Inc42, which initially started spotlighting startups under its '30 Startups To Watch' series in 2020, expanded its coverage to 42 editions in 2023
In 2023 alone, 210 startups were featured across seven editions, spanning a diverse array of sectors
Giving a slight twist to our tradition of spotting 30 trailblazing startups every month, we have decided to feature 20 of the total startups featured in 2023’s ‘30 Startups To Watch’
In the dynamic landscape of Indian startups, 2023 emerged as a year of challenges and resilience, reminiscent of yesteryear’s funding scenarios. The total funding inflow plummeted to pre-2017 levels, settling just above $10 Bn.
On the bright side, the last seven years have seen Indian startups play a pivotal role in generating employment for over 10 Lakh individuals, with numerous ventures individually contributing tens of thousands of jobs.
And, not to mention, besides a historic funding crunch, the spirit of innovation prevailed. While new entrepreneurs emerged, we also had second and third stints of entrepreneurs and new startup launches.
In a bid to showcase and uncover emerging startups, we introduced the ‘30 Startups To Watch‘ series in 2020. In 2023, we successfully concluded the 42nd edition, identifying as many as 1,123 startups in the process.
At the time of our first coverage, these startups had secured a collective funding exceeding $1.2 Bn. Since then, the total funding has surged to approximately $6 Bn. Some of these include — Pixxel, Zolve, Captain Fresh, Skyroot, Credgenics, Plum, StockGro, The Sleep Company, among others.
While traditional startup segments such as fintech, ecommerce, and enterprise tech continued to dominate throughout the series, 2023 witnessed aggressive diversification. This is because sectors like HRTech, cleantech, logistics, and the most recent addition, GenAI, stole the limelight from the more established startup sectors.
That said, we present this special edition of 30 Startups To Watch as part of our 2023 in Review campaign, showcasing the crème de la crème of the 210 startups featured in all of 2023 coverage.
Best Of 30 Startups To Watch’s 2023 Class
Editor’s Note: We have featured the “Top 20 Startups” in this edition. The list below is not a ranking of any kind. We have listed the startups alphabetically.
Empowering MSMEs With Solar Financing
Aerem, a solar financing platform founded by Anand Jain in 2021, aims to address the energy challenges faced by Indian Micro, Small & Medium Enterprises (MSMEs). Despite the government’s support, over 38% of MSMEs have little access to any formal power source. Recognising the gap, Jain founded Aerem, which serves as a fast and convenient platform to provide solar financing at competitive rates.
The startup’s flagship service, Aerem Asset Assurance, offers collateral-free financing for approved rooftop solar systems. Through its NBFC arm, Aerem Finance, and partner bank, the Bank of Baroda, the platform provides low-interest loans ranging from INR 5 Lakh to 1 Cr for 36-72 months. The company conducts in-house quality checks on hardware from solar installers, allowing MSMEs on the platform to compare prices and receive post-purchase support.
With a keen focus on MSMEs, Aerem positions itself as a comprehensive solartech platform. It guides installers through the process, provides financing through its dedicated NBFC, and supports the entire installation journey.
In March 2023, Aerem secured $5 Mn in a Pre-Series A funding round led by Avaana Capital, a climate-tech investor. The Mumbai-based startup plans to use the funding to expand its solartech and financing solutions. It aims to contribute to India’s sustainable energy transition by expanding its MSME reach.
Solving Sourcing Hurdles For Indian EV OEMs
At a time when India is experiencing significant growth in the electric vehicle (EV) sector, there is a dearth of essential components such as batteries, motors, and controllers. Founded in 2021 by Mosam Ugemuge and Shubham Pode, Attron Automotive addresses this issue by introducing motors and controllers with advanced features.
The startup’s product line consists of high-performance electric motors and controllers tailored for various applications, including EVs, industrial machinery, defence systems, marine vessels, aviation, and agriculture.
To tap a wider audience, the startup upgraded its controllers from industrial-grade components to automotive-grade in 2023. Among its other accomplishments in the year, it had its patent granted for motor topology and delivered motors for defence applications.
