In the Lord of the Rings, the epic journey of destroying the One Ring, JRR Tolkien created a magical world where all the forces of good banded together to prevent the Dark Lord, the manifestation of all evil, from unleashing his rage on Middle Earth.
The similarity with today’s world, which has come together to fight COVID-19, can’t be missed.
Even as 218 countries and territories struggle to cope with the coronavirus – there have been more than 80 million cases and 1.75 million deaths worldwide – a new challenge has cropped up. The virus has mutated, with experts saying it is now more transmissible, which has heightened fears across the globe.
The average daily COVID-19 cases in India, which has reported 10.1 million cases and more than 147,000 deaths, may have fallen, but there has been no letup in the fears and uncertainties.
But amidst the gloom and doom, India’s startup ecosystem has responded by coming out with all guns blazing to take the fight to the coronavirus.
Numerous Indian entrepreneurs showed their resilience and deeper understanding of the country’s on-ground problems and began working on solutions to solve for critical aspects of the pandemic.
Startups continued doing stellar work through the year – be it the 30 that were part of Centre for Cellular And Molecular Platforms’ COVID-19 accelerator, the 24 winners of the Aatmanirbhar Bharat App Innovation Challenge, the 21 RAISE 2020 startups, YourStory’s curated Tech30 companies or others.
The idea was one: to think out of the box and come up with solutions that made a difference.
After all, as Gandalf said in the Lord of the Rings, “All we have to do is decide what to do with the time that is given to us.”
Here’s our list of the top 25 startup stories of 2020:
The Centre for Cellular And Molecular Platforms (C-CAMP) in March 2020 launched a COVID-19 Innovations Deployment Accelerator (C-CIDA) to identify and fast-track innovations that could be immediately deployed across India to support hospitals and governments in their fight against coronavirus. Thirty innovations in critical categories across diagnostic kits, ventilators, remote monitoring, preventive technologies, and more were selected from more than 1,100 applications. These startups, which include Bengaluru-based Eyestem, Noida-based DNA Xperts, Hyderabad-based Huwel Lifesciences, Ahmedabad-based Cosara Diagnostics, and Bengaluru-based Coeo Labs, reflect the true spirit of the “Aatmanirbhar Bharat”, with out-of-the-box solutions to fight COVID-19.
Made in India
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Aatmanirbhar Bharat App Innovation Challenge, which was announced in July, was part of the government’s efforts to boost innovation in India and reduce dependency on foreign apps. Twenty-four winners were announced in August from 900 entries across categories. In October 2020, YourStory released the AppNirbhar Bharat report, which celebrates Made in India apps and gave an 11-point recommendation for creating a robust app ecosystem. The 24 Made in India apps that stood out include:
- · CaptionPlus, MemeChat (Entertainment)
- · Logically (News)
- · HitWicket Superstars, ScarFall (Games)
- · Zoho Workplace, SureMDM, KaagazScanner (Office)
- · StepSetGo, iMumz (Health)
- · Disprz, Kutuki Kids, IsEqualTo (E-learning)
- · Zoho Invoice, Mall 91, GimBooks (Business)
- · Chingari, Koo, Mitron, YourQuote (Social)
- · MapmyIndia Move, Ask Sarkar (Others)
In October, the Ministry of Electronics and IT announced RAISE 2020, a five-day virtual global AI summit to support tech entrepreneurs and startup. Twenty-one startups (15 winners and six special mentions) were shortlisted for providing AI solutions for different sectors, including healthcare, edtech, NLP, smart mobility and transportation, agriculture, and others. The list was impressive, and included SigtTuple Technologies, Artivatic.ai (healthcare); CogniABle, Embibe, and Hind AI Labs (education); Haptik, Rezo.ai, Enixta, Gnani, and Devnagri (NLP); NAYAN India, RoadMetrics, and Uncanny Vision (smart mobility and transport); TartanSense and Intello Labs (agriculture); and Sequretek, Sirena Technologies, and Matisoft (others). All had one thing in common: a desire to develop and grow an AI ecosystem responsible for humanity and committed towards social empowerment.
Biryani by Kilo
Indians love their biryani. And how! Swiggy revealed that between January and December 2020, more than one biryani was ordered every second. And Gurugram-based foodtech startup Biryani by Kilo is riding this boom. Founded by Kaushik Roy and Vishal Jindal in 2015, the startup is using cloud kitchens to grow its business and create a global brand. It has grown significantly in revenues, going from Rs 86 lakh in FY16 to Rs 48 crore in FY20. Biryani by Kilo aims to grow to 150-plus outlets across India in the next four years and expand to international destinations.
The COVID-19 pandemic has heightened the feeling of fear and anxiety among people, and brought many businesses to a standstill. But Delhi-based AstroTalk, which is focused on providing astrology-related services, saw its revenue more than double during the coronavirus crisis. Founded in 2017, the startup provides a range of astrology services, on chat or call.
Over the last eight years, YourStory has been presenting the Tech30 — our specially curated list of India’s top 30 early-stage tech startups. This year’s list was wide and varied, with every startup in a class of its own: Arintra, Avianco, Bikayi, Blackfrog Technologies, CogniAble, DeepSource, DronaMaps, EyeROV, Fountain9, IDENTY, Lightwing, Megara Robotics, Niral Networks, Nuclei, ODWEN, Onsurity Technologies, Pixxel, Rephrase.ai, Samaaro, Senderment, Spayee, Sprinkle Data, Stackby, Statiq, Sunfox Technologies, TartanSense, Taskmonk, WorkDuck, Yaoe, and Zeuva Automotive.
Hosachiguru was founded in 2015 by three engineers who gave up their high-paying IT jobs to do farming on the outskirts of Bengaluru. The agri asset management company provides farm-as-a-service to people who want to invest in agriculture for long-term wealth gains.
