Venture capitalists and business experts often say that Indian startups are copycats, that they take an idea that’s been successful abroad and adapt it to the Indian market.
A look at startups solving India-specific problems
This model has been successful and has produced a number of unicorns — companies with a valuation of $1 billion or more — as well, but there are also a number of startups that are tackling problems unique to India and applying technology to find solutions.
While a startup solving an India-specific problem might seem like it has a limited market, Arpit Agarwal, principal, Blume Ventures has no doubt about its potential. “Ideas that work in India are almost always applicable to other emerging countries. So, the market size becomes even larger,” he said.
Further, India’s 1 billion-plus-and-growing population is a lucrative market in itself. Given the opportunity, Google is building a local accelerator programme in India to support startups that are solving India-specific problems. Here are some areas in which startups are looking for solutions that are unique to India.
Fourteen of the world’s 15 most polluted cities are in India, and poor air quality is a problem Air Ok Technlogies is trying to tackle. Its purifier is made for India, and the team is hoping to sell to hospitals, industries, IT parks and the hospitality industry. Co-founders Deekshith Vara Prasad, Yasa Pavan Reddy and VS Krishna say they’ll be in the market this month.
While water management is a global issue, India is probably among the worst affected due to poor infrastructure and a large population. Varun Sridharan’s Greenvironment Innovation is using data analytics to offer real-time monitoring for water and wastewater treatment plants.
The startup has bagged a Rs 50 lakh grant from the Karnataka government to install systems across 50 projects in Bengaluru. “One of the buildings where we implemented our system has reduced fresh water consumption from 45 litres per person to 22.5 litres. The idea is to use more recycled water and reduce purchase of fresh water,” says Sridharan.
While English works in urban India, for rural areas content has to be in local languages and dialects. Startups like Indus OS, Pratilipi, Reverie and Slang Labs see opportunity here. Indus OS, for instance, is an indigenous operating system for the next billion smartphone users.
“We have regional keyboards with matra and word predictions and auto-correct, the patented Indus Swipe (to translate and transliterate English to regional languages), Indus Reader (text-to-speech feature in regional languages for English content), and App Bazaar to bring regional language apps to the user,” said one of the co-founders Rakesh Deshmukh.
After Kumar Rangarajan sold his startup Little Eye Labs to Facebook and returned to India in 2017, he decided to use voice to tackle the language problem. He set up Slang Labs to help mobile apps have a multi-lingual voice interface. “Our software allows any mobile app to build a voice layer on top,” he says. Slang Labs, which has raised Rs 8 crore ($1.2 million) from Endiya Partners, plans to launch Hindi in a month.
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Ranjeet Pratap Singh set up Pratilipi in 2014 with four others as an online platform connecting readers and writers in regional languages. It’s grown to support eight languages, and raised over $1 million from various investors. While they are yet to monetise content, Modi says there are multiple potential revenue streams. “There is demand for validated content. We are looking at revenue sharing and licensing models with creators,” she said.
Agritech and Energy
Agriculture remains a large employer but it remains unorganised and is a tough nut to crack for startups, but solutions they have come up with range from testing products to marketing platforms.
To improve testing, Tanmay Sethi and Yogesh Gupta set up Nebulaa Innovations in 2016. “Testing of agri commodities is done manually. Even if a machine is used, it takes 30-40 minutes for 1,000 kg. Our product uses image processing and AI to test the quality of food grains within a minute,” says Sethi. The startup has raised funding from a Hyderabad-based investor and has partnered with Nagarjuna Fertilizers for domain expertise.
At the other end of the spectrum are startups like farMart, an online agri-machinery rental platform. “We help farmers rent out under-utilised machinery to fellow farmers,” says co-founder Alekh Sanghera. Farmers from over 100 villages use their platform.
Some startups have taken on the dairy and poultry side. Blume Ventures-backed Stellapps offers IoT solutions in for the dairy market while T-Hub-incubated MLIT Solutions offers real-time remote monitoring of poultry incubators and farms using IoT.
Healthcare, especially for women, is a space that startups are working on to improve awareness as well as access. Startups like Plackal Tech and Menstrupedia are attempting to change the narrative around menstruation.
Plackal’s app Maya is a period tracker app that helps women track their cycles, Menstrupedia looks to make conversations about periods easier with comic books, workshops and blogs. PregBuddy, founded by Sivareena Sarika, Subhadeep Mondal and Yash Ladia, is an antenatal care platform which provides peer connections based on location, language and medical conditions with content in Hindi.
Commuting in India, whether within a city or between towns, can be a fraught affair, and startups are using tech to sort it out. Mobond, for instance, is a chat-based app on which Mumbai’s 75 lakh commuters share real-time information about train services. The Railways has opened opportunities for several startups.
RailYatri provides information on delays, platform numbers, coach position, on-time history of a train and more. Trainman, founded in 2014, provides intelligence on confirmation chances of a waitlist ticket. Startups like TravelKhana, KhanaGaDi and Yatrachef target passengers’ need for good quality food during travel.