Celebrated as the financial capital of Andhra Pradesh, Vizag (or Visakhapatnam as some would say) is also the third cleanest city in India, as per Swachhta Sarvekshan rankings of 2017. With a history that dates back to the 6th century AD, Vizag is best known for being home to the country’s oldest shipyard, Hindustan Shipyard Limited.
Today, in addition to being an important tourist destination along the east coast of India, Vizag has been recognised as the one of the fastest-growing cities in the entire world, with a GDP of more than $43.5 Bn.
In recent years, Visakhapatnam has also witnessed the spectacular growth of the IT sector, which peaked in 2016-17 when the turnover from the city’s IT industry touched $850 Mn. Aided by the government, Vizag is also emerging as a formidable startup ecosystem that can rival Bengaluru, Mumbai and Delhi in terms of infrastructure.
Additionally, the city is slowly fostering the growth of a close-knit network of startup-centric accelerators, incubators, mentors and co-working spaces with the current government promoting it as an emerging startup hub.
To bolster these fledgeling startup ecosystem that is emerging in Vizag, Inc42 in partnership with Amazon India recently hosted the seventh instalment of its localised startup meetup series – BIGShift on December 2.
BIGShift Vizag brought prominent startup founders, influencers, investors, and ecosystem enablers together for an engaging discussion about the challenges of team building in tier II/III cities and the right time to fundraise. Besides, seven startups were given a chance to pitch about their business in front of eminent jury.
So, Why BIGShift In Vizag?
The Andhra Pradesh Innovation and Startup Policy was launched in 2014 by CM Chandrababu Naidu, with the aim of fostering strategic partnerships, investment opportunities and policy interventions for fledgeling startups and budding entrepreneurs in the state.
The Andhra Pradesh Startup Policy is based on five main pillars: shared infrastructure, accelerators/incubators, human capital, funding and above all, a system of good governance (as in state support).
The state government currently provides funding, mentorship and incubation support to startups, in order to create a conducive ecosystem for investors and other stakeholders as well. In a bid to facilitate the growth of startups, the AP government has also promised to reimburse state-level VAT/CST on goods supplied and on the sale or lease of goods by startups and incubators.
Some of the key focus areas for innovation during the initial period include Internet of Things (IoT), urban management, social media, mobility, analytics and cloud computing (SMAC), fables semiconductors, animation and gaming, entertainment, visual effects, health and fitness, automotive, pharma, oil and gas, among others.
In the Startup Policy, the Andhra Pradesh government has set the target of establishing 100 incubators/accelerators, incubating 5000 startups and developing 1 Mn square feet of incubation space across the state by June 2019.
Furthermore, the state government hopes to mobilise up to $157.6 Mn (INR 1000 Cr) in venture capital for innovation as well as create at least one homegrown billion-dollar technology startup.
In March 2016, IT industry body National Association of Software & Services (NASSCOM), in partnership with the Government of Andhra Pradesh, inaugurated NASSCOM Startup Warehouse in Vizag.
Later in August 2017, Andhra Pradesh government’s FinTech Valley Vizag, partnered with KPMG to develop a high potential sustainable global fintech ecosystem, partnered with KPMG to develop a high potential fintech ecosystem in Vizag. Set up in 2016, the Fintech Valley Vizag aims to bring together industry, academia, and investors to innovate and build the fintech ecosystem.
A month later in September, Andhra Pradesh became the first Indian state to sign an agreement with Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT). Under the agreement, HTT has been tasked with developing a Hyperloop transportation route between the cities of Amaravati and Vijaywada, reducing the one-hour trip to as little as just six minutes, if successful.
Around the same time, Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu announced that the government would allot $15.6 Mn (INR 100 Cr) to create a separate startup fund for budding entrepreneurs. As part of the development, CM Nau and National Research Development Corporation (NRDC) Chairman and Managing Director H. Purushottam also signed a MoU to encourage startups through AP Innovation Society (APIS).
