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Building Bridges Across Regions: A MENA Perspective on DHI Labs' Impact Chapter Event in India

Building Bridges Across Regions: A MENA Perspective on DHI Labs' Impact Chapter Event in India
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Impact Chapter, a two-day event organized by Germany-based startup incubator DHI Labs in April at Hyderabad, India, saw more than 400 participants coming in for the event all the way from South America, Germany, the Middle East, and of course, India. With the number of attendees being almost double what the organizers originally expected, the huge interest showed a great appetite from Indian startups to learn, grow and, ideally, get the investment needed to scale from specialists across the globe. The Indian market is specific because of its sheer size and regional diversity, but over the course of two days, some trends have shown themselves. It also highlighted the strong bond between MENA-based organizations and India, with three Dubai-based companies presenting at the conference: Pi-Slice, The Sustainability Platform, and VentureFin. Here’s what we learned from our experience at the event:

1. Tech is (still) king

A vast majority of startups attending the conference had a strong tech focus. Tech-based solutions are the great equalizer, allowing entrepreneurs from different regional, education and cultural backgrounds access markets on a much larger scale than previously possible. However, while the business models are adapted to the Indian market and answer some specific needs in new ways, there is also a lot of “borrowing” from successful businesses abroad. Innovation is going to be what separated the enthusiasts from serious entrepreneurs raising rounds A and B. The leading startups at the conference had heavy data-driven, consumer focused, analytical tools that can streamline processes in a range of industries. One of the companies, winning the DHI Labs’ Impact Chapter Start-up Challenge, called Nukkad Shops, has a highly localized, fully integrated e-commerce platform for vendors to access their regional markets and monitor PoS and inventory, track delivery, providing deep consumer analytics to all clientele.

2. The social impact factor

Lots of startups are identifying gaps in the services available in the market, such as education and healthcare. Entrepreneurs are focusing on bringing the private sector efficiency into sectors that have traditionally been run by government. High-tech healthcare solutions, especially ones focusing on prevention and diagnostics, seem to be in high demand, with companies such as NanoHealth providing diagnostic tools and healthcare to over 30,000 patients in urban slums over the last few months. With a growing, young population, India is the right market for educational and healthcare startups looking to disrupt and optimize the system. However, most of these startups –unlike NanoHealth- are not looking to tackle the “bottom of the pyramid” markets, leaving out a significant portion of the population under-served.

Related: The MENA Startup Ecosystem: Problems And (Potential) Solutions

3. Global aspirations

The main question on everyone’s lips is: how do I connect with global investors? MENA investors seem to be in particularly high demand, given the proximity and the good relations between the regions. The Indian startup scene should definitely start attracting more and more global investors in the coming times, as the high quality and huge potential to scale make it very appealing. The majority of startups we have interacted with over the course of two days have business models and solutions that could play an important role in solving some of the MENA problems, such as youth unemployment and a gap in vocational training.

4. Incubators and accelerators: an opportunity

One of the most interesting parts of the conference was connecting with various incubators and accelerators. They present a great opportunity for sharing knowledge and experiences between regions and countries, as well as shaping the next wave of Indian entrepreneurs. These are fertile grounds for potential investors to cherry pick some of the most advanced startups, as well as a couple of revolutionary idea-stage companies. T-Hub, which has recently launched in Hyderabad sporting a Google-esque campus, currently has 200 start-ups currently incubating, with over 1000 on the waiting list. With the massive Indian population living in the UAE, this creates a unique bridge between the subcontinent and the MENA region to transfer knowledge, investment, and high-quality solutions being applied to a shared market.

5. Look to the East

India has long stopped being synonymous with low-cost labor and call centers (from a Western and Middle Eastern perspective). Its bustling startup scene points to a very bright future of innovation, social change and disruptive systems. Investors, consultants and others involved in the entrepreneurial space should do themselves a favor and start looking further east for the next big idea.

Related: The Middle East Is Ripe For Technology Entrepreneurship