How India Accelerator’s ‘Multiverse’ Is Building The 4Cs Of Startup Success 

How India Accelerator’s ‘Multiverse’ Is Building The 4Cs Of Startup Success 


India Accelerator (IA) was launched in 2017 in partnership with Global Accelerator Network (GAN)

By January 2024, the accelerator had 225 startups in its cohorts since its inception and two-thirds of them raised follow-on funding

IA also exited nearly 33% of these startups and made 6x returns on its investments in the past six years

In 2015, when Ashish Bhatia resigned from American Tower, a Boston-based global telecommunications company with a current net worth of $87.23 Bn, little did he know that the decision would lead to the foundation of India Accelerator.

Nine years later, it has 200+ portfolio startups and more than 1,800 mentors on board, nurturing an ecosystem to help culminate young founders’ entrepreneurial dreams. “All I knew was that I wanted to be part of India’s rapidly evolving startup ecosystem,” said Ashish.

He got in touch with friends and former colleagues in his previous companies and finally roped in Mona Singh, Deepak Sharma and Abhay Chawla from Fidelity and Optum Global Solutions.

After working as an engineer in the corporate world for more than 25 years, Bhatia was confident of making it big in the startup space. They started as a software service and product engineering company, but when the revenue poured in, the cofounders tested the waters in esports and gifting (ecommerce) categories. However, every business idea failed miserably, leaving Bhatia in shock.

“We didn’t know the startup language, how to raise funding and who to ask for mentorship. Corporates usually hide you from all these intricacies and complexities,” said Ashish.

How India Accelerator’s ‘Multiverse’ Is Building The 4C’s Of Startup Success 

How India Accelerator Took Roots

Around 2016, as Bhatia looked around for help, he decided to explore the startup ecosystem of the West. Soon, he came across Y Combinator and was amazed to find a startup machine that could push out 80+ unicorns, with storied entities like Airbnb, Dropbox and Stripe among them. According to him, there were almost 400 accelerators in the silicon valley at the time.

Closer home, he found more than 200 incubators, but less than 50 homegrown accelerators where no one who had helped churn out billion-dollar ideas like YC, TechStar or AngelPad did.

Looking at the big picture, Ashish and his team realised that the Indian startup ecosystem would require a lot more support from homegrown accelerators if it wanted to pick up the pace. So, India Accelerator (IA) was launched in 2017 in partnership with Global Accelerator Network (GAN) and Munish Bhatia (not related to Ashish Bhatia) joined as the fifth cofounder in May 2019.

By January 2024, the accelerator had 225 startups in its cohorts since its inception and two-thirds of them raised follow-on funding. IA also exited nearly 33% of these startups and made 6x returns on its investments in the past six years. It invests anywhere between $30K and $1 Mn across different programmes including its accelerator, a micro VC fund and other investment initiatives.

Currently, its portfolio includes more than 30 active startups, such as Brainwired (livestock health monitoring), Farmology (empowering small farmers with sustainable agriculture practices), SustainKart (marketplace for sustainable products), eVolt India (EV charging), Prophaze (cloud security), Task Tracker (task management) and Avenue Growth (staffing).

IA is also supported by many mentors and angels such as Amit Kumar (CEO, OLX Group), Dewang Neralla (founder, Atom Technologies) and Dharmendra Lodha (CEO, JioMart Grocery).

Key Focus: Coping With The 4Cs Of Startups

India Accelerator is essentially a cross-functional enabler that nurtures brilliant ideas, provides mentorship, and ensures funding and resources through its full-service divisions and strategic mentor-investor partnerships. These help address the 4C’s of the startup space, namely, capital, competency, connections and community, making the IA multiverse more comprehensive and valuable.

It aims to exceed initial goals like making startups more successful, creating wealth for investors and enhancing entrepreneurial initiatives across India. Its vision has evolved, and the goal is to create an inclusive ecosystem for all stakeholders, including startups, industries, policymakers, and academia. The ultimate objective is to put the Indian startup ecosystem on the global map. However, at the core of its operations lies the startup accelerator programme, which culminates with demo day and seed funding.

According to Ashish, IA started with two cohorts a year and aimed to work with five startups in each cohort. However, the deluge of applications made it amply clear that the approach would not work for a burgeoning ecosystem.

“Every startup is looking for some support mechanism, which is especially crucial for first-time founders. So, we moved from twice-a-year to a rolling application model,” he said.

IA has introduced four-month programmes and startups are selected from nine verticals. These include agritech, healthtech, fintech, B2B SaaS, cybersecurity, deeptech, energy impact, esports and D2C (direct-to-consumer).

It focusses on early stage startups and shortlists less than 2% of the businesses that face the jury to participate in the programme customised for each cohort. The accelerator is sector-agnostic and has a fundamental principle of never getting carried away by the seasonal buzz.

“Startups are the riskiest asset class. Our philosophy is early in, early out. We want to enter a stage when risk is the highest, become the first institutional investor, derisk them and assist them during their growth curve. That’s IA’s vision,” said Ashish.

Over the years, India Accelerator has expanded its domain from being only an accelerator to a multiverse adding angels, academia, corporates, institutions, government, and wealth managers among others to build a complete support ecosystem for startups. Here’s the IA multiverse at a glance.