A month later, in October, the state’s government launched ‘Designated Technology Park aka DTP Policy 2017-2020’ in Amravati. As claimed, it is a first of its kind initiative in the country, aimed to solve office space crunch for IT companies in the state.
Last month, search engine giant Google was reportedly in talks to sell its newly-developed Internet technology to the Andhra Pradesh state government. As claimed, the technology is capable of providing high-speed wireless Internet to millions of people without laying cable.
Most recently, Andhra Pradesh Innovation Society (APIS), the government-appointed body that makes policies to drive innovation in the state, has announced plans to launch a number of startup-friendly initiatives, geared towards imparting “master training” to aspiring entrepreneurs. The move is aimed at foster at least 1,000 new startups by the end of 2019.
A Look At The Prominent Startups, Investors And Influencers In Andhra Pradesh
As per AngelList, Andhra Pradesh is currently home to around 167 startups. Among these is hyperlocal services platform Towny, which was recently acquired by Hyderabad-based logistics company VDeliver. Other startups based in AP include HalfBrain, social networking platform FilmyWala, artificial intelligence startup Kalpah, Vijayawada-based TAX IT HERE, monetisation platform Advoge and so on.
Coming to Vizag specifically, AngelList claims that there are around 70 startups in the city, including agritech firm ISF Technologies, kids mono-brand Schoolay Technologies, O2Onow, fintech startup Omegaon, regional news aggregator PublicVibe, real virtuality platform DronaMaps and InterviewBuddy, student-centric platform Unihalt, tech startup Eunoia Technologies, digital platform Adnest, to name a few.
Several investment firms and angel networks have sprung up in Andhra Pradesh in the recent times. In October 2017, for instance, Andhra Angels, a group of VCs and business leaders based in the state, announced plans to invest over $15.38 Mn (INR 100 Cr) in startups in the next few years.
When it comes to key people and organisations driving the startup ecosystem in Andhra Pradesh, there are an ample number of mentors/advisors and incubators that are nurturing promising new startups in the state.
Well known mentors and angel investors in the state include Winny Patro, CEO of APITA and former co-founder of marketEnomics; Ravi Eswarapu, Director and VP Operations at Pena4 Tech Solutions; Y. V. Ratna Kumar, Chairman and Managing Director of APIMS and Sanjay Vijayakumar, founder and Chairman of Startup Village, among others.
Andhra Pradesh is also home to a number of startup accelerators and incubators, including Sunrise Startup Village at Vizag, Incubation Center at Kakinada, Symbiosys Technologies-hosted Startup Moksha, Govin Capital-created Startup Accelerator India (SAI) and XLr8 Andhra Pradesh, which is a joint venture of the state of Andhra Pradesh along with the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) and the IC2 Institute of The University of Texas at Austin. Additionally, the state’s government is working to build another incubation centre in Anantapur.
Other organisations that help support emerging startups in Andhra Pradesh include Vizag Startups Community, TiE Amravati, which will be launched this month to accelerate the growth of the startup ecosystem in state; NASSCOM 10,000 Startups and Headstart.
Vizag First Office and Sunrise Incubation Hub are among the startup co-working spaces located in Andhra Pradesh.
Now that we have learnt quite a bit about the Andhra Pradesh startup ecosystem, let’s take a look at the all the action from the BIGShift Vizag edition!
Session One: Startups And Job Creation
The first speaker of the day at BIGShift Vizag was Winny Patro, CEO of APITA and former co-founder of marketEnomics. With a Marketing, Strategy and Entrepreneurship degree from IIM Calcutta, Patro stands out as a serial entrepreneur who has been part of many ventures in his enviable career. In 2012, he co-founded IIMnet, a group which promotes IIMnet.com (India’s largest network of pre-screened management professionals) and IIMnetWORK.
In the same year, Winny founded marketEnomics, a Google Partner company that acts as a provider of digital and social media services and solutions. As a consultant, he was involved in setting up six Internet companies which included medium-large size retailers in fashion and sports goods. Since then, he has joined the Andhra Pradesh government as the CEO of APITA, an autonomous body established by the state government to increase the employment of the state.
