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Monica Mehta

Executive Vice President, National Entrepreneurship Network (NEN) at Wadhwani Foundation.

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How Will The Startups Shape-Up In 2021?

The pandemic has acted as a catalyst for digital and online adoption, opening up new opportunities for tech startups and a visible shift to SaaS-based solutions.

Any mention of 2021 can’t go by without a reference to 2020 and the much-hated word “unprecedented”. Indeed, it was an unprecedented year and worldwide, we could see businesses, established and new, struggling to stay afloat. Some noted unicorns were reported to do something unheard of in the past – resort to salary cuts of employees to stay afloat in the tough times when everything seemed to come crashing down. According to an Associated Press report, the Indian economy shrunk 7.7% in fiscal 2020-21 amid the pandemic.

Very disturbing and alarming figures indeed!

However, my experience and interaction with today’s entrepreneurs tell me a much more excellent story – a story full of learnings, understanding, workarounds, and looking “within the box”.

Stories such as that of Workshaala, a flourishing co-working space till Covid-19 hit, are indeed inspirational. When work-from-home made the concept of co-working spaces redundant, Workshaala quickly pivoted and gave way to Homescape, which started leasing out their office furniture to people who were on the lookout to set up “home offices”. Hula Global was another startup that seized the opportunity and pivoted its business to manufacture PPE Kits and N95 masks in the pandemic.

Among the startups that we are trying to nurture and mentor through our programs, I have seen an emerging focus on hygiene and health. Understandably, in the wake of Covid-19, health and hygiene figure as high priority items on the everyday consumer’s list, and startups are not leaving any stones unturned to grab opportunities in these areas. From taking on the challenge of organizing the unorganized street food market to offering consumers “virtual walks” of the supply-chain warehouses for perishable products, Indian entrepreneurs are redefining innovation within the confines of the proverbial box.

Another sector that is being completely turned on its head is the EdTech sector. Given that digitalization of education across grades is the new mantra, Indian startups such as WhiteHat Jr. and Toppr found ready acquirer in the form of the EdTech unicorn, Byjus’s.

And if you thought sectors such as E-commerce had been exploited enough and nothing possibly new can come out of them, think again! We have seen idea stage entrepreneurs come up with innovations in areas such as the supply-chain for distributors.

They say that once you hit rock-bottom, there’s nothing to fear any more. Perhaps, in a way, 2020 brought us to that conjecture. With the world economy and life in general thrown off-balance completely, there was no way out other than an upward trajectory.

Therefore, we frequently come across reports stating that Zomato, PolicyBazaar, Freshworks, Nykaa, and Paytm are preparing to go public shortly. The fact that Y-Combinator picks up 40 Indian startups for its new batch as against the usual 5 – 10 Indian startups that make way into the YC batches is again highly reassuring.

The pandemic has acted as a catalyst for digital and online adoption, opening up new opportunities for tech startups and a visible shift to SaaS-based solutions. Deep tech is also gaining prominence, with a percentage of tech startups drawing upon deep tech solutions to build product and market capabilities. Most startups fought the pandemic tooth and nail in 2020 and showed remarkable resilience in doing so.

2021 seems to be the time to reap the benefits of perseverance and transition from a stabilization phase to a growth phase. The funding predictions reflect this positive sentiment. As per the ‘India Startup Report 2021 by InnoVen Capital’, 71% of startup founders believe that the fundraising environment will improve in 2021, although investments in small to medium-sized deals look more probable.

The future points towards unparalleled growth for the Indian startups and the ecosystem at large!

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house



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