The last few years have witnessed a proliferation of pioneering companies in startup ecosystems across the world. However, despite having high-end tech and easy access to funds, most of them faded into oblivion sooner than later. The reason why they have come down in the world is often chalked up to a lack of direction or proper guidance from the experienced campaigners.
Right on cue, big companies are rising to the occasion to handhold upcoming startups. Formalising this mentorship process is NetApp through its ‘Excellerator Program’ targeting B2B deep-tech startups.
Analytics India Magazine caught up with Madhurima Agarwal, Leader, NetApp Excellerator and Director of Engineering Programs, NetApp to understand more about the program.
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AIM: What is NetApp Excellerator program?
Madhurima Agarwal: We launched the NetApp Excellerator program in 2017 to share our unique outlook and help startups ‘excel’ in their journey, in a landscape that was devoid of able mentorship for B2B deep-tech startups. Through this program, we wanted to leverage our experience to mentor startups in the deep tech and data domain and invest in solutions that will help enterprises navigate the new era of digital transformation.
The program has been designed to help data-driven startups create revolutionary world-class products and solutions that are enterprise-grade and market-ready. Our 28-year-old legacy enables us to share our technical expertise, business acumen and vast ecosystem with startups that are aligned with our technology focus. Our program focus is around product innovation by leveraging our heritage to help the startups to utilise new-gen technologies such as AI, ML, IoT to pivot their offerings. These startups get global mentorship to build cutting-edge products that are transformational. Our experts also support these startups in gaining insights into customer needs and navigating through the requirements.
Additionally, we provide the startups with a paid-for proof of concept (PoC) opportunity or an equity-free grant of $15,000. NetApp infrastructure and licenses help the startups test their products for a real-world scenario. After graduating, over 70% of these startups have secured follow-on funding.
AIM: What kind of training does the NetApp Excellerator program provide to the selected startups?
Madhurima Agarwal: Our program provides a mix of technical as well as business mentorship to the startups. Industry-renowned external mentors coach the startups on trailblazing technologies, platforms, and business acumen.
The startups also get access to top-class infrastructure such as the NVIDIA DGX workstation at NetApp’s AI Centre of Excellence in Bengaluru that provides access to AI supercomputing power for deep learning at the convenience of a workspace. Our Cloud Volumes ONTAP license is available for these startups to optimise their cloud storage costs and performance.
The period of the program further includes a mix of workshops involving coaching and mentoring and progress on the PoCs that have been awarded. We also leverage our vast ecosystem to forge strong investor and industry connections through various means such as webinars and conference participations.
AIM: Do you see a change in the technology landscape in terms of bigger companies nurturing upcoming startups? What are your thoughts and future predictions on this?
Madhurima Agarwal: The advent of corporate accelerators has worked wonders for the B2B startup ecosystem and enterprises. According to the NetApp Zinnov report, it is important for corporates to leverage the potential of start-ups, new-age infrastructure and structured programs.
Corporates are now using different approaches to collaborate with startups such as investments, mergers and acquisitions, and open innovations. They are also leveraging startups to solve business challenges to deliver revenue growth, cost savings, and improve customer experience. We see an increase in structured programs by enterprises to build repeatable and replicable processes to collaborate, at scale.
In the future, we will see more corporates collaborating with startups. The biggest advantage of working with startups is observing their fresh approach to different innovations. Most of these startups have unique ideas and it is exciting to see their ability to experiment and come up with nuanced solutions. Our own work with various startups has yielded exciting results.
AIM: Currently, what are the most exciting sectors and businesses for AI innovation?
Madhurima Agarwal: While every sector has felt the impact of AI, there are some exciting ones for AI adoption currently. For example, it has brought a significant change in the healthcare industry through automation, personalised patient experience, and reducing workload in research.
In the BFSI sector, AI is revolutionising customer interactions and engagement. Similarly, AI is making a significant impact on supply chain management to identify customer requirements, prediction of supply routes and material management and stock taking. We can safely say that AI is at the forefront of changing the world.
AIM: You also lead the Women in Technology group at NetApp. What steps do you think can be taken to encourage greater participation of women in technology space?
Madhurima Agarwal: As a woman entrepreneur, I know of the many challenges that are specific to women entrepreneurs. This led to the launch of our new program for women entrepreneurs, ExcellerateHER. Focused on women founders, this is a subset of our flagship accelerator program. This program will fill a gap specifically in the areas of science, tech and deep tech where there is a lack of support system for women founders. Our latest cohort featured two women-led startups, Arintra and BrainSightAI, that are in the deep-tech healthcare domain. I believe opportunities like these will work towards creating a level playing field for all.