How AkzoNobel’s ‘Paint the Future’ India Startup Challenge 2022 is set to reimagine the paint consumers’ journey

YourStory got together with the senior leadership of AkzoNobel, the maker of Dulux paints in India, to delve deep into their India Startup Challenge 2022, understand how digital solutions can enhance paint consumer experience, and what startups stand to benefit from this challenge.
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A recent NASSCOM report mentioned 2020-30 as the ‘techade’. Digital tech is transforming the future of organisations. The pandemic has further accelerated this adoption. As consumers increasingly turn to digital natives, tech disruption is reimagining the consumer journey across industries.

Case in point is the Indian paints and coatings industry. When you think of ‘paint’, does mixing and stirring chemicals or manufacturing come to your mind? Think again! Digital tech like Artificial Intelligence (AI), Augmented Reality (AR), VR (virtual reality), Internet of Things (IoT), metaverse, image recognition, big data and analytics, and more are transforming paint consumers’ journey and unleashing new opportunities in the industry.

That’s why, frontrunning organisations are embracing the strategic edge of collaborative innovation. In 2019, AkzoNobel, a leading global paint and coatings company (the maker of Dulux paints) launched Paint the Future initiative. Four years on, it’s already the world’s largest collaborative innovation ecosystem in the paints and coatings industry.

YourStory organised an exclusive discussion with the senior leadership at AkzoNobel — featuring Rajiv Rajgopal, Managing Director; Mignon d'Arnaud, Project Lead, Paint the Future; and Vandana Krishnia, Head, Marketing - Paints, AkzoNobel India to know more about their India Startup Challenge 2022 on digital consumer experience, how their partnership agreements accelerate the winners’ growth trajectory, and where AkzoNobel sees opportunities for collaboration with startups.

A snapshot of AkzoNobel’s growth story

Kicking off the discussion, Mignon shared that innovation is at the centre of AkzoNobel’s ethos. Offering a snapshot of the company’ global footprint, she highlighted how in 2021, AkzoNobel generated a revenue of £9.6 billion, £1.1 billion adjusted OPI, £1.4 billion adjusted EBITDA, and 16 percent return on investment.

When it comes to AkzoNobel’s innovation power, we have spent £1.25 billion on R&D in the last five years. This includes our 3,000 scientists, 70 laboratories, 5 global technology centres – including one in Bengaluru and 3,100+ patents,” she added.

But is it enough? Not really. Paints is a large industry ready for the next revolution. For AkzoNobel, innovation and collaboration are the difference between a good future and a great future for the paints and coatings industry. That’s where Paint the Future – their collaborative innovation ecosystem comes in.

Paint the Future: A deep dive

This initiative hinges on three pillars — business, brand, and culture, shared Mignon. As pioneers of paints and coatings, AkzoNobel brings a lot to the table for its partner startups – 200 years of its knowledge, enrichment by AkzoNobel experts to each startup’s submission, and connections with 3,500+ other innovators on the Paint the Future ecosystem.

Until now, 25 collaborations have been launched. Paint the Future has attracted 10,065 participants. Our experts have 1,204 vetted proposals and we have reached out to 214 million people through our nine programs till now,” she added.

It’s the win-win approach that makes their India Startup Challenge most unique. For the winners, more doors open as they enter AkzoNobel’s Accelerator program and win customised partnership agreements that accelerate and scale up their innovations into the market. What’s more, they receive global recognition by associating with the largest collaboration innovation ecosystem in the paint industry.

In March 2022, AkzoNobel hosted the bootcamp for their global startup challenge finalists at the bootcamp in Amsterdam. Post three days of collaboration and 120 expert sessions, they signed the letters of intent with three winning startups. Now, these unique solutions have already entered its six-month accelerator program.

Wondering what happens to the winners after that? In 2019, AkzoNobel awarded a business partnership to Qlayers – one of the winners of its global startup challenge. By 2020, they took this partnership to the next level by conducting an industry first pilot together. Come 2021, AkzoNobel went on to acquire a stake in Qlayers.

The Indian landscape

Offering an overview of the paints industry, Rajiv shared that the market today is valued at Rs 55,000 crore, wherein 75 percent is focused on decorative painting. In India, this industry is growing 1.75X the GDP - which clearly highlights the potential the industry holds.

There are also several growth drivers that support this. There’s immense growth potential – India’s per capita paint consumption in India is less than one-third of the global average. Over the years, the re-painting cycle in homes has shortened. Today, Indian homeowners are far more informed, aware, and involved. Moreover, even pre-COVID, digital had started to play a huge role in this industry,” he said.

The Paint the Future India Startup Challenge is all about accelerating consumer-centric digital disruptions by Indian startups – the backbone of new India, to a global stage.

We aim to discover digital solutions that can boost the magic of Dulux Paints and transform the way consumers experience our products and services. We've already started making investments in startups globally. We are very keen as far as India is concerned and want to see how we can invest and co-create with the top contenders,” added Rajiv.

The use case for startups in the consumer journey

The decorative painting process is considered to be time-consuming, unorganised, and complicated by homeowners. As Vandana Krishnia highlighted, Digital solutions of startups can enhance home painting experience across the consumer’s painting journey – from planning and painting to post-care.

Paint the Future’s India Startup Challenge is looking for digital solutions that can provide but are not limited to:

1. Immersive digital Experience to homeowners during the planning stage so that they get inspired and can visualise the best look for their homes.

2. At the painting stage, computer vision, image processing, and AI technologies can support homeowners to monitor the progress of their decorative painting project.

3. Across the painting journey, homeowners seek reviews and credential checks to validate their decisions.

4. Homeowners value advice given by trusted sources - automated solutions through voice-bots/chatbots or workflow-based communication aids can bridge this gap.

5. IoT and image processing solutions that smartly assess wall health and make maintenance decisions easier for consumers is another opportunity.

If you have a solution or think your solution can lend itself to any of these areas, now is the time to join our India Startup Challenge 2022. We’re open for submissions only till May 31”, she added.

For startups with disruptive tech, now is their chance to submit their solutions at https://letspaintthefuture.com/india-challenge, get experts to enrich their submissions, and literally Paint the Future.

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