The Startup Catalyst

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Microsoft’s global initiative, Microsoft Ventures, to empower entrepreneurs has played a game-changing role for Indian start-up ecosystem through its multiple accelerator programs. As a technology enabler, Microsoft took it to the next level earlier last year by letting corporate looking for innovative solutions to engage with start-ups.

Dinesh Saini
Ravi Narayan, Director, Microsoft Ventures

Ravi Narayan, the man with the task and Director, Microsoft Ventures in India, reflects on the current state of affairs of the ecosystem and at Microsoft Ventures, talking to Entrepreneur.

There are already cracks in the ecosystem in terms of business models. Do you see them getting wider?

Two-thirds of the start-ups getting funded these days are into e-commerce marketplaces and consumer services, creating a valuation bubble. In 2016, we will see a little correction in their business models, which is a positive happening as it is always good to take stock as an investor of how your investment thesis is better suited to possibilities that are emerging. However, every ecosystem has its highs and lows and it corrects itself time to time.

How would funding slowdown impact business growth?

While there is no shortage of funding in the market for entrepreneurs who have traction, raising funds is not a success indicator. Start-ups should raise funds when they really need to. On the other hand, if you see some of the world-class products, they have been built by start-ups that haven’t raised any money such as digital signatures and documents filling app SignEasy and Zoho that offers online productivity tools and SaaS applications.

Where do you see the next start-up wave coming in?

We are witnessing start-ups which are not just technology but a deep technology focused in areas like IoT, security, achine learning and analytics. However, they are not in large proportion. These start-ups, particularly in analytics and IoT space, will come up across sectors including healthcare, education and retail. Also, many start-ups are going to build products and services directly onto the mobile.

Microsoft Ventures had earlier tied up with investors like Sequoia and Accel Partners to support their portfolio start-ups. How are you taking that forward?

Over the last three years, investors have played various roles in our programs, not just as investors, but also as mentors and evangelists. The most recent development is the #CoInnovate program announced earlier in 2015 where we work with venture capitalists under our High Potential program and they can nominate late-stage start-ups from their portfolios to be accelerated at Microsoft Ventures.

Brief us about the program.

During the last few years in India, we identified that market access remains one of the biggest stumbling blocks for start-ups, while corporates and governments often struggle to identify the right business partner. As trusted advisors to both start-ups and corporate, we have been able to bridge this gap through #CoInnovate by identifying their critical needs and connecting them with each other. So the program is an agreement of cooperation and collaboration of Microsoft with corporate and has three components called Market Access program, High Potential program and Partner in Acceleration program.

Do you think corporates would be biased in choosing start-ups?

There might be as corporate certainly know about solutions that are right for them. But if start-ups are able to tie up with corporate as potential partners or customers and interact with them, then either the corporates or start-ups will change their mind how they want to approach the other. As far as Microsoft is concerned, we don’t choose better start-ups, we only enable them with technology.

Currently there is no formal definition given to startup. What would you suggest?

Start-ups should be those companies that are disrupting the status quo through innovation in business model, technology, process or delivery channels. Sometimes companies building sustainable businesses in creating markets can also be called start-ups.