Sudhir Ahluwalia

Startups from across India and seventy countries congregated together in Bengaluru, India on the 23rd and 24th of February 2016.  These were largely technology startups. There were more than five thousand of them from seventy countries that 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 had 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 mineral resources of the Moon.

Thomas Ramsay from Neurons Inc spoke on human brain response to external stimuli. He explained the linkage between neurological behavior and the application of 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.

Surge India

Surge 2016 Bengaluru, India

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

Engineering solutions to improve mobility of differently abled people was 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 start up themes included one focused on educating the Indian girl child. Interesting apps for the social sector included a marketplace solution for ethnic crafts, farm ingredient procurement and organic food.

The event suffused with 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, 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 their Senior Vice Presidents who spoke at the event.  Wipro too had an attendee. Twitter fielded a speaker.

I do know that all large corporations actively scout events looking for the right acquisition candidate.  Large corporations are good at operations and implementation but are rarely known to come up with new innovative solutions or build cutting edge technology. Startups on the other hand 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 events 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 on offer in Bengaluru was quite 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 in the next event in 2017. Maybe the Surge marketing team may think of expending a bit of sales effort to attract big corporations too. This will make an already interesting event 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 in which I participated, questions were nearly exclusively related to business process and general management.

Even the established Indian startups have still 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 and others. Customer complaints on patchy service quality are common. To be fair to these companies they have provided extended service reach. People are excited of getting things provided using a smart phone.

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 and the competition between domestic and international brand 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 over 11%. This throws up 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 India domestic business opportunity. The emerging startup ecosystem lead by Flipkart, Snapdeal, Paytm, Mobikwik, Practo and others operate lean customer focused solutions.

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

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