Things have been busy all of last quarter at Microsoft Research and Development Centre in Bangalore, India, where 11 startups chosen from over 200 applicants for the first national edition of the Microsoft Accelerator for Windows Azure have been furiously honing their skills and craft in an effort to become the next big thing on the web/mobile scene.
For those of you who came in late, we previously covered the opening of the Azure Accelerator back in September last year. Today, the chosen 11 startups — hosted since the launch of the program in a plush open-plan office space on Microsoft’s premises, with constant guidance from mentors and engineers — who’ve charted out their route maps and fine-tuned their strategies, showed off what they’ve accomplished in the past four months at their Demo Day event.
“This event was off the charts”
Gary Vaynerchuk was so impressed with TNW Conference 2016 he paused mid-talk to applaud us.
Attended by mentors, venture capitalists and angel investors, the hour-long session saw each of the startups explain how they’d shaped up thus far, and how they planned to achieve world domination — or at least get their product into the market. The Accelerator program has helped these fledgling companies overcome major hurdles commonly encountered by new entrants in technology markets, such as infrastructure and scaling, go-to-market strategies, networking with investors and potential clients, and building strong teams.
Congratulating the first batch, Mukund Mohan, CEO-in-residence, Microsoft Accelerator for Windows Azure, said: “This is the day we have been waiting for – the culmination of all the hard work collectively put together over the last four months. We had chosen the first batch of 11 from hundreds of applications received from startups from all over the world. While all 11 had great ideas, we realized they needed support in a few critical areas to be able to mature those ideas into long-term profitable businesses.”
“We provided them access to our community of 100+ mentors, from within and outside India, across varied industries, who are fully committed to ensure the success of the startups. We provided them access to our vast network of early adopters so that they could define their product/market fit before a formal launch to market. And we ensured that the last four months was an intense boot camp, where we tracked the weekly progress of each startup and provided reports to their mentors. The rigor has inculcated a deep sense of discipline among the teams. All of them are now ready to venture out on their own. We are hopeful some will soon emerge as lighthouse companies from India,” Mukund added.
Startups to watch in 2013?
The Demo Day was a great opportunity for the 11 startups to show that they could not only walk the walk, but talk the talk as well. They took a few minutes each to introduce themselves and later convened at the Accelerator space to chat with their audience and show them roadmaps, proofs of concept, and fully functional apps that were out in the market. Here’s a run-down of what they’re getting up to:
Having started at the Accelerator with a second screen app for Indian television viewers, the Amplyfy team learned a lot about building a viable business by speaking with investors and their fellow startups, and got to doing a little research on video marketing. They found that the space lacked a consistent framework for analytics and therefore no visibility of what competing marketers were doing, and that most digital media planning was based on outdated trends leading to low ROI.
After synthesizing data from over 10,000 hours of video and writing many more lines of code, they’ve now begun to provide advertisers an analytics dashboard with real-time data of metrics with consistent data across TV and online video — thus getting a foot in the door of a multi-billion dollar market.
Given that cloud migration and the use of new device types, such as smartphones and tablets, are becoming more commonplace among professionals who access enterprise data outside the office, CipherGraph saw an opportunity to build cloud VPN technology to securely allow for communication with private and hosted clouds and data centers.
The company’s SaaS is scalable, allows for seamless connection with existing setups and doesn’t require any additional hardware or software to be installed. Having refined their go-to-market strategy, CipherGraph has already scored partnerships with Amazon and Windows Azure, and is looking to score funding to further their growth.
Tired of all the waiting around involved in dealing with big data? CloudInfra now offers a simple Unix shell in the cloud to process big data in real-time, such as machine logs and metrics. Operations can be launched with just a line or two of commands, add opposed to the norm of hundreds. Their technology also provides secure sandboxing and true multi-tenancy of servers and data in data centers. Not a bad way to go, given that the Indian data center market alone is currently valued at $1 billion.
Armed with a wealth of sports stats and player data, Gameizon aims to revolutionize how fans watch games. Their social game available on ocatchit.com informs, educates and helps users connect with each other while watching their favorite sport. They’re also developing a game for consoles that will allow players to take on virtual embodiments of current sports figures fleshed out using actual stats to inform their playing style. Cricket is first and foremost on Gameizon’s list, and hopefully more sports will be added in the future.
Healthify.me was born out of CEO Tushar Vashist’s desire to lose weight without having to urge his family and friends to badger him into it. With a growing team that includes developers, designers, dieticians and fitness trainers, the company has developed a mobile calorie tracker with a catalogue of nearly 10,000 Indian foods, that can not only tell you how much trans fat is in that samosa you’re about to dig into, but can also recommend contextual options that are better for you.
The app will allow users to get in shape by connecting them with dieticians and gym instructors, and reward those who stick to their regimen with deals and rewards from local businesses. It will also soon be compatible with fitness tracking hardware like the Nike FuelBand and Fitbit. The app is in closed beta right now, but will go live on 18 January following a freemium model for subscriptions to their service.