Ever since we featured the startup in our August edition, it has expanded its team size to 14 employees from eight earlier. Going forward, it aims to convert sampling orders to production orders in 2024.
Revolutionising Derma Care In India
Founded in 2021 by Arjun Soin, Clinikally is a healthtech startup, which is trying to revolutionise derma care in India. Clinikally offers a user-friendly telehealth platform that connects consumers with licenced dermatology practitioners to address the shortage of dermatologists. In September 2023, the company secured $2.6 Mn in funding.
Throughout 2023, Clinikally achieved many milestones, boasting an 8.5% month-on-month revenue growth and a 7.5% increase in user base. In just 20 months since its launch, Clinikally has surpassed INR 60 Cr in Annual Recurring Revenue (ARR) with a revenue retention rate of 42%.
Clinikally’s influence extended, reaching over 500 cities in India through its epharmacy and telehealth platform, offering more than 12,500 tele-consults in 2023. With an organically grown and thriving community of 85,000 individuals on Instagram, Clinikally claims to get 6 Lakh daily search impressions.
Expanding beyond telehealth, Clinikally ventured into pharma distribution with private-label products in areas such as chronic skin conditions.
Looking forward, Clinikally has ambitious plans to surpass INR 100 Cr in ARR while maintaining profitability by April 2024. It aims to launch Android and iPhone apps, delve into the nutrition/nutraceuticals/weight loss space, and introduce the Clinikally Elite Club, an omnichannel membership programme offering exclusive perks in collaboration with reputed dermatology clinic chains.
Paving The Path To Zero NPAs
To address the distress caused by unscrupulous debt recovery practices in India, Ananth Shroff and Ranjith Ramachandra founded DPDzero in 2020. The startup is part of a sector that does not have much exposure to tech-enabled interventions and operates an AI-powered debt collection and recovery platform.
DPDzero raised $3.25 Mn in a seed funding round led by Blume Ventures and IndiaQuotient in October 2023. Along with securing fresh funds, it achieved $1 Mn in Annual Recurring Revenue (ARR) and added two large banks as customers in 2023. It also claimed to experience 25% month-on-month growth in revenue in 2023.
In the course of its journey, the company shifted its focus from being a Software as a Service (SaaS) player to an Outcome as a Service (OaaS) player.
While DPDzero collaborates with major Non-Banking Financial Companies (NBFCs) and banks, it aims to gain a 50% market share in the banking and NBFC debt recovery segment in 2024.
Developing Fireproof EV Battery Packs
Founded in February 2022 by Sheetanshu Tyagi and Rahul Patel, EMO Energy aims to contribute to the country’s EV growth with its 30-minute chargeable portable battery packs and a full-stack technology offering — all built in-house. EMO Energy offers battery packs for light EVs powered by ZEN, which is its cell-agnostic tech platform.
Soon after being featured in the April edition of 30 Startups To Watch, EMO Energy raised $1.2 Mn in a seed round led by Transition VC and co-led by Gruhas. The Bengaluru-based startup also secured an undisclosed amount from 100X and other angel investors in a Pre-Seed round in 2022.
The startup claims to have witnessed a 25% user growth and 40% revenue growth month-on-month in 2023, reaching a revenue of INR 4 Cr for the year.
Currently, it has a team size of 25 employees who are catering to as many as 10 clients. Among its achievements this year, EMO Energy claims to have deployed the final mass production system. Looking ahead to 2024, it aims to scale up to 10,000 batteries in the year.
In a landscape where competition is increasing in the lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery manufacturing space with names like Exponent, Log9 Materials, and Cygni, EMO Energy aims to carve a niche for itself with its integrated tech stack for two- and three-wheeler EVs, as well as heavy-duty vehicles, the founders had told Inc42 earlier.
Simplifying ID Management
Founded in 2022 by Keshav Reddy and Rajeev Ranjan, Equal envisions a world where access to essential services and opportunities is determined by merit and not identity. In India where many face barriers to credit, housing, benefits, and products due to various factors, Equal aims to level the playing field for over a billion Indians.