Talking about how Andhra Pradesh’s startup ecosystem is slowly gearing up to rival that in Bengaluru, Winny said, “Back in 2006-07 when I went to Bengaluru, it was very different. As an entrepreneur in 2013, the city was very different. I could see how the city was growing.”
“The same thing is happening in Andhra Pradesh. Unlike Bihar, Chattisgarh and Uttarakhand, this is an intellectual capital. Andhra Pradesh has huge networking opportunities for entrepreneurs. When the AP Startup Policy was launched in 2014, I noticed that more and more young people in the state were coming forward to start their own ventures,” Patro added.
According to him, startup founders in the state have an undeniable enthusiasm to try new things and push the limits of their imagination, which is essentially what drives them to success.
He concluded by saying, “While working with some of the startups in Andhra Pradesh, what we have seen is that there is an emotional factor that motivates entrepreneurs here. There is a fantastic energy among startup founders in the state, which comes from this emotional factor.”
Session Two: Entrepreneurship Unplugged
As part of the second session at BIGShift Vizag, Shilpanjani Dantu, Founder and Editor of Visakhapatnam’s first lifestyle magazine Yo Vizag, took the centre stage to share her highly inspiring entrepreneurial journey. Prior to starting her own venture, she worked as an Assistant Director at Miracle Software Systems.
Abandoning her corporate job, Shilpanjani along with Vishnu Tej Dantu launched Yo Vizag in 2008. As its name suggests, the magazine revolves primarily around the city of Visakhapatnam and currently has a readership of over 80,000.
Talking about what drove her to entrepreneurship, Dantu said, “I was supposed to be a typical IT professional doing software codes. I started my journey with NIIT training centre. Since the beginning of my career, I have been involved in sales and marketing. In fact, I was in sales and marketing for eight years. And I wanted a break.”
“I got the idea for Yo Vizag while browsing through a CNBC programme called Young Turks. When I approached my dad, he asked me how I will get funds. I remember I told him I would market because I am salesperson. That’s how it started. Within four months, the first copy of the magazine hit the stands,” she added.
During the initial days, the main challenge Shilpanjani was facing was not having enough faith that the magazine could run for long.
Concluding the session with a glimpse of how the last decade of her entrepreneurial journey has been, Dantu said, “In this business, the operational costs are really high. Despite that, we managed to break even in the first six months. During the last 10 years, I have also had to unlearn a lot of things. For instance, we have consciously removed the concept of having a celebrity on the cover. We started positioning local people as celebrities because there are a lot of people who actually deserve a pat on the back.”
Session Three: Zero To One – Starting Up To Seed
The third session at BIGShift Vizag saw Ravi Eswarapu, Director and VP Operations at Pena4 Tech Solutions, gracing the stage to shed some much-needed light on the key challenges that startups face and the ways to overcome them. With an MBA, Marketing degree from Andhra University and an MS from the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Eswarapu has had a long, illustrious career spanning over 20 years.
Prior to joining Pena4 Tech Solutions as the VP of Operations, Ravi spent several years at Mahindra Satyam and with nearly two decades-worth of consulting and operational experience in setting up of global delivery centres, design and implementation of tier II strategy, low-cost delivery models, IT programmes and project management, among other things.
During the BIGShift Vizag session, Ravi started off with an engaging narration of his own startup experience. He said, “My startup experience is actually two. One is already dead. It was an EMI aggregator. Essentially, this is experience. What you started out with might change in the long run. The key is to not be emotionally attached to one idea.”
According to Eswarapu, the best way to prevent burnout and increase the chances of success is to get the basics right, from building the initial team to finding the right co-founders, who share the same vision.
Session Four: Startup Showcase
Moving on to the final session of BIGShift Vizag, seven startups were given the opportunity to showcase their ideas and business plans. These included ISF Technologies, Schoolay Technologies, O2Onow, Omegaon, PublicVibe, DronaMaps and InterviewBuddy.