Ippo in Tamil means now, which makes Chennai-based fintech startup IppoPay’s plans clear. Launched by Mohan K, a fisherman’s son, amidst the pandemic, the payments aggregator enables small businesses, SMEs, freelancers, and homepreneurs in Tier II, III, and rural areas to collect payments with its POS software.
Unlike other foodtech platforms that pick up and deliver food from restaurants and cloud kitchens, Gurugram-based JustMyRoots was launched in 2016 with an aim to deliver home-cooked meals unique to a particular region. The startup, which claims to be India’s first inter-state home delivery service, was born out of the founders’ personal struggles living away from their homes (and hometowns).
Cover It Up
When Ronak Sarda bought his first batch of cell phone covers from China, little did he know that the whirlwind purchase would lead to the launch of his own startup. Launched as a Facebook page, Chennai-based Cover It Up personalises pop culture-inspired products such as phone covers, AirPods cases, mugs, posters, and others.
The first startup that IIT-Delhi graduates Aayush Jindal and Ashish Prakash launched bombed. But that did not deter them from taking another shot at entrepreneurship. The duo came together again to co-found their second startup, ToeSmith, a completely different business from their earlier medtech startup Aermed. ToeSmith offers a 3D interactive design tool that allows the customer to customise different parts of a shoe individually.
Founded by Nukul Upadhye, Nikhil Tripathi, Mahesh Jakhotia, Daya Rai, and Jitender Bedwal, Bijak is a B2B marketplace for agricultural commodities that connects millions of buyers, sellers, traders, wholesalers, food processors, retailers, and farmers. The Gurugram-based agritech startup is transforming India’s agri trade with technology, information, and data. It has scaled up to 25 states in 18 months.
Made in India, for the world. When Sameer Mehta and Aman Gupta launched boAt in 2016, their aim was to avoid another me-too sourced from China product “without having a clear vision on the design and intellectual property”. Today, boAt is present in 5,000 retail stores, claims to be clocking sales of over 10,000 units a day, and says it has served 20 million Indians so far. What’s next? Building a global audio business out of India.
After leading a busy life as an investment banker, Oshank Soni decided to take some time off and get away from the daily hustle-bustle. That trek led him to start Delhi-NCR based bootstrapped trekking company Trekmunk along with Harshit Patel and Mohit Goswami. Apart from regular treks, it hosts trail cleaning treks and escorts doctors to high altitudes to treat the less fortunate.
Founded by a former Flipkart employee, Crio.Do offers a learning platform for engineers to make them industry-ready. The Bengaluru-based startup, backed by Binny Bansal and other former Flipkart employees, is a learning and skilling platform that empowers engineers and developers with practical skills by making them solve real-world problems.
In 2019, Amit Lakhotia, who has worked in successful startups like MakeMyTrip, Paytm, and Tokopedia, launched Park+, a new smart parking solution startup that aims to be the BookMyShow for parking. The idea came to Amit when he faced difficulties while finding a parking space at Paytm office.
Bengaluru-based agritech startup Clover began from a family-owned coffee estate in 2018. Founded by childhood friends Avinash BR, Gururaj Rao, Arvind Murali, and Santhosh Narasipura, the startup partners with small farmholders, and grades, packages, and sells their premium quality, greenhouse-grown fresh produce — lettuce, basil, spinach, coriander, zucchini, beans, cauliflower, etc. — through B2B and B2C channels. In two years, it has seen a 14x growth in its greenhouse-grown produce.
When you can’t order dessert, what do you do? This millennial launched her startup. Launched by Vedika Tibrewal with her mother Sonal in 2018, Kolkata-based Scoopski makes edible cookie dough that can be consumed straight from the jar, baked into cookies, or used as a topping.
Stranger & Sons
Two things come to mind when one thinks of gin: the hot priest from the web series Fleabag, and London, a city best-known for its gin and tonic cocktail. But Goa-based Stranger & Sons aims to change that. Launched by Sakshi Saigal, Rahul Mehra, and Vidur Gupta in 2018, the startup aims to introduce Indians to gin made with locally sourced ingredients.
Arpita Aditi started Nutnbolt in 2019 along with Narendra Malhotra, who was at the CXO level at Pizza Hut. The startup provides end-to-end restaurant management consultation and execution services to help restaurants scale, learn new strategies, and adapt to the digital shift.
Founded by Anmol Oberoi and Pulkit Gambhir, Emitrr is building a human-like smart assistant for small businesses in the local service industry. The fully-automated assistant can handle customer queries like service appointments, quotes, FAQs, and more. The Bengaluru-based SaaS startup is working to add more capabilities to the product through vertical integrations.
Started in 2019, Bengaluru-headquartered ReadyAssist provides 24/7 on-the-spot repairs and service for bikes and cars. The startup decided it would not go for an aggregator model, and adopted a hybrid system to get skilled vehicle repair personnel onto its platform.
In the last few months, terms like “contactless” and “touchless” have entered our everyday lexicon. Meet Goa-based Spintly, an IoT startup that develops wireless cloud-based access control systems for homes and businesses, and is putting companies like OYO, MyGate, and L&T on the contactless future path.
No wedding is complete without wedding photographers and videographers. Enter Mumbai-based WeddingNama, which was founded by wife-husband duo Ankita Asthana and Akash Agarwal in 2013. The business was born out of the couple’s common passion for travel and photography, and claims to have grown 10x since inception.
The last few years have seen the rise – and rise – of influencer marketing. Bengaluru-based influencer marketing startup Pulpkey helps brands such as Amazon, Zara, PayPal, Taco Bell, and HotStar identify the perfect creators for their product/service, and create targeted advertising strategies.