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[StartupBharat] Startups should think globally, solve locally: Erik Azulay of University of Texas

Debolina Biswas ( )

The second edition of National Deeptech Startup Conclave, Hardtech 2019 was organised at Maker Village in Kochi. The two-day event was attended by keynote speakers from global tech firms, entrepreneurs, business leaders, and academicians from IIM Bengaluru, University of Texas, and ISB Hyderabad. They discussed themes related to innovation, technology, and entrepreneurship.

In a panel discussion, Arpit Agarwal, Principal Blume Ventures, discussed the various strategies that Indian startups should adopt to be at par with global markets, with Erik Azulay, IC2 Institute, University of Texas, and Jayant Nadiger, Trade & Investment Commissioner of Flanders.

Arpit Agarwal, Erik Azulay and Jayant Nadiger (L-R)

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Arpit: What are the different ways in which ecosystems grow? What do you see as the unique strength in India?

Jayant: The number of people, their skills, and quality is India's unique strength. When given a brief, an Indian understands the problem much deeper and applies technology to find a solution. Education, innovation, and risk-taking ability are important as well. If we take social security as one of the factors affecting an ecosystem's growth, we see that while European markets are socially secure, India is not. Thus, Indians have to be innovative at every step.

Erik: I think what is unique about India is its population and talent. Also, the competition here makes one better.

Arpit: How can we translate India's raw energy and take it to a superpower? What are the things missing in India?

Erik: The startup ecosystem has come a long way, but we still have a long way to go. As a step forward, I am very glad that the government has put into place policies and I think I would like to see more execution from both startups and the government. There is a dearth of entrepreneurs who are role models. Now is the time when they have to give back.

Jayant: I think we need to look at access to technology, benchmark the technology, and then see how we can use available technology to solve local problems. I would encourage startups to look at available technology and see how they can solve local problems.

Arpit: Do you think that there is a special need for ecosystems like Kochi? Do you think such ecosystems need to have higher benchmarks?

Jayant: It is true for any ecosystem; it does not vary geographically. It is very important to reach out to different hubs to understand what kinds of problems they are solving, what technology they are applying, and how they have been able to make them marketable. This is the challenge that startups are facing. We can solve this by giving them exposure to other markets and build a solution for local markets.

Erik: I think startups should think globally and solve locally. It is not much about the tech, but about the problem you are solving using the technology. Startups should focus on solving global problems. 

Arpit: Eric, how is a maker village in India different from one in America?

Erik: One of the things that I have noticed here is that most incubators or accelerators have a sense of urgency on entrepreneurs to get to market and revenues as soon as possible. Even if their product is perfect, they want to get to the market for validation.

Arpit: How do entrepreneurs find more funding?

Jayant: I think it is important to make the idea marketable.

Arpit: How can entrepreneurs make the idea marketable or market ready?

Jayant: Whenever you take a new product to the market, it is always tough. It is important to validate the product from an ecosystem point of view. Mentorship becomes very important at this stage - not only technology mentorship, but also market mentorship.

Erik: It is very important to build for scale. A popular trend in India is that funding is a goal for all startups. When you go to a VC or an angel, prove your concept to make them able to invest in your company. Prove that it is valid in the market, even when bootstrapped. When you go to them, you should be able to say that you are cash positive, your product has been validated, and that you need their help to scale up.

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