How India Accelerator’s ‘Multiverse’ Is Building The 4C’s Of Startup Success 

Mobilising Capital Via Old & New Channels

India Accelerator offers seed-stage funding for tech startups in India and the UAE to fast-track their growth and help with global expansion. It invests through SEBI-approved alternative investment funds (AIFs), facilitated by strategic tie-ups with angels, VCs and GAN (Global Accelerator Network) partners.

These collaborative initiatives include a CAT I Angel Fund or Growth Fund I; a CAT II VC Fund or Growth Fund II run by micro VCs and the IA Club, an invite-only global community of investors and business leaders.

In early 2023, Ashish and Apoorva Vohra also laid the foundation of Finvolve, a B2B network for startup investments, by roping in wealth managers to leverage the untapped network of ultra HNIs and family offices.

It is a joint venture between India Accelerator and Finsolutions, a GIFT City-based B2B company providing business consultancy and support functions to independent financial advisors, and wealth managers.

“Each wealth manager [in this network] works with 250 clients or so, but these clients are not exposed to startups as an asset class. If we take promising startups to these wealth managers, they may bring in their end investors and get them to invest in those startups. After all, a massive amount of dry powder is also available there. We are looking to invest $50-60 Mn through Finvolve in the next few years,” said Bhatia.

Additionally, it is building a GIFT City fund with an INR 150 Cr corpus, to be closed by the end of 2024.

Leveraging Competency, Connections & Communities To Meet Startup Goals 

India Accelerator has set up iAngels by roping in 1,800+ mentors, academicians and industry experts who spend much of their time offering advice and helping startup founders build academia-industry connections/synergies for better competency.

However, running a business on a day-to-day basis goes much beyond product innovation and capital mobilisation. It is a blend of the routine and the not-so-routine, from renting office space to team building, handling legal/regulatory matters to leveraging market insights. To engineer a smooth workflow across all operations, India Accelerator has launched several service units to help its portfolio startups. Here is a quick look at the four critical areas.

IA Hubs: These are coworking spaces in major cities where portfolio startups can work together and find support from communities with similar goals. Currently, there are seven hubs in Delhi NCR and one each in Ahmedabad, Pune, and Dubai. IA ensures that all its hubs are located where startups can find relevant communities and industries to test their products and services, build a better product-market fit and develop an effective go-to-market strategy.

IA START: START stands for secretarial, taxation & legal, accounting, resourcing and technology. The IA team handles these operational areas for all portfolio startups, allowing founders to focus on what they want to build.

IA Open Innovation: In sync with the open innovation concept, this platform brings together startups and external companies for knowledge exchange and exploring critical use cases. Besides, it helps build a strong client network, which may lead to strategic acquisitions in the future, as not all startups can wait for profitable late-stage exits or go for IPOs. Industry giants like Infosys, ICICI Bank and PVR are already on the platform to work with startups.

IA CEP: IA runs CEP to drive collaboration between academia, industry & startups to catalyse innovation, drive entrepreneurship and create a thriving startup ecosystem at the campuses. IA works with the Corporates to identify their focus areas, provides these Open Innovation Use Cases to campuses for startups to take them forward & provide an innovative/disruptive solution. The basic research is done in the campuses, the applied research in Industry, funding & support by IA to make it a potent mix.

IA Gov: India Accelerator works with state governments ( Gujarat, Haryana, Odisha, and Kerala) and ministries (for example, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, or MeitY) to take the cause forward. During the Vibrant Gujarat Summit, it played a major role in bringing several global accelerators to assist the state government.

“We only started with the accelerator piece. Everything else was added to the puzzle as we moved forward and as the requirement came. This, if you zoom out, is the IA multiverse and we will keep growing this,” said Ashish.

Pursuing ‘Aircraft’ Bets & ‘Carriers’ For Long-Term Growth

India Accelerator is revamping its investment strategy and going deeper into the sectors with a long-term perspective. Ashish calls it the ‘aircraft carrier’ approach, where investors identify a future trend and allied fields instead of looking at a specific industry/sector.

Sequoia Capital did it in 1978 when it became one of the earliest investors to put its money into Apple. It was the legendary VC firm’s big aircraft bet, identifying early on that personal computers would rule the world. At the same time, it started looking at the ‘carriers’, PC component makers, network drivers, supply chain operators and more. If Apple made it big, these carriers would also make it big – that was the hypothesis.

“We are now reworking India Accelerator’s investment thesis along the same lines – identifying our next aircraft bet irrespective of the sector and finding its carriers,” said Bhatia.

How India Accelerator’s ‘Multiverse’ Is Building The 4C’s Of Startup Success 

This differs from the conventional way of assessing a sector or a sub-sector. The areas under IA focus cut across industries and overlap at multiple levels. For example, a drone startup in the agritech space provides weather and yield data to farmers to enhance operations. On the other hand, government agencies can obtain the data for realistic estimates of agricultural produce and better economic planning.

As Bhatia states, companies such as Zomato, Swiggy, Paytm, 1mg, Urban Company, and BYJU’S have already identified their niche and scaled it to become category leaders. So, that ship has already sailed. People have already made money. If some founder aims to build another startup today in a similar space, it will be too competitive and difficult to survive.

However, he believes that as an early-stage investor, it will be more advantageous to understand what are the tailwinds that will happen in the next 10 years.

“There you want to make sure that you identify the strong bets and then take those bets accordingly is how this game is going to evolve,” Ashish concluded.

[Edited by Sanghamitra Mandal]

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