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‘NetApp Excellerator’ Programme: A Long Time Aid To Tech Startups

Recently, NetApp launched its 6th cohort of its flagship startup accelerator program NetApp Excellerator, with an aim of sharing their tech expertise with innovative startup

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Aikaan Labs, Cyborgintell, IQLECT, KoineArth, Kubesafe, and Myelin Foundry are the six startups selected for the 6th cohort. They specialise in providing solutions in the fields of IoT, Blockchain technology, predictive analytics across various sectors like healthcare, BFSI, IT, and e-commerce.

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Women In Tech: Shilpa Hiran, Senior Manager, Internal Audit, NetApp

Tech firms like Google has been expanding its programme for startups that work on the solutions, in order to solve real-life challenges coping up with the new normal post COVID. They have laid a special focus on health tech, fintech, edtech, agritech, retail and SaaS startups. What are NetApp’s objectives like? Madhurima Agarwal, Leader, NetApp Excellerator spills the beans.

How are seed-stage startups finding opportunities to tide over cash crunch during COVID 19?

Currently, the mantra for seed-stage startups is to conserve cash or find alternative cash flow methods. A major trend we have seen is in product-based startups working on new-age tech such as AI and ML offering additional services to existing clients. This helps them generate cash while they wait for product installations, which is a longer cycle. Similarly, several of them are venturing into the SaaS model to bring in some more revenue which will aid their working capital management. 

In this scenario, B2B startups are faring relatively better as they are not as badly impacted by COVID. Investments are still available for promising startups. For example, Myelin Foundry, a startup, part of the NetApp Excellerator’s sixth cohort recently raised a round of funding. While a lot of organizations have gone ahead with pay cuts, we do have startups like Lightmetrics, an alumnus from our first cohort, that are doling out bonuses and increments as planned for this year. Therefore, the future for B2B startups definitely has scope and potential. 

What kind of innovations in the B2B ecosystem have come to sight through the accelerator program?

The advent of corporate accelerators has worked wonders for the B2B startup ecosystem, enabling the startups to, as the word itself suggests, “accelerate” their journey. The accelerators provide them deeper insights into customer requirements and help the startups pivot their product portfolio accordingly. They help startups answer the question – ‘what is it that will sell?’. This brings in agility, relevance and reduces their go-to-market time. Accelerators in general give the participating startups access to a multitude of offerings, right from mentorship to investor connects, who not only provide funds but also offer a landscape view of the ecosystem that brings invaluable perspective. This is very important for startups and helps them differentiate between real innovation and imitation. 

At our corporate accelerator called NetApp Excellerator, we focus on three key areas – product, customer, and VC connect. Almost all our alumni have come back and told us we enabled them to become enterprise grade.  They were able to build products that can be implemented on a global scale, develop relevant insights on customer needs, and tailor product pitches to appeal to potential customers, as well as forge strong investor and industry connections. 

Could you elaborate on the success of the NetApp Excellerator program?

We have seen tremendous success from our five cohorts till date.  We have formed ten technology alliances in less than three years with select startups from each cohort to go-to-market with them. The strength of the program reflects in the success stories from the previous cohorts. Last year, Adya (first cohort), was acquired by Qualys, a leading provider of cloud-based security and compliance solutions. Similarly, ArchSaber, from the second cohort, and VitaCloud from the first cohort, have also had successful exits. Additionally, over 60% of startups have secured follow-on funding post-graduation from the program.

In light of the unprecedented pandemic situation, our startups are providing innovating solutions. Lightwing, one of the startups from our fifth cohort has launched a free cloud audit tool, named Lightwing Smart Advisor. This helps companies assess cloud compute costs and implement the necessary automation on their own in under 60 mins to reduce costs during this pandemic. CloudSEK, also part of the same cohort, is helping customers and staff during COVID-19 by making two of its work from home security-focused modules free for all customers.

How the future of the supply chain would look like with regards to Blockchain in a post COVID world?