This two-man team is pioneering enterprise recruiting through social networking. Having found traditional recruiting channels to be costly and slow, HireRabbit allows businesses to connect with potential candidates via customizable job portals hosted on Facebook pages, and to fill positions without breaking the bank.
Harnessing the power of social networks and even existing employees’ connections through referral programs, HireRabbit enables companies to scout and take on all kinds of hires, even for niche and seasonal posts, with ease. They’ve already racked up 400 customers and are comfortable working out of Bangalore at their present size, though increasing interest in their solutions might see them scale up operations in the near future.
NowFloats started out as a Twitter-for-locations mobile app, allowing users to share their thoughts about where they were, when they there, such as at a concert or at an event like CES. They also allowed businesses to post offers that would reveal themselves only to nearby users.
Taking that idea a step further, NowFloats decided to address the challenge of customer acquisition faced by non web-savvy small/medium businesses, of which India has over 9 million. Their newly-launched platform allows anyone with a mobile phone to create a search-engine-optimized web page for their business by just sending a text message. They can similarly post real-time updates to those pages by SMS too, and be found easily by interested customers via search engines.
With a roster of over 1,600 customers in the past month alone and strategic business alliances for accelerated customer acquisition, NowFloats is going places — fast.
Plustxt offers users of its app secure multi-language-optimized texting that works across all mobile OSes and the web. They’re also looking to disrupt the mobile Value Added Services (essentially content provided by carriers) space — which is largely under-utilized in India — by creating a platform that allows content creators to publish their work easily for consumption on mobile devices and get the lion’s share of revenue while they’re at it.
Specializing in device virtualization, Sparsha wants to enable on-screen simulation of devices for testing, training and field demos to tap into the $7 billion testing and measurement market. Their technology will help businesses reduce support and training costs, as well as upfront costs of expensive tools, including everything from manufacturing machinery to medical equipment.
On the side, Sparsha is actively running their circuit design platform, DoCircuits, which allows users to design, test and share circuits online. It’s already a hit with a number of major universities in the US and even IEEE. Their next step is to Integrate hardware with software devices for increased utility of their technologies in real-world scenarios.
Eager to solve the problem of information overload, White Shark is hard at work developing Gluepad, a new way to save and access information, make it actionable as tasks and achieve goals.
It’s easy to think of it as a mashup between Evernote (personal and Business editions) and Basecamp — users can clip information and media from the web or add their own, share it with groups and assign tasks connected to those clips. There’s stiff competition in this space of knowledge management, and it’ll be interesting to see how Gluepad stacks up against its rivals when it’s released — an iOS app is close to completion, with an Android version slated to follow soon after.
World Without Me
Where will your data go when you die? World Without Me presents a not-morbid solution in the form of their web app (with mobile versions on the way) that allows users to curate their life stories, putting pieces together from social network activity, digital photo albums, email and even private data like passwords and investment information.
These stories can be accessed online, and exported as coffee table books chronicling users’ lives. In addition, users can set triggers, which when activated by multiple others, will release a user-prescribed set of data (passwords, insurance information, email, photos — whatever he/she chooses to make available) to a nominee. With more families sharing content online than ever before, it’s a good way to make sure you leave behind a legacy when you’re gone.
A successful first run
Speaking with TNW, Amit Chatterjee, MD, Microsoft India (R&D) Pvt Ltd, said, “Working with the first batch of startups was a very unique and exciting experience. I had the opportunity of mentoring some of the startups personally; some have pivoted, some have validated, some have put together great go-to-market strategies, some have built teams, some have partnered with developers and investors abroad — tracking their progress over the past four months has been awe-inspiring. I’m genuinely hoping to see at least a few, if not all of these teams make their mark globally.”
As to how the experience of running an accelerator is helping Windows Azure, Chatterjee said, “Startups have to make progress every day and every week. We got a chance to see how they implement and work with Azure, and there’s a lot we’ve been able to learn being in such close quarters with these startups.”
Chatterjee also responded to our question about whether he noticed any trends in the kind of problems Indian startups were looking to solve: “They’re matching global trends, really – cloud-based services, analytics and big data, life and knowledge management are in right now and that’s what most of these teams are working on.” He also mentioned that he was very proud of how far the startups have come in their short incubation period, and offered in closing, “This bunch of startups has made tremendous success and has redoubled our faith in the idea of the Accelerator. We can’t wait to see what the next batch comes up with.”
Microsoft Accelerator for Windows Azure is now open to receiving applications for the second India batch. Interested startups can apply online till January 15, 2013 here. The final list of 15 startups will be announced on February 1, 2013, and their four-month incubation process will kick off on March 1, 2013. We’ll be sure to check in with them then.