Kerala startups join Microsoft-laden path to become India’s 100 unicorns

>>Day-long mentorship at KSUM is latest in MNC’s ecosystem grooming in tier-2 cities

Kerala’s startup ecosystem strengthened today its prospect of a quantum jump in growth profile when Microsoft initiated nascent companies across the state into a business mentorship programme that catalyses their scalability in the long run.

The MNC’s ambitious ‘Highway to a Hundred Unicorns’ project entered Kerala by rolling out guidance and networking sessions to the state’s particularly promising startups at the day-long event. Twelve select Kerala firms are vying for a national-level round that ensures advanced guidance on developing products, strategies and funds for three finalist startups towards becoming companies valued above one billion US dollars.

It’s high time India had its startup ecosystems in cities beyond the metros, and that’s why the Microsoft mission is holding the event at Kochi after rounds in Gujarat and Rajasthan, speakers noted at the inaugural session of the programme held in association with Kerala Startup Mission (KSUM) at its premises in Kalamassery, 20 km north of here.

Kerala’s status as a state with a rich variety of startups has led Microsoft to choose 12 among them for long-term mentorship instead of ten that has been the case earlier with Gujarat and Rajasthan, according to Lathika S Pai of the MNC. “That’s why we have titled the Kerala leg ‘Emerge X’ instead of ‘Emerge 10’,” pointed out the speaker, Country Head, Microsoft for Startups (MENA and SAARC).

“Microsoft has brought in here its top experts who are vastly experienced in giving startups tips on turning innovations into products and subsequently scale their operations both inside and outside the country,” she added.  India currently has 26 unicorns.

M Sivasankar, Secretary, IT, Government of Kerala, said Microsoft’s ‘Highway to a Hundred Unicorns’ project has come to the state at the right time. “We are in a stage now where there is the structure, but without a roof. This programme will help Kerala’s startups gain an ecosystem that gets built sheet by sheet,” he noted.

The senior bureaucrat stressed the need for Kerala and the rest of the country to have thematic acceleration facilities than going for broad areas. “We must try to focus on areas such as artificial intelligence or space technology,” he added.

KSUM Chief Executive Officer Dr. Saji Gopinath said startups in Kerala fundamentally follow five stages in their course of growth. Promotion of innovative minds in educational institutions, providing startups with infrastructure and subsequently incubating them must be followed up with long-term growth strategies, he noted. “It’s thus that this Microsoft project is of immense value,” he added.

The rest of the day saw a dozen experts from Microsoft mentoring close to 200 startups at the event at KSUM’s Integrated Startup Complex, while also introducing them senior government officials and founders of successful unicorns.

The ‘Highway to a Hundred Unicorns’ project under the Microsoft for Startups initiative across states enables startups to reach customers across the globe by leveraging the cloud marketplace, enterprise sales team and partner ecosystem. With its strong focus on advanced technology platform, growing partner ecosystem and M12 venture fund, the MNC strives to help startups embrace the next phase of growth and evolve from being market-ready to enterprise-ready.

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