The supply chain is going to see huge positive changes in the future. There are two key aspects to this: distribution and digitization. Traditionally, suppliers were concentrated in select regions, which has proven to be a risky model in the COVID world. Instead of relying on a few key suppliers, distribution is more likely to be diversified across various regions. We might see a trend of production moving back home so that uninterrupted supply is ensured. Blockchain will transform this by tracking every aspect of the supply chain to make it seamless.

Similarly, with suppliers spread out across various locations outside the standard clusters, digitization will be integral in ensuring digitized contracts, as opposed to physical ones, between the client and the supplier.  Blockchain 2.0 will play a major role in this in terms of building trust as tracking will become easier. A startup from our sixth cohort, Koinearth, is working on this model and is readying the world for the future of new ways of supply chain management. By digitizing the buyer-supplier relationship, they are helping build a sturdy supply chain to recruit new suppliers quickly. They are bringing together digitization and distribution and making it easier for companies to tide over such unforeseen circumstances. 

We will also see changes in buying behaviour and the supplier-buyer relationship.  During this pandemic, suppliers are facing challenges because of payment cycles that are currently enforced, causing cash crunch. They may need a relook at all the contracts. For example, companies like Unilever have already agreed to pay their suppliers upfront. 

What is the importance of deep tech startups in the COVID world?

The role of deep tech startups in the COVID world is seen in three phases – work from home, return to work, and accelerating growth of the industry. We have all witnessed the kind of impact deep tech has had on work from home and this will be seen in the other two phases as well. Tech like AI and IoT can make a huge impact on supply chain to identify customer requirements, predict when the supply will reach, material management and stock taking. These technologies will also play an integral role in the ‘getting back to the workplace phase’. As companies decide to get the workforce back to work, things like management of employee attendance, tracking and ensuring the right people are at work, technologies such as computer vision will play a big role. Cardiotrack, a startup from our third cohort, has built an enterprise solution that will automatically recognize the employee, monitor his or her temperature, give access and record the movement in office through a contactless method. A lot of deep tech startups are focusing on the pharma sector, where computer power is being utilised to figure out how existing drugs can be repurposed to derive potential cures or vaccines for COVID. A lot of changes can be seen in our social and professional lives due to deep tech startups in the post COVID world.

In terms of accelerating growth, AI and ML will come into play to derive insights from the vast amounts of data available and decide the best course of action. Several of our alumni are revolutionizing this space. Curl Analytics and Cyborgintell help enterprises select the best ML algorithms and make this process more accessible and easier to implement. In the BFSI domain, deep tech startups allow organizations to identify the right target segment and provide proactive and personal customer support. If you look at cybersecurity and fraud detection, these startups are doing fantastic work, making sure the data is secure throughout the process and privacy of the customers is maintained. Deep tech startups such as CloudSEK, part of our fifth cohort also assist in cybersecurity and fraud detection and recognize what data is vulnerable to what sort of threat. In the pharma industry, AI is poised to revolutionize routine tasks and make great headway into research and analysis. Other startups like Anlyz and InstaSafe implement perimeter and network security, as it is paramount for any organization’s framework. In terms of IoT too, Aikaan Labs, part of our current cohort, help with IoT device management, which can be a huge challenge otherwise, considering the increasing number of connected devices. These startups are, therefore, integral in the functioning of enterprises. 

What is the role of AI in startups today?

Artificial Intelligence is already redefining the way we live and interact and startups are crucial in accelerating this. To put it in simple terms, there is over 40 trillion gigabytes of data today with 2.5 quintillion bytes of data generated each day as per Tech Jury. AI helps leverage this data and turn data into insights. It has brought a paradigm shift in automating repetition and reducing workload in research in healthcare. In the BFSI sector, it improves customer interactions and engagement. AI is ubiquitous and all pervasive and thus it makes it that much more important that startups are finding new and innovative ways to leverage it and find solutions to real-world problems. 

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