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Why is digital a must-have for new-age Indian entrepreneurs Government initiatives like Startup India that are focused on nurturing innovation and providing opportunities to budding entrepreneurs are a much-needed fillip.

By Harsh Mariwala

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The pandemic has ushered in a digital wave and riding high on it are young Indian entrepreneurs, who are using technology to solve various problems and introducing innovative digital products and services. In 2020, India added more than 1,600 tech startups making it the third-largest tech startup hub in the world according to industry body NASSCOM.

This year alone the Indian startup ecosystem has notched up 33 unicorns or those privately held startups valued at $1 billion or more. The new unicorns are across a range of sectors and include Digit Insurance (insurtech), Innovaccer (healthtech), Meesho (social Commerce), CRED (fintech), Pharmeasy (healthtech), Groww (fintech), Urban Company (home services marketplace), upGrad (higher education), and CoinDCX, the Indian crypto startup to join the coveted unicorn club. India was also rated among the top 50 innovative countries on the Global Innovation Index, owing to the vibrant startup ecosystem and its entrepreneurs who are at the forefront of creating global disruption.

During the pandemic, however, even established Indian start-ups had to pivot their business models to stay afloat, survive the current crisis, and thus become more efficient and resilient. The increased penetration of the Internet, along with an increase in smartphone adoption, has also contributed to India's leapfrogging towards becoming a digital economy. The number of active Internet users in India is projected to grow from 622 million in 2020 to over 900 million by 2025, driven by affordable smartphones and data tariffs. With 5G services expected to begin in 2022, the Indian economy will see a further surge in demand for digital services and applications.

Therefore, building digital solutions requires entrepreneurs to have a clear roadmap that should include upskilling and reskilling employees and building new talent pools. As the digital landscape matures in the country, entrepreneurs must rethink their services and business models to thrive in a market that is nearing the Industry 4.0 landmark. E-commerce websites and apps, with supporting digital presence, discoverability, and payment solutions, will play a huge role in businesses' success. In addition, regional language capabilities on these digital platforms will also ensure a better presence in local markets.

Be it the rise of regional language voice technology startups such as Vernacular.ai, or the rising adoption of contactless digital technology for financial transactions such as UPIor hyper-local business models of startups such as PayNearby or Meesho, the stage is set for India's entrepreneurs to go global. One of the biggest opportunities for entrepreneurs today is to capitalize on the increased adoption of online services and create a long-term behavioral change in the way people shop, consume media, seek medical services and education, and generally get things done. The acceleration of digital technologies, the rise of E-commerce, and modern trade have opened new opportunities for young entrepreneurs to launch brands that are created and sold digitally.

Direct to consumers (D2C) brands such as Mamaearth, mCaffeine and Kapiva have been on a run since the pandemic forced shops and malls around the world to shut down early last year. According to reports, about 146 D2C firms in India have raised half a billion dollars since the start of 2020, almost equaling the amount they raised over the previous five years.

Government initiatives like Startup India that are focused on nurturing innovation and providing opportunities to budding entrepreneurs are a much-needed fillip. Creating a robust digital ecosystem would enable young entrepreneurs to leverage the opportunities of a digital future and win on a global stage. The ASCENT Foundation 6th edition of e-conclave for entrepreneurs on November 26, 2021 is centered around the theme of "Decoding Disruption' and will aim to offer examples of individuals who have looked at disruptions proactively and have succeded to ensure business growth by agility to adapt.

Harsh Mariwala

Founder, ASCENT

Harsh Mariwala is the Founder of ASCENT and also the Chairman of Marico Limited.
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