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September 30, 2006

"This time, it's different"

Businessworld has a cover story on the resurgence in tech entrepreneurship in the country. The article points out painstakingly why things are different this time around compared to the last wave in the late nineties.

In Bangalore, 250 new startups have sprung up since January. TiE’s (The Indus Entrepreneurs’) Bangalore and Mumbai chapters have seen a spurt in attendance at their events. “Suddenly, we’re running out of seats. Six months ago, it was difficult to fill even 20,” says Sridhar Mitta, who heads TiE Bangalore. IIM Bangalore’s entrepreneur club has had similar experiences. “Membership has jumped significantly in the last 12 months,” says Kalyani Gandhi, head of the Nadathur S. Raghavan Centre for Entrepreneurial Learning (NSRCEL). IIT Madras is incubating six new startups. And back in Mumbai, SINE is incubating 16, the highest it has seen since 1999-2000.


...This brings up the first big difference from the dotcom era. While that phase saw innovation mostly around one opportunity, the Internet, this time it is spread across six — consumer Internet, semiconductors, gaming and animation, wireless communication, SaaS (software-as-a-service), and telecom and software products. The diversity helps in a couple of ways. One, each segment is at a different stage of maturity and the business models are still being defined. That gives entrepreneurs more space to innovate. Take semiconductors — much of the work centres around back-end chip design. Example: the chip that runs Apple’s iPod was fine-tuned by Hyderabad-based Pinexe Systems. The chip itself was manufactured in Taiwan because India does not have a manufacturing base yet. Companies like inSilica and MosChip are betting on this space. Second, since some segments are more nascent than others, it lengthens the period of innovation, making this resurgence more sustainable. The odds for throwing up world-class technology leaders are, therefore, that much higher.

We picked three areas that already have the potential to produce winners — consumer Internet, wireless communications and SaaS. Over the past couple of years, these segments have experienced one big change — the emergence of a large and growing domestic market. Take the consumer Internet space. In the past six years, India’s Internet user base has jumped from 1 million to over 35 million on the back of increased broadband penetration and PC usage. In the near future, most Indians may access the Internet from their mobile phones. This implies a combined Internet user base of over 150 million. Service providers like Airtel and Hutch have started offering subscribers value-added services that enable even banking transactions on mobiles using the Internet.

The Businesworld website has an accompanying article profiling a few of the new techology start-ups mentioned in the cover story.

Arun Natarajan is the Founder of Venture Intelligence, which tracks private equity and venture capital in India and Indian-founded companies worldwide. View sample issues of Venture Intelligence India newsletters and reports.