Similar to how a payment gateway facilitates financial transactions, the Equal ID Gateway enables the secure exchange of personal identification information when needed.
Since its public launch this year, Equal has developed a successful business model that generates paid transactions. Within 12 months, it has grown its user base to over 1 Mn users and formed partnerships with 45 entities, including collaboration with the India Stack.
Equal asserts that its gateway product experienced significant growth in the year, with over 30 large businesses using Equal at more than 100 touchpoints.
Looking ahead to 2024, Equal plans to launch its Connect and Face products, all contributing to building a unified identity platform for consumers in India.
When Hiring Gets An AI Tweak
Founded in 2021 by Akshay Gugnani and Kanishk Shukla, Expertia AI is an AI-enabled platform designed to assist hiring teams across companies. The startup provides the Expertia Recruiter, an AI-powered recruiting platform for end-to-end hiring. This platform goes beyond traditional resume analysis, delving into the candidate’s skills, personality, and background to assign a unique Expertia score.
As of 2023, Expertia AI serves over 12,000 companies and has a user base of 6 Mn professionals, experiencing a 22% monthly growth in user numbers. In 2023, the startup achieved substantial milestones, including a sixfold increase in the professional user base from 1 Mn to 6 Mn and a 12X rise in the company user base from 1,000 to 12,000.
Expertia AI is poised to become the third-largest platform for active job seekers in India, and it crossed the $1 Mn annual recurring revenue (ARR) mark in 2023. The company introduced new products and features, notably the AI Recruiter, capable of screening, assessing, and interviewing professionals.
In 2024, the startup is all set to expand into the US market.
Automating Enterprise Contact Centres With AI
Having identified a gap in customer support services through call centres, second-time entrepreneurs Ankit Durga and Megha Aggarwal founded Fundamento in 2021. Fundamento’s AI stack is claimed to help companies transition from agent assistance to full automation of customer support at lower levels.
In the last quarter of FY23, Fundamento primarily focused on equipping frontline teams through an intelligent learning product and quickly acquired clients. However, the product fully embraced AI and generative technologies at its core in the first quarter of this financial year with Agent Assist and Virtual Agent, particularly for customer contact centres in enterprises.
This year, the startup also onboarded marquee clients such as Indiamart, Paisabazaar and Disney+ Hotstar. Fundamento formulated key strategic partnerships with IBM, Google, and Microsoft to develop its AI solution and onboarded key strategic channel partners for go-to-market strategies, fundraising, and sales, aiding in both revenue growth and scale.
In 2023, its target market shifted with a focus on enterprise clients. Moreover, its copilot and virtual agent now dominate sales. Its business model continues to be B2B with subscription and pay-as-you-go variants. It claims to have recorded a 22% MoM revenue growth in 2023.
In the first quarter of 2024, its focus will be to secure more clients within the BFSI and travel industry and build powerful product use cases that solve complex problems. Subsequently, it will shift its focus to the US market through channel partnerships.
On-Premise Custom LLMs For Enterprises
Founded by Varun Vummadi and Esha Manideep Dinne in 2023, Giga ML specialises in providing on-premise deployment, fine-tuning, and privacy solutions for LLMs. Currently, the startup claims that its X1-Large model is one of the most powerful LLMs available for on-premise deployment. Giga ML also offers an API compatible with OpenAI’s API, facilitating a seamless transition for users to switch to the startup’s API without the need for code rewriting.
While Giga ML was featured in the November edition of ‘30 Startups To Watch’, it quickly garnered significant attention in the investment landscape as well. Within three months of its launch, the startup raised $3.6 Mn in a seed funding round led by Nexus Venture Partners.
Giga ML specifically targets enterprises that require LLMs for internal purposes but are averse to utilising cloud-based services or sharing their data with third parties. The on-premise deployment option provided by Giga ML offers enterprises complete control over their data and the associated LLMs. Additionally, the startup extends fine-tuning services for LLMs, enabling enterprises to train models on their data to perform specific tasks, thereby tailoring LLMs to meet their unique needs.
