Google for Startups Accelerator, the California-based technology company’s launchpad for startups globally, is looking to focus more on providing wider investment opportunities for startups enrolled in the programme in India, Paul Ravindranath, Program Manager at Google for Startups Accelerator India, says.
In an exclusive interview with YourStory, Ravindranath outlines the core motive of the accelerator programme, how it has progressed in the last five years in India, and how startups can benefit from its mentorship sessions.
Google is looking to bring in a more diverse range of stakeholders, including investors, seasoned founders, policymakers, and experts from Google to provide holistic mentorship.
“The idea is to equip founders with the right resources and guidance to navigate entrepreneurship,” Ravindranath tells YourStory. “Going forward, opening up access to capital is an important aspect we would like to emphasise on,” he adds.
The Google for Startups Accelerator offers early-stage startup founders comprehensive guidance on solving technical problems and perfecting product design, customer acquisition, and leadership development.
It helps them engage with experts from Google and other industry stakeholders including serial entrepreneurs and investors. “We are aiming to help founders widen their network and find the right resources,” Ravindranath says, adding that the network may eventually help bring investments.
Some notable alumni include ShareChat, Zypp Electric, BabyChakra, and Magicpin.
The India opportunity
Google launched a mentorship programme in Israel around 2015, marking its first engagement activity in the global startup landscape. The five-day boot camp was meant for budding entrepreneurs to learn the basics of how to build a startup–from understanding product-market fit to pitching coherently to investors.
The boot camp was so successful that Google decided to organise a ‘launchpad week’ in different countries, Ravindranath recalls.
“Imagine 10 of the best startups coming together for a week and covering very pointed, insightful conversations over a five-day period,” he adds.
Within a few months, the company organised launchpad weeks in different parts of the world, including Bengaluru, the first Indian city to witness the effort.
Google made some interesting learnings from the programmes, Ravindranath says. From problem-solving abilities to purpose, founders in different regions operated differently. That’s when Google knew it had to set up more elaborate programmes to give founders all-round mentorship.
In 2017, an accelerator in San Francisco, California, was created, which offered a three-month programme to nearly 20 startup founders building interesting products. Keeping in mind scalability and feasibility, Google had ambitions to take its startup efforts globally.
A year later, regional accelerators were set up, with India as one of its early markets. “We noticed that founders in India are aspirational,” Ravindranath says. The Indian startup ecosystem has also evolved exponentially since 2015–the time when ‘me-too’ startups were many in number, he adds.
Spotting an opportunity
The formative years of India’s startup boom were characterised by clone startups when founders banked on a few successful categories to build businesses alike. Ecommerce, food, mobility, and travel booking apps, among others, soon became overcrowded with many players having similar business models.
Google sensed a big opportunity here. “Back then, ambitious founders used to start up in other geographies and then expand business to India where large businesses in those categories did not exist. That was a great season for Google to build entrepreneur chops for the founders,” Ravindranath says.
Many startups part of the initial accelerator programmes did not stand the test of time or could not scale as much, but played a crucial role in shaping Google’s startup mentorship ambitions, he notes.
“Indian founders have evolved greatly over the years and are now looking at solving more challenging problems in diverse areas such as public health and artificial intelligence,” Ravindranath says.
Today, Google has established a total of 19 accelerators across India, North America, Southeast Asia, Canada, Europe, and Africa.
Access to capital has been a focal point in all programmes from the beginning, says Ravindranath, adding that Google will continue to focus on widening these avenues.
Every accelerator programme ends with a demo day, which helps founders with pitch coaching through a review process by investors, Ravindranath explains. “These conversations may result in investments, but we don’t focus on getting startups invested. We try to create an environment that can put founders in a position of being seen and heard,” he says.
Supporting women entrepreneurs
Investments made in single woman-led startups is less than 1.5%, while funding in startups with two or more women founders is about 6%, Ravindranath estimates.
To this end, Google wants to extend support to women-founded startups.
“Earlier, less than 10% of applicants for our programmes in India were women founders. Today, this has increased to 35%,” Ravindranath adds, stating that Google had to proactively reach out to women founders to make progress.
“Having a strong woman-led ecosystem is crucial as this will help set an example for the entire landscape,” he says.
Last month, Google announced the second edition of its Startups Accelerator focused on women entrepreneurs in India who are using technology to solve complex problems.
“The programme includes specific modules to support women entrepreneurs in areas such as seeking mentorship and advice, hiring talent, and tapping networks for help, with the intention of building confidence where cultural conditioning can sometimes create self-doubt,” Ravindranath says.
“There was an interesting and diverse mix of startups that participated in the cohort including healthcare, culture-tech, and foodtech,” Madhura DasGupta Sinha, Founder and CEO of Aspire For Her, says. Aspire For Her is a community-led platform which aims to empower women through meaningful partnerships.
“The mentorship did not have a cookie-cutter approach. It was designed to solve problems specific to our startup which helped foster individualisation,” Sinha adds. The three-month programme helped Aspire For Her onboard a technology partner with the help of network outreach.
Google launched a virtual startup school in both metro and non-metro cities last year aimed at providing founders with institutional knowledge. More than 14,000 startups across 600 towns and cities in India participated.
It has now launched the second edition of Startup School supported by Startup India from July 11.
This year’s program will span over eight weeks, featuring over 30 Google and industry experts via fireside chats with transformative entrepreneurs and venture capitalists, as well as instructor-led sessions on a series of topics including AI, product and tech strategy, marketing and global growth, and funding and leadership, the company announced last week.
“We hope to reach 30,000 startups and help them innovate responsibly, learn best practices at scale through a curriculum tailored to the unique needs of the Indian ecosystem,” it said.
(Cover image by Winona Laisram)