The jury at BIGShift Vizag consisted of Ravi Eswarapu, Director and VP Operations at Pena4 Tech Solutions, Narendra Nerla, COO of Inspiredge IT Solutions LLC and Winny Patro, CEO of APITA.
Let’s take a look at these startups and the problems they are trying to solve!
Founded in 2016 by G. Bharat and Sunil Raj Thota, ISF Technologies is an agriculture and aqua-farming startup that is dedicated to producing high-quality products for Indian as well as international markets. The company was started with the vision of bringing innovation into the technologically-challenged agriculture sector, so as to make it scalable and profitable.
Today, ISF Technologies develops smart farming equipment and tools that are designed to increase production efficiency by 10%-20% a year, build sustainable farming businesses and enhance cash flows.
Launched originally with the “Smart Village Prototype”, the startup has worked closely with the Andhra Pradesh government and UC Berkeley over the last two years. It was selected as one of the top 10 Indian startups by Startups Club in 2016 and also won the “Mad About Ideas” challenge by A.P. Innovation Society and the University of Texas, Austin in 2017.
Started in 2017 by former Voonik employee Kiran Hiriyanna, Schoolay is a kids mono-brand specialising in sports uniforms, active wears, shoes, bags, books and stationeries, among other things. It is a one-stop solution for a child’s schooling news.
It aims to enable school branding, while making it easier for parents to shop for school products online in a hassle-free manner. The startup creates its own products in sports apparels and bags. As claimed by the founder, the entire supply chain is controlled by the company, which has tie-ups with two bonded factories in Bengaluru.
In addition to providing doorstep delivery, the platform offers exchange facilities and warranties on school supplies. It has a presence in two Indian cities. Schoolay’s R&D wing operates out of Vizag, while its business and tech team is based in Bengaluru. The company’s current team size is six. In terms of market reach, Schoolay Technologies is currently spread across Benglauru and Mysuru.
It claims to be a revenue-generating startup and has tie-ups with seven schools as well as two international pre-schools. Boasting over 500 registered users, the startup achieved a net merchandise value of 88% in a span of two months. Schoolay is currently in the process of launching its B2C business with all-season sets of hoodie/ track and Polo tee sets.
Launched in March 2016, O2Onow is a mobile-first app that is designed to empower MSMEs by providing an enriched shopping experience to consumers. It also serves as a platform that allows users to explore various shopping needs in their neighbourhood. The startup offers a variety of information ranging from nearby stores, promotions, deals, campaigns, offers, new products, new stores and services, store timings, contact details of the retailers and brands under each shopping category.
In essence, O2Onow provides location-based multi-category search and discovery of MSMEs and retail businesses. Additionally, it enables clients to create sustainable business differentiation and enhance visibility using digital technology. From the consumer side, the company provides seamless ecommerce and omnichannel business experience as well as cost optimisation.
The platform’s underlying algorithm refers to the retailers’ moment-of-need inventory management. Consumers, on the other hand, receive on-demand notification in the form of discounts/coupons/promotions, personalised customer engagement as per shopping needs.
In less than two months, the platform claims to have enabled 140+ sellers across 39 categories. O2Onow was also recognised by the Government of Telangana’s Industries and Commerce (I&C) Ministry as a startup that is helping MSMEs across various segments digitise their business.
Headquartered in Hyderabad, PublicVibe (formerly known as NewsDistil) is a regional news aggregator platform launched in February 2014 by Narasimha Reddy Veeramreddy, Bhaskar Reddy Konda and Sridhar Bandlamudi. It is a vernacular hyperlocal community for sharing news and experiences with people in one’s neighborhood. Till date, the startup has raised over $100K in funding from angel investors Ramana Thumu, Narasimhan Ganesh and Sudhir Mallem.
In addition to its best, PublicVibe has developed its own Android and iOS apps, which can be used to read news in regional languages, compare news from different publishers, save articles for offline reading and access nearby and local news starting from villages to metro cities in India.
