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‘Through startups, we are becoming a product nation’

NEW DELHI :

Microsoft, which launched a new programme to help artificial intelligence (AI) startups scale up, claims to have around 1,000 startups that have been part of its programmes. In an interview, Sangeeta Bavi, director, startup ecosystem, Microsoft India, talks about the immense growth potential for Indian software-as-a-service (SaaS) firms and how accelerators can help realize the goals. Edited excerpts:

What do accelerator programmes typically do to help startups?

Every startup founder has one disruptive idea, either in terms of tech or business. But they don’t know how to scale the company after hitting the $1 million ARR (annual recurring revenue) threshold. To scale from $1 million to $10 million, a lot of hand-holding is required and that essentially can come from the corporate, academia and the government in different forms. Our goal is to provide platforms with out-of-the-box integrations, which will enable them to offer end-to-end security and build architecture for their platforms that can scale as the number of users grows to 1,000, 10,000 or 200,000.

The availability of talent required to scale is not there at a scale that we are churning out startups in India. For that, we are doing a lot of work on tech enablement and digital skilling.

How decisive is the role of startups in India’s growth story?

SaaS startups are future disruptors. Whatever SaaS startups are there in the world right now, India accounts for only 2%. Imagine the kind of opportunity there is. The SaaS market is growing and will continue to grow. Imagine if we can get the right kind of products or startups from India at a global stage, like what Freshworks has done. We were a services country, but through startups we are pivoting and becoming a product nation.

How inclusive are these accelerator programmes? What is being done to make them more accessible to startups from small cities?

More communities and industries are looking at bringing in startups from smaller towns and creating an ecosystem of startups in emerging hubs. At Microsoft, we do a lot of developer evangelism work with our community of trusted brand ambassadors. They are not part of Microsoft, but they are Microsoft tech advocates. Many of the partners are active in small towns. They own their developer communities and, through them, we do a lot of digital and technology skilling for developers in various communities. About 20% of developers who are part of the communities are startups. Many of these startups eventually are incorporated into our programmes.

How did covid impact the startup programmes?

Covid-19 has helped us go online. While we would go back to the hybrid model of engaging with startups at some point in time, what covid-19 has essentially done is help us scale the programmes. Earlier, a mentorship session for startups was restricted to a city. Going completely digital has helped us get a lot of startups that are not from Delhi-NCR, Bengaluru and Mumbai.

On an average, I have the luxury of talking to 20-30 startups a week. Earlier, with all the travel, the number used to be far lower.

How have these startup programmes benefited Microsoft?

Startups give us signals of what is going to become mainstream in technology and business. We have to either embrace all these disruptions now or we will be forced to do it after it becomes mainstream. Also, our engineering team gets to learn how our products can be made better because startups know how to use the products. They are absolutely at the cutting edge of technology. Ultimately, Microsoft continues to be a platform provider and startups are building interesting solutions on top of these tech platforms.

Microsoft has launched industry- and tech-specific programmes. How do you reach a decision?

We have launched a programme for social impact. But we are focused on fintech. In the last 6-7 years, our engineering has pivoted on industries, and that’s why we have all the Azure industry clouds, such as financial industry cloud, manufacturing industry cloud and retail industry cloud. For these specific industries, we have relevant programmes for startups.

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