In 2016, I visited India thrice to attend conferences in Bangalore, the heart of technology in the country. SURGE, TechSparks and NASSCOM Product Conclave are the main tech conferences in the country. They bring together enthusiastic entrepreneurs, leading startups, corporates, journalists and other key innovation players to share insights.
I was impressed by the size and the dynamism of the ecosystem. With 4,750 startups, India has the third largest ecosystem behind Silicon Valley and the United Kingdom.
However, I was disappointed to see that most Indian startups had entered e-commerce. To me, technology had more to offer than just helping people spend money online.
The issues in India are many. They include energy, transportation, shortage of teachers, financial inclusion and lackluster healthcare. The list goes on.
2016 was a year of change. The e-commerce hype slowed down nearer to the end of the year 2015. Startups such as Zomato and FoodPanda started to cut down on employee size and costs. Indian startups began to put important problems first. As a result, investment in the fintech, edtech and healthtech sectors have grown.
Companies are now bringing out solutions that are aimed at solving locally relevant issues
explained Mr. CP Gurnani, Chairman of Indian software industry organization NASSCOM.
Let us take a closer look at Indian startups that have changed the game.
Indian Startups in Fintech : Financial Inclusion and Lower Remittance Costs
There is much potential for fintech in India. Over 233 million Indians have never been to a bank. Many accounts have a balance of zero according to Pricewaterhouse Coopers.
In spite of this problem, banks do not cater for clients with lower incomes. The poorer population has therefore limited access to many financial services.
As new tools and technologies are developed, old business models are challenged and financial services become more accessible especially for those living in rural locations.
In 2016, fintech has attracted US$512 million in funding according to startup analysis platform Tracxn with 40% from novel models for lending. This therefore allows the population with no credit history to access loans.
Big data makes this possible. Indian startups generate credit scores based on social media and other data.
Examples include LendingKart that uses big data analysis to aid small businesses with US$42 million raised in 2016, Finnomena that focuses on students and millennials and CreditVidya that raised US$2 million.
Bitcoin startup Coinsecure raised Series A this year as well. India possess much Bitcoin potential.
Indeed, the digital currency can lower the cost of international transfers. India is the largest receiver of remittances in the world. The World Bank estimates India to have received at least US$72 billion in 2015 in remittances. This amount is several times the foreign aid budget to India.
A startup able to make the remittance costs just a few cents cheaper can bring millions of dollars more into India yearly.
Indian Startups in Healthtech : Giving Healthcare Access to Remote Areas
Following financial inclusion and lower remittance costs, access to good healthcare is also a major issue in India.
70% of the population still lives in rural areas and have limited access to hospitals and clinics. The Indian healthtech industry should grow by 16% to US$280 billion in 2020.
A well known Indian startup based in healthcare is Forus Health.
There are 15 million blind individuals in India. This is due to a combination of several issues, but mostly due to limited access to eye care facilities, high cost of treatment/surgery and lack of awareness.
Touching 2 million lives in 26 countries, Forus Health designs affordable technology solutions to increase the access and affordability of eye care.
Forus Health may not be the only successful healthcare-based Indian startup soon. Tricog Health Services, a startup that produces cloud-connected electrocardiogram machines, raised Series A this year.
The Indian startup installs machines in medical centers to reduce the time between symptoms and treatment after a heart attack. Heart attack accounted for the death of 1 in 4 Indians, making it a major cause of mortality in the country.
Moreover, medical appointments through video calling has gained traction. Indian startups such as DocsApp, SeeDoc or MUrgency show much potential. Claiming that 72% of health issues can be handled online, video conferences provide medical care in less accessible areas.
Indian Startups in Edtech : Digital Learning Platforms to Empower Rural and Semi-Urban Areas
Similarly, education startups are getting more traction this year.
Indian startup Byju’s raised a Series D round of US$50 million in September led by Sequoia Capital and the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative. This education-based Indian startup raised the highest funding round this year.
Byju’s launched in 2015 with a 15% growth rate. It claims more than 5.5 million downloads with 250,000 paid yearly subscribers. The company creates learning programs for K-12 students and major exams.
According to the District Information System for Education of the Union Ministry of Human Resource Development, the academic year 2014-2015 saw 41.55% of primary school staffed by only 2 teachers, 11.62% by one teacher and 0.84% did not have any teacher at all. Hence, this shows the importance of solving the problems plaguing the education system in India.
In addition to Byju’s, other notable Indian startups include English Dost, a mobile app that helps Indians improve their chances in the job market by becoming proficient in spoken English and ConveGenius that works with the state government to expand into more rural areas of India.
In the same vein, infrastructure providing Internet access in the country has shown gradual improvement.
The costs of data and smartphones are lowering. As a result, third of Indian mobile users are to own a smartphone by 2017. Developments have allowed smartphone prices to reach US$ 50-60.
Consequently, new business models have to emerge to bring more of the Indian population online. Jana, an Indian startup that offers advertisers to interact more widely with consumers, has launched a notable business model in which they pay for consumers’ bills. As of today, the Indian startup is the largest provider of free internet globally.