Microsoft taps India's nascent startup culture

Redmond offers 11 selected early-stage startups opportunity to undergo four-month program with guidance from industry mentors including business leaders, venture capitalists and angel investors.

India has seen a transformation in the last few years, where young techies fresh out of college as well as experienced IT professionals are now seeking a new path--entrepreneurship.

Microsoft is one tech market player that has stepped out to offer mentorship and other related resources. The U.S. software giant on May 23 announced Microsoft Accelerator for Windows Azure, a four-month program to host 10 early-stage startups and help build Indian businesses. It includes a state-of-the-art facility spanning 8,300 square feet in Microsoft's Bangalore office. The facility is modeled on the latest concept of shared workspaces, designed to facilitate open collaboration, creative thinking and innovation.

Just over a month since the launch, Microsoft India received over 200 applications from early-stage startups with ideas encompassing e-commerce, healthcare, education, digital media, enterprise, cloud infrastructure and mobile.

After a rigorous screening process, Microsoft on Jul. 26 announced the final list of 11--one more from the original 10 intended. S. Somasegar, corporate vice president of Microsoft's developer division, flew in from Redmond to kick off the incubator alongside Amit Chatterjee, managing director of research and development at Microsoft India. 


Starting Sep. 3, the selected startups will undergo a four-month deep-immersion program under the guidance of a network of over 60 mentors from Microsoft and the industry, including influential business leaders, venture capitalists and angel investors.

In an interview with ZDNet, Chatterjee said he was fascinated by the number and breadth of applications received, adding that the program aimed to provide high-involvement and impactful mentorship.

Asked if the initiative could be scaled up next year in terms of the number of startups, he dismissed the idea as this would efforts to provide a high-involvement mentorship program. Any growth instead would likely be in the form of running the scheme twice or thrice in a year to induct more startups, he noted.

Taking startups to "the next level"
One of the selected startups is, a social media platform built to enable TV viewers to provide direct feedback to media houses. Its co-founder Prajwal B.S, who is a former Yahoo employee, said the company aims to improve the TV watching experience.

"The reason why we applied for this program was because we felt we had created a great second-screen product, and needed guidance and mentorship to take it to the next level," Prajwal said. "Getting selected is validation we have a strong team and solid business case. This is a great beginning and we hope to make the best use of this opportunity to build a world-class product firm."

Debabrata Bagchi, founder of Sparsha Learning Technologies, said: "With world-class mentors, access to great technology and best possible infrastructure at hand, we are looking to create and execute on a strategy to leapfrog Sparsha's products onto a global stage." Also a startup selected under the Accelerator program, Sparsha aims to enable learning through innovative and engaging methods.

Somasegar said India's startup culture is at a nascent stage and it would take a few years before the country sees breakthrough products viable for acquisition by big IT companies, such as Yammer or Foursquare.

"These are exciting times in the global software industry--we are seeing the dawn of a new way of designing applications powered by cloud, Internet and mobile," he said. "India has always been one of the earliest adopters of emerging technologies. Innovation is blossoming here and at the heart of it lies a very strong startup culture."

Abhishek Baxi is a freelance IT writer based in India.