Sky’s the limit for technology

Big capital: Global investors with large funds such as Japan’s SoftBank Group Corp see growing opportunity in India’s startup scene. — AFP

NEW DELHI: It was an historic week for India’s technology industry. In the space of four days, the country minted at least six new startups with a valuation of US$1bil (RM4.1bil) or more - what techies call unicorns because they’re supposed to be such rarities.

In rough order of size: The investment platform Groww raised money at a valuation of more than US$1bil, messaging bots startup Gupshup hit US$1.4bil, digital pharmacy API Holdings Pvt was valued at close to US$1.5bil, app developer Mohalla Tech surpassed US$2.1bil, social commerce startup Meesho Inc also reached US$2.1bil and financial-technology provider Cred rounded out the blessing of unicorns at US$2.2bil.

For context, India had a total of seven new unicorns in all of 2020, according to market researcher CB Insights. In 2019, it had six.

Global investors such as Japan’s SoftBank Group Corp and South Africa’s Naspers Ltd see growing opportunity in the country’s startup scene. The nation of 1.3 billion people has seen the rapid adoption of smartphones in recent years, explosive growth of inexpensive internet services and a new generation of ambitious entrepreneurs.

“Large funds such as Naspers, SoftBank and Tiger Global have significant amounts of capital to invest and these startups are now on top of their list, ” said P.N. Sudarshan, a partner at Deloitte.India has long trailed well behind the US and China in the amount of venture capital money invested in startups. The total value of deals in 2020 was US$11.8bil, compared with US$143bil in the US and US$83bil in China, according to researcher Preqin.

But several startups have emerged recently to signal the potential in the South Asian country. Digital payments giant Paytm reached a valuation of US$16bil, making it the most valuable in the country, according to CB Insights. Online-education startup Byju’s is rasing money at a US$15bil valuation, Bloomberg News reported last week.

Flipkart, the e-commerce giant acquired by Walmart Inc in 2018, is targeting an initial public offering in the fourth quarter that could value the company at more than US$35bil.

The venture investments are helping to diversify India’s industry, long best known for tech services companies such as Tata Consultancy Services Ltd and Infosys Ltd. A Credit Suisse Group AG report last month found there are about 100 unicorns in India with a combined market value of US$240bil, in sectors from e-commerce and fintech to education, logistics and food-delivery.

“India’s corporate landscape is undergoing a radical change due to a remarkable confluence of changes in the funding, regulatory and business environment in the country over the past two decades, ” the report said.

“An unprecedented pace of new-company formation and innovation in a variety of sectors has meant a surge in the number of

highly-valued, as-yet unlisted companies.”

The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the adoption of online technologies in India, perhaps even more than in other countries. During the coronavirus pandemic and the stringent lockdowns of last year, more than 1,600 new startups were founded, taking the total in the country to over 12,500, according to a January report by Nasscom, the country’s technology industry trade body.

More than 55 of these are potential unicorns, the report said, what the venture industry refers to as “soonicorns.”

Like in Silicon Valley, executives who got experience at leading startups such as Flipkart and Paytm are breaking out to set up their own companies, and entrepreneurs who have had successful exits are turning to their second or third startups.

“The surge of funding and the breeding of unicorns is not a surprise because India has the third-largest startup ecosystem in the world and the third-largest market for such startups, ” said Pranav Pai, managing partner at 3one4 Capital Advisors LLP.

Pai said he knows of at least six new unicorns that will be minted in the next few months. While US$20mil rounds were notable five years ago, startups are scaling very quickly and raising US$100mil to US$200mil rounds nowadays, he said.

The investor checks out a few hundred startups each month on average.

“The difference is, instead of encountering just one high-quality startup among those, we now see eight to 10 every month, ” said the venture capitalist whose earlier fund Arin Capital backed edtech startup Byju’s and the newly-minted e-pharmacy unicorn, PharmEasy. — Bloomberg

Many investors will see their earlier bets come full circle as a dozen Indian startups prepare to head to the public markets later this year or early next.

“Such exits will further boost investor confidence, increase liquidity and fuel a new frenzy of funding, ” said Sudarshan. -- Bloomberg

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