HindustanTimes Tue,23 Dec 2014

Microsoft playing mother hen to dozens of Indian startups

Manu P Toms , Hindustan Times  Bangalore, May 15, 2014
First Published: 12:48 IST(15/5/2014) | Last Updated: 12:53 IST(15/5/2014)

“If you run a professional catering service you will make a lot of money,” Abhishek Singh used to tell his mother. That was the beginning of an online platform for home chefs to connect with customers, which took its name from the ‘imly chutney’ she makes.

‘’ created a network of 175 home chefs — housewives, passionate professionals and retirees — in Bangalore. But after spending a few months in Microsoft Ventures Accelerator programme, Singh and his partner Pavan Mishra completely remodelled their business and redesigned their website. The service is now ‘hyperlocal’ and real-time, and Imly is now talking to investors for a fund of `70 lakh to scale up.

On May 23, when the latest batch of 16 startups graduates, Microsoft’s Accelerator programme in India would have incubated a total of 50 Internet startups. About 85% of them have got early stage investors, and two of them have been acquired.

The current crop of 16 two-three year old companies make an average annual revenue of `1.5 crore each; some of them even make `7 crore. Over the last two years, investors such as Indian Angel Network, Mumbai Angels, Seed Fund and Blume Ventures have pumped around `40 crore into these early stage companies, and some of them have ambitious targets., founded by Hari Venkata, wants to hit `400 crore in four years. “Only 10% of tickets are booked online, and it is already a `15,000-crore market,” said 48-year-old Venkata, who left an 18-year career in Silicon Valley to start the world’s first bus booking site on Microsoft cloud. The site currently facilitates 50 ticket bookings daily. “The volume triples every quarter,” he said.

Microsoft Ventures is in the process of selecting its next batch. “We already got 600 applications. We aren’t even halfway through,” said Ravi Narayan, director, Microsoft Ventures.

“We ourselves are becoming clearer on what kind of companies we want to work with. They have to have some level of traction and some number of customers,” he said. Some of these companies have already gone some distance. For instance, Touchfone, which provides video delivery for low bandwidth mobile phones, earned `2.5 crore last year and sees turnover quadrupling this year.

“So far Microsoft has not invested in any startup in India,” said Narayan. “We have recommended four companies for investments. Lot of discussion going on internally with our product groups to see if there is any alignment, if there is strategic synergy. It can’t be based on financial criteria alone.”

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