Pitch Off, Startups

Pitch Off Season 4 is taking place folks and it is proving to be exciting beyond all expectations. Insights from some of the most eminent personalities of the tech sphere, interesting tidbits about the tech that is yet to come, form only part of the package. Along the same, we have just had a very interesting panel discussion involving the future of the startups and the ecosystem as a whole in the country.

The discussion panel included Mahavir Pratap Sharma, Chairman and Co-founder at RAIN, Venkatesh Sarvasiddhi, ‎Head of Academic Initiatives & Microsoft Innovation Center and Mahesh Calavai, Sr. Director — Innovation, Analytics & Supply Chain. The discussions were moderated by  Varsha Tagare, Senior director with Qualcomm Ventures.

Commenting upon the fact that Qualcomm runs a slew of “Design in India” contests, Varsha began the discussions by inviting the panelists to pick a couple of their favorite companies out of either Software or Hardware and to put forth their views on the same.

Mahaveer Sharma, chairman of the Rajasthan Angel Investor Network, said that there is a huge difference between what is good for the customers and what is good for the startups. He went on to say that a product that is great for VCs as well as the startups themselves, may not be that important in its effect on the consumers. On the topic of how India has traditionally been a service provider as opposed to a hardware or software producer, he said:

India will be a potential producer.

Mahesh also said that the times now called for recognizing the problem as opposed to whether the consumers wanted hardware or software.

Don’t classify on the hardware or software, but focus on solutions.

Speaking about Microsoft’s initiatives for the Indian startup ecosystem, Venkatesh Sarvasiddhi, ‎who heads academic Initiatives & the Microsoft Innovation Center in India, said that the country has traditionally been a service provider. However, a shift is happening. As a country, the thinking has been on services for the past two decades. However, at some of the best campuses in India, students are now thinking about things like AI, VR and other futuristic technologies.

And Microsoft is ready and willing to provide support to the best.

Every year, we collect top projects from Indian startup ecosystem. And the top ones are sent to Seattle.

Mahesh Calavai, Sr. Director — Innovation, Analytics & Supply Chain, Target Corporation pitched in here and said:


Target is a retailer and runs a corporate accelerator. We work with startups that look at retailers as their potential customers.

He said that while Target does not sell across, the company had a variety of operations in here. Along with over 3,000 employees who worked out of the country to support Target’s overseas operations.Talking about one of the startups Target supported — StoryXprise, Video Automation technology —  Mahesh said that Target was looking to use the tech of the startups it supported to create real and working products.

Target provides a four month program to startups and the companies selected are given an opportunity to test their product in a real live case. Instead of being a funding partner, Target was more of a product partner. And this year, the majority of the projects were based on iOT — which is in conjunction with what

When asked for some creative ideas associated with Retail, Mahesh said that there are a whole bunch of problems associated with the space and creating solutions for them should be the priority of anyone looking to create an entrepreneurial venture here.

Speaking about the companies backed by the RAIN, Mahaveer mentioned The TechPortal, calling out to the reserve of the founders in creating one of the fastest growing tech media outlets in the country..

Speaking about another startup being backed by RAIN, without mentioning the name, Mahaveer said that you would be likely to see the company in-action soon. The company has a patent pending technology that will increase data speed to several time over — which means that 2G phones would be able to have 4G speeds. Wow! That could start a revolution. Meanwhile, that just goes to show that India is moving beyond merely services and folks are finally creating technology that matters.

Speaking about one of the companies selected by Qualcom Ventures, Varsha mentioned Capillary, that works on a loyalty based system using the mobile phones.

Finally, the panel concluded on the note that entrepreneurship wasn’t about either hardware or software. Instead, it was about recognizing the problem and creating and delivering solutions for the same.

Venkatesh talked about the need for creating the next gen of startups that focused on the next billion. Adding to that, Mahesh said that there was a lot of scope for moving beyond and wading into areas like social impact and deploying AI and VR into areas like medical etc.

As Venkatesh summed it up:

The current set of startups are built for the 100 million people. How can the community focus on the next set of startups that have a wider outreach.

What went without saying of course, was that these startups would have an impact beyond the tech or business community. Each of them eventually, has the potential to expand and touch the lives of millions — no, billions. And that is exactly what we at the TechPortal, are proud of being a part of.

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