The privacy features integrated into Giga ML’s platform are meticulously designed to safeguard the confidentiality of enterprise data. Importantly, the startup emphasises that it does not leverage any data uploaded by its customers.
Helping You Invest In Gold With As Little As INR 10
GoldPe, founded by Parth Shah and Yaagni Raolji in 2023, responds to changing investment trends in India, particularly among the younger demographic. In a digital savings platform, GoldPe allows users to commence their gold investment journey with as little as INR 10.
Going beyond traditional methods, the platform introduces an element of fun by rewarding users with entries to a weekly draw, offering cash prizes ranging from INR 1 Lakh to INR 10 Lakh for every INR 100 saved. Operating on a commission-based revenue model, GoldPe aligns with the evolving preferences of users seeking engaging and accessible avenues for investment.
In 2023, GoldPe surpassed 2 Lakh users, accumulating over INR 4 Cr in AUM.
Looking ahead to 2024, GoldPe aims to elevate its offerings by launching a cobranded credit card. This strategic move aims to introduce prize-linked transactions to users, enhancing the engagement and financial experience for the platform’s growing user base.
Create Lifelike AI Anchors For Your Brand
Even amid the boom of online video, video content generation remains a complex and time-consuming endeavour, involving meticulous planning, execution, production, and editing. Singapore-based Justbaat, founded by Shaurya Rao Nigam in 2022, is a video creation platform that harnesses AI to simplify video production for users. It empowers users to create digital avatars, translate videos into 63 languages, and generate videos from text inputs.
Justbaat utilises AI to create videos from text, images, or videos uploaded by users, including the unique feature of crafting lifelike images with recreated voices as ‘anchors,’ facilitating content creation without audio inputs and export to platforms like YouTube.
With 20 enterprises as its clients, the AI startup has seen $10,000 month-on-month growth in revenue in 2023, along with 25% user growth. In the year, it extended its use case by launching 40+ AI news anchors with Indian Media Publishers, while working extensively on the use case automation using gen AI for media. The startup aims to extend its solution to the ecommerce category in 2024.
Build Instagram Stores With Ease
In 2021, IIT Bombay alumni Rahul Gope and Anjan Kumar Patel founded Oyela to tap into the growing trend of millennials and Gen Z venturing into online businesses through social media. Their goal is to fuel the surge in creative entrepreneurship in India by offering the necessary tools and opportunities.
Oyela plays a pivotal role in supporting startups, product creators, and artists to efficiently market and expand their online footprint. The platform provides essential features like managing digital storefronts, collaboration tools for broader visibility, and streamlined integration with Instagram to facilitate automated sales through social media. Recognising both the potential and challenges associated with the online business landscape, Oyela strives to empower and simplify the journey for emerging entrepreneurs navigating the dynamic world of social media.
In 2023, Oyela saw 20% month-over-month revenue growth and a 25% month-over-month user surge. The platform acquired 20,000 sellers at zero cost, crossing a total seller earnings milestone of $2.5 Mn with a unique approach—1 Mn seller collaborations monthly, resulting in 60% organic orders via Oyela’s Instagram Automation engine.
The platform’s AI system, analysing 14 behavioural and sales parameters, serves as a fraud deterrent, akin to an ISO certification for social media stores, with a mere 3,000 return-refund incidents out of the last 1 Lakh orders.
Looking ahead to 2024, Oyela aims to achieve a frugal $1 Mn in revenue while empowering 2 Lakh social stores.
Helping Business Incorporate Generative AI Seamlessly
Launched in 2023 by Rohit Agarwal and Ayush Garg, Portkey.ai seeks to simplify the intricate task of managing and deploying large language models (LLMs) for businesses. This startup provides a centralised platform that streamlines the management of various LLM models, encompassing versions, configurations, and parameters, thereby alleviating the complexity associated with handling multiple models.
Portkey.ai secured $3 Mn in seed funding in August 2023, with Lightspeed leading the investment round. The company wants to deploy the funds to scale up R&D, enhance the language model operations (LLMOps) stack, and strengthen the go-to-market strategy.