Furthermore, users can view celebrity photos as well as latest movie trailers. The platform also features an LOL corner. PublicVibe uses an innovative algorithm to streamline the aggregation process and offer personalised newsfeed to each of its readers.
Incorporated in March 2016, Omegaon is a fintech startup that is working to enable the country’s digitally uneducated population to make basic payments such as electricity bill, house rent, college/school fees, etc online.
The company officially launched operations in February 2017. As per the company’s spokesperson, Omegaon was founded with the vision to create a platform that utilises AI and image recognition technologies to make online payments easier and more convenient.
To that end, the fintech startup has integrated data analytics and AI into PhotoClickPay, a technology that seamlessly connects the user’s wallet to his/her smartphone. By doing so, it enables the user to make purchases from online and offline merchants as easily as a taking a picture with the phone.
With the aim of bringing all Indians into mainstream digital payments, PhotoClickPay leverages AI and unique IDs like Aadhaar card or mobile number to predict customer payments and future needs. When a person taps on college logo/bulb picture, the technology brings the payment details automatically, allowing the user to make payments by clicking the green checkmark.
The company is currently working to integrate various AP state government’s exclusive billing systems into the PhotoClickPay platform.
Omegaon has raised undisclosed funding from C V Raja Gopal Reddy (Chairman at CSSR and SRRM institutions) and Mr.Ravi Eswarapu (President of APITA), as part of which Eswarapu became a shareholder in Omegaon Internet for an undisclosed stake. The startup will also be joining Fintech Valley Vizag’s incubation programme.
Founded in 2016 by Ujwal Surampalli, InterviewBuddy is an AP-based startup that offers online face-to-face mock interviews with industry experts in a stress-free, no pressure environment, with the aim of simulating a real life job interview. Students and job seekers can also seek in-depth analysis of their profile. Through this, users can help identify their strengths and skill set, while also gaining expert feedback on areas that need improvement.
InterviewBuddy is an edtech company set to disrupt the status quo of how students and job seekers train and prepare for campus placements and job interviews. Interestingly, the platform was started by Ujwal as a side project while pursuing a masters degree in mechanical engineering in Germany.
Based in Visakhapatnam, DronaMaps is a real virtuality platform providing 3D based solutions. The startup does city-scale 3D mapping using UAVs, delivering centimetre scale resolution across the board. All maps created by DronaMaps are geographical information system (GIS) enabled.
With John Hopkins University graduate Utkarsh Singh leading the company as the CEO, DronaMaps is working on simplifying the use of maps and extracting indefinite amount of value from them. The startup was awarded the ‘Best Startup in Madhya Pradesh’ the by Federation of Madhya Pradesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry as part of the 4th Outstanding Achievement Awards 2016
Inc42 and Amazon India have already successfully concluded eight-city event series BIGShift in 2017. The BIGShift train started from Chandigarh and then moved on to Kolkata, Indore, Nagpur, Ahmedabad, Bhubaneswar, Vizag and finally concluded at Kanpur.
Through BIGShift, the two looked at supporting the startup ecosystem that is building up in cities beyond Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru. The aim is to help bridge the gap that currently exists between the ecosystems in tier I and tier II cities by making the essential resources available to fledgeling startups in these geographies.
Amazon India, for its part, has been doing quite a bit to facilitate the growth of the startup ecosystem in non-metro cities. In remote areas where a dearth of proper infrastructure is a crippling problem for startups, firms like AWS (which works on the cloud) are working to assist promising new companies by enhancing access to pay-as-you-go IT and cloud services.
We would like to thank AP Innovation Society (APIS) for letting us host the event at the Sunrise Incubation Hub. Our ecosystem partners – NASSCOM 10000 Startups and Headstart, who helped us put together this wonderful event. And special thanks to Krishna Sharma who helped us put together this event seamlessly!
To learn more about BIGShift and what it entails, click here.