 million engineering students in 7,000 engineering colleges. Therefore, the AI developer tools opportunity is massive,” says Vivek. 

For the enterprises, CellStrat provides the “deployment capability” by offering ready-made APIs for easy AI inference on mobile or web apps. This helps companies launch AI in a simpler and a low cost mechanism. 

The platform allows multiple developers on the platform to come together and work on a particular project for an enterprise. It has 120+ bundled AI projects bundled on its platform and many more in the pipeline. 

‘Just scratched the surface’

The startup, which is now registered in Delaware, US, has raised $1,40,000 so far from five angel investors. It doesn’t charge any fee for the courses offered for now and aims to monetise the platform with enterprise licenses in future. It plans to launch a full-fledged AI-as-a-Service marketplace by January 2022. 

According to CellStrat, its annual revenue ranges between Rs 25 lakh and Rs 1 crore and is valued at $7 million with an annual recurring revenue (ARR) of $0.06 million.

With increased adoption of tech in business, CellStrat is looking to drive platform adoption with 1,00,000 developers, onboard 50 SMB/ enterprise clients, and improve global market penetration by the coming year. 

“Our aim is to become one of the top global AI innovation firms with cutting-edge development tools and AI Service APIs on the Cloud. The goal is to on-board over one million developers, and add 5,00 SMB/ enterprises to our growing clientele base in the next two years,” says Vivek. 

The startup believes its USP (unique selling point) lies in its large community of developers which will allow it to monetise on several business angles besides edtech. “We are building a horizontal developers ecosystem like GitHub or Postman and are looking into building a strong AI marketplace in future. Our initial captive audience is the four million engineering students in India and our long term audience is the 40 million global developers,” says Vivek. GitHub provides an open-source platform to developers and programmers to collaboratively work on code while Postman offers an complete API development environment for developers. 

Besides edtech firms and big cloud providers, the startup faces competition from global AI Labs such as Hugging Face and Open AI, which have offer similar solutions, besides Chennai-based NimbleBox.ai.

A report by Analytics India pegs the size of the AI market in India at $6 billion, and with massive cloud adoption and AI proliferation, it is on an upward trajectory. At such a juncture, CellStrat is expected to be among the companies that will ‘Build in India’ for the world in a category likely to attract more investment.  

Edited by Ramarko Sengupta