Despite its inception in 2023, Portkey.ai has demonstrated substantial month-on-month revenue growth. Its notable paid customers include names like Postman and Haptik. Looking ahead to 2024, Portkey.ai aims for global distribution.
Portkey.ai’s clients are billed on a monthly basis, with fees determined by the number of LLMs managed and the volume of traffic routed through the platform.
Bridging The Skill Gap In Regional Languages
Founded by Rohit Choudhary, Keertay Agarwal, and Yash Banwani, Seekho emerged from their experience at Kuku FM when the cofounders recognised a growing demand for educational content in regional Indian languages. Positioned in the rapidly expanding skill development sector of India’s edtech space, Seekho distinguishes itself by offering skill development courses through engaging, bite-sized videos in Hindi and Bangla.
Focussed on edutainment, Seekho creates a vibrant learning experience, blending education with entertainment, and catering to the demand for quality regional language content in the realm of skill development.
In 2023, Seekho witnessed substantial growth with a 15% month-on-month revenue increase, a 12% user surge, and an impressive annualised revenue crossing $2 Mn. The platform achieved 350%+ revenue growth and garnered over 2.5 Lakh active paid subscribers. Introducing a monthly plan proved successful, boasting an 80% renewal rate and a 20% reduction in customer acquisition costs, with a quick recovery period of four months.
Looking ahead to 2024, Seekho plans to diversify its content portfolio, expanding into categories centered around business, technology, and finance. Additionally, the platform aims to elevate user experience by launching a premium plan featuring content from acclaimed creators in the industry.
Ice Pops Made Healthy
Aiming to offer healthier popsicles in a market filled with sugar-filled unhealthy, Ravi and Anuja Kabra started Skippi Ice Pops in Hyderabad in 2020. Despite facing challenges during the pandemic, the brand gained momentum in 2021.
Skippi’s ice pops, cream rolls, and cornsticks come in over five natural flavours, prioritising ingredients without added sugars or artificial flavours. Using its patented technology, the startup ensures quality and uses RO water for its ice pops. Operating through an omnichannel retail model, Skippi sells its products on its website, quick commerce apps, and through a network of 200+ stockists and distributors across India.
Having appeared on ‘Shark Tank India’ in 2021, Skippi secured an All-Shark deal, propelling its growth. The startup boasts a remarkable 40X revenue increase in 2022, with monthly orders ranging from INR 2 to 2.8 Cr.
Simplifying Cross-Border B2B Payments
Founded in February 2022 by Movin Jain and Srivatsan Sridhar, Skydo is a fintech startup dedicated to simplifying cross-border B2B payments for Indian companies working with overseas clients. The company aims to address challenges related to remittances and payments by enabling businesses to create a global virtual account within five minutes.
In 2023, Skydo experienced robust growth, with a 25% month-on-month increase in both revenue and user base. Currently serving over 1,000 Indian businesses and exporters, Skydo has processed over $11 Mn in forex payments in the last year, with expectations to grow to $500 Mn in the next 12 months.
Skydo’s focussed approach is on reaching 2 Lakh small businesses, aiming to support $1 Bn in export payment flows. The startup helped businesses save close to INR 2 Cr in fees and forex charges last year. It has plans to increase this saving to INR 100 Cr.
Processing over 35 foreign currencies, Skydo ensures frictionless cross-border payments for its customers. The introduction of a sleek GST e-invoicing feature helps businesses comply with e-invoicing regulations, and Skydo provides a free invoicing tool for businesses to create professional, personalised invoices in their preferred currency.
Looking ahead to 2024, Skydo plans to expand its product suite, offering financing options, payout cards, and introducing treasury services for multi-currency payments. The company aims to apply for the PA-CB (payment aggregator and cross-border) licence, enabling more currencies and payment methods to provide users with a broader array of options.
Building Mid-Core Games Based On Indian Mythology
The gaming landscape in India is undergoing a paradigm shift. While Real Money Gaming (RMG) is receding in prominence, a surge in gaming studios is being observed. Studio Sirah started 2023 by securing $3.43 Mn in funding from Lumikai and Kalaari Capital.
