The ferocious second wave of Covid-19 has brought with it gloom and uncertainty as the virus mutated, surged and engulfed the nation. Thankfully, with hyper-localised lockdown protocols and an advancing vaccination drive, cases are tapering. As we move past this storm, we will come out more cautious, resilient and better prepared for challenges ahead.
Amidst this darkness, there was some light shining through our economy. This was the continued rise of entrepreneurship with newly tagged unicorns. The banking tech startup Zeta, has become the latest unicorn in India, already taking the 2021 tally to 13. It leverages a cloud-native platform and improves cost-to-income ratio and user experience for financial institutions. A Credit Suisse report on Indian unicorns, released in March 2021, had articulated that “due to remarkable confluence of changes in the funding, regulatory and business environment there has been an acceleration of 100 unicorns in India with a combined market capitalization of $240 billion.” Today, India has the third-largest number of unicorns globally.
This transformation has been made feasible by adopting technology at an unprecedented pace. Through the IndiaStack and the Aadhar identification system India has transformed digital identities. With the linkage of Aadhar, bank accounts and mobile phones (JAM trinity), we have pushed the envelope of financial inclusion and reduced system leakages. The direct benefit transfers that JAM has enabled, has become a mechanism for delivery of public goods. The UPI platform has made digital banking accessible and witnessed huge growth over a short period of time. Similarly our commitment for climate change at COP 21 has led to disruption in renewable energy with India achieving a record low price of Rs 1.99 per Kwh. Thus, teledensity, rich data for low-cost smartphones, and accelerating our development transition to reduce emissions have driven the fintech, edutech, logistics and renewable energy revolution.
A critical sector in the unicorn space, given the current context, is the emergence of healthcare, pharmaceutical and biotech companies as global powerhouses. Last year, the National Digital Health Mission and Telemedicine Guidelines, were timely interventions for this sector. Bharat Biotech and Serum Institute of India have become household names in India with their life-saving interventions of Covaxin and Covishield. Hetero Labs has gained prominence as a leading generic pharmaceutical company and the “world’s largest producer of anti-retroviral drugs”. It has 36 manufacturing facilities, with over 300 products in over 127 countries. For the treatment of Covid-19: it has launched Covifor, the generic Remdesivir, is manufacturing investigational oral therapeutic antiviral drug Molnupiravir, and is in the process of producing 100 million vaccine doses of Sputnik V vaccine annually. Finally, PharmEasy is operating as an online healthcare aggregator that provides medicine delivery and diagnostic tests, promoting healthcare accessibility, availability and affordability. It is ensuring delivery across 22,000 pin-codes, servicing over 2 million families every month.
Fintech and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) took off with interventions such as Digital India, India Stack, JAM trinity, UPI and record low data prices at an average cost of $0.68 per gigabyte of data well below the global average of $4.21. As the migration to cloud continues, the value of easy data management, protection and utilisation has exponentially risen. Druva, provides data protection solutions for managing enterprise data. It deploys cutting-edge data management techniques, provides data analytics intelligence, and policy-based data management services. Its customer base boasts of over 4,000 companies, has recently surpassed 7 million daily backups, as it impressively looks over 2.5 billion backups annually while managing 169PB of data.
HighRadius, a fintech SaaS firm, leverages AI powered autonomous systems to help automate Accounts Receivable and Treasury processes. It enhances transaction efficiency by automating receivables and payments processes, managing over 2.23 trillion transactions annually and is used by over 200 Global-2000 companies and mid-size enterprises. Innovaccer, collates healthcare data across varied systems for delivering unified patient records and actionable insights, ensuring beneficial patient outcomes. Operating out of USA and India, it has onboarded 24 million patients and 50 healthcare organizations.
Logistics cost comprises nearly 14% of GDP in India compared to 8-10% of GDP in the US and Europe. There is an imminent need to reduce this cost for raising economic competitiveness. This has been focussed on through policy interventions such as rationalization of tax structure using GST leading to faster movement of goods across the country, accelerated speed of highway construction at an average speed of 29.81km per day and the 102-lakh crore National Infrastructure Pipeline Project, amongst other interventions. Entrepreneurs are using this opportunity to build agile networks, disruptive technologies, end-to-end visibility, risk mitigation and management techniques.
Ecom Express is an end-to-end technology-enabled logistics solutions provider to the e-commerce industry. It has digitized operations via dedicated GPS-enabled fleet of vehicles and a proprietary enterprise platform while operating 2,932 facility centres located across 27,000 pin codes. Udaan has developed a network-centric B2B trade platform, designed for small and medium businesses. It is servicing 30 lakh retailers, 25,000 sellers across 900 cities by bringing together traders, wholesalers, retailers and manufacturers, onto a single platform with over 5 lakh products.
The ambitious stand of our Intended Nationally Determined Contributions at Paris Agreement, co-founding of the International Solar Alliance, visionary target of 450GW of renewable power by 2030 and most recently PLI schemes focussed on Advanced Chemistry Cell Battery Storage and High Efficiency Solar PV Modules have brought focus to the importance of dealing with Climate Change. Today, there exists a competitive and technological opportunity to transition towards sustainable energy use. Greenko is replacing fossil fuels with integrated decarbonized energy and grid assets enabling affordable and sustainable energy. It is focussed on “digitization, decarbonization and decentralization” with a portfolio across wind, solar and hydro technologies. Its integrated report of 2019-20 impressively lists cumulative energy assets of 6.2GW, via 112 projects, with 2,300km in transmission lines across 15 states in India. Myrtah Energy is focussed on scaling wind and solar energy for India. It has built 1800MW of operational assets across 17 wind farms and 21 ground-monitored solar farms in 9 states. Finally, ReNew Power is operating over 100 utility-scale wind and solar energy projects, generating power for commercial and industrial customers with a renewable asset base of nearly 10GW, spread across 8 states in India.
These emerging areas of growth being traversed by entrepreneurs are set to be exemplary catalysers for economic growth, augmenting quality of life and raising ease of living. Undoubtedly, these are difficult times. Yet, the light of these unicorns provides hope and optimism. Moving forward, we must strive to get into the sunrise sectors of growth – genomics, AI, clean and connected mobility, green hydrogen and advance cell chemistry. These are all areas of big opportunity and we must use technology to leapfrog. The prevailing pandemic presents us with unique opportunities to hasten their adoption.
Never before has India gone through such a fascinating entrepreneurship revolution focussed on solving our socio-economic challenges, led by novel ideas and innovation. Entrepreneurs stand tall today, solving for a greener, efficient and a more resilient India.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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