startup: ET Startup Awards 2022: India may ride out global storm

Indian startups with strong unit economics will fare better than their overseas counterparts amid global turmoil, according to founders, investors and policymakers attending the eighth edition of The Economic Times Startup Awards, India’s most coveted accolade for entrepreneurial excellence. Despite the headwinds pummeling markets worldwide, India has emerged as a bright spot compared to the developed economies such as the US and Europe, they said.

At the elite gathering of over 350 guests from across the country’s vibrant startup and business community, the guests of honor Piyush Goyal, minister for commerce and industry, consumer affairs, textiles and food & public distribution; Ashwini Vaishnaw, minister for railways, communications, electronics and information technology and Karnataka chief minister Basavaraj Bommai presented awards to winners at a grand ceremony in Bengaluru on Saturday.

“In spite of the many global challenges, the optimism about India’s future was pervasive and infectious,” said Nandan Nilekani, non-executive chairman of Infosys, who was present at the high-powered event.

Online payments firm
Razorpay won the prestigious Startup of the Year award, with an all-star cast of jury members having picked the Bengaluru-based startup on the strength of its technology and product stack with the potential to take some of its business global. The company — which is the most valued fintech in the country currently having raised over $500 million in funding last year — joins a distinguished list of previous winners including food delivery startup Zomato, brokerage firm Zerodha, logistics and supply chain services firm Delhivery and hospitality platform Oyo Hotels & Homes. Earlier winners include food delivery major Swiggy, enterprise software maker Freshworks, and ride-hailing app Ola, which had bagged top honors in the inaugural edition in 2015.

This year’s winners included Falguni Nayar, founder and CEO of Nykaa, who
bagged the newly launched CEO of the Year award. Shekhar Kirani, partner, Accel, won the
Midas Touch Award for Best Investor having backed Nasdaq-listed Freshworks with a $1 million seed check leading to multibagger returns when it went public.

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The award for the
Bootstrap Champ went to Noisea smart wearables brand with sizable revenue and profits while the prize for
Top Innovator went to Eyestem, a Bengaluru-based cell therapy company. Cloud telephony platform
Exotel was chosen as the winner in the Comeback Kid category and Solinas Integrity, a deep-tech firm founded at IIT Madras that develops robotic solutions for the pipeline and sanitation industry,
was adjudged as the Best on Campus.

Smita Deorah, co-CEO, LEAD, an edtech company, was the
winner in the Woman Ahead category. While plastic recycling startup
Banyan Nation was the Social Enterprise winner.

In line with the prevailing sentiment, startup founders and top CEOs discussed the need for companies to reassess business plans, expectations on valuations amid the deepening funding crunch even as India looked relatively better placed than other countries.

“I was positively surprised at the level of positivity for India in the discussions. At the same time, themes like the need to build sustainable business were very relevant,” said Ananth Narayanan, founder and CEO, Mensa Brands, the ecommerce brand aggregator unicorn.

In a panel discussion: ‘The Great Reset: Tracking the Profitability versus Growth Conundrum Amidst the Tech Winter’, Sumer Juneja, managing partner, India and EMEA, SoftBank Investment Advisers, said startup valuations are set to be readjusted. “I think 2023 is going to be tough, the companies which sort out their unit economics and have an appreciation of what is going on and realize very quickly what they have to do will be in a better position,” he said.

Amrish Rau, CEO of payments firm Pine Labs, said the sentiment around India has definitely emerged as positive amid the global headwinds. “In the long run, that will help Indian startups even as there might be a short-term funding crunch,” he said.

As in the previous editions, this year too, ETSA became the key platform for facilitating dialogue between policymakers and the startup community. Multiple ongoing hot-button issues in the industry were discussed on the sidelines of the ceremony.

“The ET Startup Awards continue to be the pre-eminent celebration of startups in India and the event this year not only felicitated great achievement in entrepreneurship across various categories, but also offered direction to startups across the country on how to cope with the current volatile market environment,” said Kunal Bahl, co-founder and CEO, Snapdeal.

The event also witnessed potential collaborations between the government and startups from a policy point of view. “I spoke with minister Goyal and we discussed pushing exports to markets like the UAE, Australia from Mensa Brands perspective and how it can help create more jobs,” Narayanan said.

Panelist Harsh Jain, cofounder and CEO, Dream Sports, also echoed the bullishness on India and said India is well poised to grow aided by the government initiatives and it need not just follow in the footsteps of the US market.

The brimming confidence in the Indian startup community was in full display with investors ending this as the time they have been waiting for — digital India at scale.

“Scalability is now proven across sectors, profitability is also not far behind unlike what people expect. There are a set of players — founders, regulators, investors — who are in it for the long term, to build institutions that stand the test of time,” said Vikram Vaidyanathan, managing director at Matrix Partners India.

The Economic Times Startup Awards 2022 is presented by IDFC First Bank. Those supporting the event include knowledge partner Tracxn, hospitality partner The Leela Palace, Bengaluru, and telecast partner ET Now.

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