Startups across India and seventy countries assembled in Bengaluru, India, on the 23rd and 24th of February 2016 for the startup conference. These were largely technology startups. More than five thousand of them from seventy countries attended this global technology business event. It was organized first time in India by Paddy Cosgrave and his Irish Web Summit team. Bengaluru, also known as Bangalore, is India’s equivalent of Silicon Valley.

The event fielded some great speakers. US-based Naveen Jain, co-founder of the privately funded commercial space company Moon Express gave an overview of his venture. The company is building robots to explore the mineral resources of the Moon.

Thomas Ramsay from Neurons Inc spoke on the human brain’s response to external stimuli. He explained the linkage between neurological behavior and applying this knowledge in marketing and advertisement. The professor is collaborating with Lowe Innovation Labs. There were speaker presentations on upcoming technologies like robotics, augmented reality, virtual reality, IoT and cloud-based solutions, marketing, and general management.

Startups conference in Bengaluru, India 2016,

Surge 2016 Bengaluru, India

With their unique solutions on the cloud, the internet of things, machine learning, data analytics, data mining, etc., technology solution providers and innovators eagerly showcased their innovations to media and visitors.

Engineering solutions to improve the mobility of differently-abled people were presented by a Pune, India-based startup company, Arcatron Mobility. This was adjudged as the leading pitch in the investment pitch competition organized for startups. I found the concept noble.

Other socially relevant startup themes included educating the Indian girl child. Interesting apps for the social sector included a marketplace solution for ethnic crafts, farm ingredient procurement, and organic food attended the startup conference.

The event was imbued with the energy of men, women, boys, and girls, showcasing an amazing range of technology applications. There were apps for gifting, e-commerce, location tracking, healthcare services, entertainment, gaming, printing, transportation, shipping logistics, hospitality, travel, and fashion, to name just a few.

IBM, Accenture, Tata Consultancy Services, Facebook, Cisco, HP, and many others, all of whom have thousands of engineers employed in Bengaluru, gave the event a miss. Only Infosys, which has its global headquarters in the city of Bengaluru, was represented by one of its Senior Vice Presidents, who spoke at the event. Wipro, too had an attendee. Twitter fielded a speaker.

I know that all large corporations actively scout events and are looking for the right acquisition candidate. Large corporations are good at operations and implementation but are rarely known to develop new innovative solutions or build cutting-edge technology. On the other hand, startups are bubbling with energy, providing the right ecosystem to innovators and inventors.

Most acquisition targets from the startup ecosystem have largely come from Europe and North America. The startup phenomenon has only recently gained prominence in India. Global tech startup conferences in India have been few and far between. Surge 2016, in many ways, is a pioneer.

The range of technology solutions and the breadth of ideas offered in Bengaluru was impressive. A conversation around collaboration and acquisition would not be misplaced. This, to my mind, was a missed opportunity for the big tech corporations.

But I know these guys are quick learners and will want to be present at the next event in 2017. The Surge marketing team may consider expanding sales efforts to attract big corporations. This will make an already interesting even more rounded.

While startups are known for innovation and energy, they are generally weak in management and business process. This was evident in this event too. During the mentoring session I participated in, questions were nearly exclusively related to business processes and general management.

Established Indian startups still have a long way to go in building robust business processes and quality control mechanisms. Investors have invested huge sums of money in Indian startups Flipkart, Oyorooms, Snapdeal, ShopClues, Ola cabs, Urban ladder, property and real estate providers, fintech companies, etc. Customer complaints about patchy service quality are common. To be fair to these companies, they have provided extended service reach. People are excited about getting things delivered using a smartphone.

These companies, though,  will have to quickly catch up to best-in-class business practices if they have to compete with global competing international brands like Amazon, Uber, Zoomcar, Airbnb, etc. This is a great time for consumers, though; the competition between domestic and international brands is tough and fascinating.

The market opportunity in India is huge. The country’s GDP is growing at over 7.5% per annum. India is now the world’s fastest-growing large economy overtaking China. The nominal GDP figure is around 11%. This throws up a substantial opportunity for innovative technology solution companies seeking to service the rapidly growing middle class of the country.

The larger established technology companies like Tata Consultancy Services, Infosys, Wipro, HCL, Cognizant, etc., are structured to meet the need of North America and Europe. They are unable to get their head around the Indian domestic business opportunity. The emerging startup ecosystem led by Flipkart, Snapdeal, Paytm, Mobikwik, Practo, and others operates lean customer-focused solutions.

The Indian ecosystem is throwing up substantial opportunities for international and domestic startups to collaborate, share, innovate and compete. Surge 2017 startup event is likely to be more on sharing and collaborating and not just on investing and startups.

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Sudhirahluwalia, Inc