On a day when Japanese giant SoftBank announced a whopping US$2.5 billion investment into Indian ecommerce company Flipkart, Bangalore’s startup scene saw action at the other end of the spectrum, too.
A batch of 20 early stage startups graduated from Axilor – an accelerator started by Infosys founders Kris Gopalakrishnan and S D Shibulal, along with Srinath Batni and Ganapathy Venugopal, who held senior positions at the Indian IT giant, and Harvard Business School professor Tarun Khanna. While SoftBank’s investment is the biggest for any private tech company in India, the cohort of 20 is the largest for any accelerator program in the country.
Half the startups in the cohort of 20 raised funding during the program, and the ratio may rise to 70 percent.
Axilor also announced that applications are open for its next batch of 20 startups. The focus areas will remain deep tech, fintech, enterprise tech, health tech, and the consumer internet.
Axilor CEO Venugopal explained its vision. While mega rounds of late-stage funding are back in India, after a hiatus last year, “early stage startups are still underserved in institutional support and funding” – that is, in the stage after bootstrapping or angel funding.
Axilor tackled this in two ways: increase the size of the cohort to expand the pipeline of investable startups, and participate in the funding of startups from its accelerator. The results from the first large cohort are encouraging.
Six of the startups from the cohort – 80 percent of which were bootstrapped to begin with – closed funding rounds during the 100-day program, and four more are in the fundraise process, says Venugopal. That’s half of all the startups in the batch. “I expect another four to close funding, which will take the ratio to 70 percent,” adds the Axilor CEO.
The average funding value is US$400,000, and Axilor’s contribution is one-fifth of the US$5 million total funding. Venugopal clarified that the accelerator program’s objective is not to find startups for Axilor to invest in, so it is happy to play a supportive role in funding for a 12-15 month runway.
Traction and go-to-market
For example, Multibashi, a Duolingo for learning English from Indian languages and vice versa, saw the install base of its app go from 10,000 to 80,000. Its founder, Anuradha Agarwal, says her biggest learning from the program was clarity on target groups.
English learning for blue collar professions is a big market in India. So Multibashi made customized learning modules around real-life situations for cab drivers, nurses, field sales people, call centers, and so on. This not only helped with traction, but opened doors for monetization via partnerships with employers of these bluee collar workers.
Maroon, an enterprise tech startup using AI for predictive analytics to find better leads for sales and marketing, landed a pilot project with global giant, thanks to an introduction made by one of the mentors in the accelerator program. Maroon co-founder and CEO Anant Sharma says the startup already had a robust product but its sales efforts went from “back door entry to a top-down approach” in the course of the program, because of the enterprise connections of the mentors.
In a mature ecosystem like the US, an accelerator program can focus on one piece of the puzzle, because there are multiple well-developed programs, with one passing the baton to another. In India, the program has to be multi-faceted, from refining the idea to funding and go-to-market support, Venugopal explains to Tech in Asia. That’s what Axilor aims to do.