In 2020, brothers Abhaas and Prateek Shah founded Studio Sirah to craft unique games rooted in millennia-old Indian culture. The Bengaluru-based startup combines rich content with immersive art and deep progression systems to develop mid-core mobile and PC games.
In 2023, Studio Sirah officially launched its flagship game, “Kurukshetra: Ascension”, in India. The game received recognition as the Google Play User’s Choice Best Indie Game of 2023 and was featured on the Apple App Store’s ‘What We’re Playing’ list.
To enhance the gaming experience, the studio introduced Season Passes, unveiled two new story maps, and introduced a new hero and faction in-game. In 2024, it wants to conclude the story arc and launch the highly anticipated hero, Karna.
The startup saw 42% month-on-month revenue growth and a remarkable 144% month-on-month increase in user growth in 2023. At present, it boasts a user base of 4.3 Lakh users.
Community Management Solution
Based in Bengaluru, Threado, established in 2020 by former Zomato executives Pramod Rao and Abhishek Nalin, has developed a web-based solution and dashboard to assist businesses in effectively managing their online communities across platforms such as Slack, Discord, Twitter, and GitHub. The SaaS platform focusses on generating actionable insights into community engagement metrics, like maximum contribution.
Threado claimed to have seen a 9.3% month-on-month increase in revenue and a 6% rise in its user base in 2023. Noteworthy global companies, including Notion, Mixpanel, and Triple Whale, are now customers of Threado. This year’s accomplishments include consistent monthly revenue growth, even in a challenging SaaS buying environment, and efficient capital allocation, which has provided a financial runway until mid-2025, as per Threado.
Looking ahead to 2024, Threado has set its sights on customer acquisition. The startup’s offerings include a 21-day free trial and three distinct monthly subscription plans — Pro, Growth, and Enterprise. These plans cater to various factors such as community size, the number of integrations, workflow templates, and personalised reach-outs.
Custom Engineering Procurement Simplified
Founded in 2023 by Karan Anand and Himanshu Uniyal, Wootz.work is a global sourcing platform specialising in custom engineering equipment and solutions. Inc42 featured Wootz.work in its November edition. The platform is dedicated to enhancing the cross-border purchasing experience for light engineering products by leveraging technology and overseeing the entire process, from design to delivery.
Before Wootz.work was featured in the November 2023 edition, the startup secured $3.5 Mn in a seed round led by Matrix Partners India and Nexus Venture Partners in August. AdvantEdge and Mars Shot Ventures also participated in the funding, alongside 30 angel investors, including Ramakant Sharma, the cofounder of Livspace, and the founders of Zetwerk. The startup said it was aiming to use the funds to establish its early team, develop technology, and fortify its presence in the US and the UK.
Wootz.work facilitates connections between buyers and sellers and provides a distinctive capability to directly link them to products and solutions tailored to their specific needs. The startup’s technology utilises an understanding of basic parameters – the buyer’s geography, industry, and application – to instantly customise products. This approach reduces the procurement timeline, enabling the provision of quotations within 24 hours.
Boosting Local Commerce With Tech
Founded in 2019 by Rajesh Badgeri and Chengappa Chottera, Bengaluru-based Zopnote is a B2B2C SaaS platform dedicated to local commerce. It offers two distinctive apps — a merchant mobile app and a customer app. The former empowers small local businesses with features like customer engagement, automated billing, online collection, bookkeeping, and business intelligence.
The startup claims the latter enables end customers to discover and purchase products and services in their vicinity, track expenses, and make payments seamlessly. For instance, businesses can list their products and services on the platform, allowing users to explore and place orders directly from the app.
As the startup is still in its product-market fit journey, it recorded less than 5% revenue growth on a month-on-month basis and less than 10% user growth in 2023. However, it claims it achieved operational break-even this year.
In 2024, the startup aims to scale the business, gain product-market fit, and expand to 1,000 communities with multi-services in Bengaluru.
[Edited by Shishir Parasher]