ET Soonicorns Summit 2023: Tech-led disruptions set the tone for the future as startups make a compelling case for Innovation 2.0

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At the Delhi-NCR edition of the ET Soonicorns Summit 2023, a few passionate Indian startup founders took to stage to delve into the emerging tracks of the artificial intelligence- and robotics-powered technological landscape, fuelling growth and innovations across the sunrise sectors of logistics and supply chain management, clean energy, sustainability, green mobility on the heels of electric vehicles (EVs), and more.

Focused on decoding key sectors of India’s startup-tech innovation, the ‘Soonicorns Spotlight Track’ offered a platform for trailblazers and future-ready startup founders to ponder over their problem statements: the challenges they have been solving and the solutions that they have been engineering to serve the gaps. All, while using tech as an enabler and embracing tech-enabled disruptive models to scale and achieve profitability in keeping with the core theme of the ET Soonicorns Summit 2023: to shift from valuations to value creation.

Watch the full ET Soonicorns Summit 2023 here

Over a span of seven minutes, each of the seven startup founders delved deep into their journeys, categorically focusing on their uniqueness through data points, key insights and summaries during their immersive presentations. From cleantech and electric vehicle (EV) enterprises powering India’s transition to sustainable mobility, to fintech enterprises catering to ‘Middle India’ or the next 500 million below the upper-middle-class and startups revolutionising logistics and supply chain management, the presentations crystallised some of the dominant trends, ideas and approaches that the tech economy is spurring in order to build more resilient and sustainable businesses of the future.

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Shape-shifting supply chain, to the moon and back

During his presentation titled ‘Shaping the Future of Logistics and Supply Chain,’ Satish Shukla, Co-founder of Addverb, provided a glimpse into the future of supply chain and the technologies resetting supply chain management to drive more resilient results for organisations. Shukla decoded four key imminent facets of tech implementation across the supply chain.

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“The first component that is going to change supply chain or fulfillments are ‘lights out’ warehouses, which as the name suggests will operate without any light… Light is the fundamental element that humans need to perform any task; we are going to reach a stage in the next five years where we will not need humans to perform these tasks any longer,” said the Co-founder of the India-based global robotics company, which automates intralogistics operations. This would include all the usual activities associated with a warehouse, right from onboarding to sorting, picking, shipping and dispatching, wherein Shukla said that “all of these tasks will be done by autonomous systems and robots”.

Autonomous delivery, including autonomous robots that can ensure the delivery of any item that a consumer buys in an airport to the their location, AI-based demand planning, and machine-learning (ML) and data learning models which can help businesses learn more about their own businesses by leveraging data are going to be the other game changers when it comes transforming supply chain management.

In any warehouse, picking is the most labour-intensive task and robots can help change the paradigm. Essentially, robotic automation will take over all the “dull, dark and dangerous jobs…freeing up the space for humans to perform more creative and dexterous jobs,” added Shukla.

The focus on fulfilment is critical since capital is scarce and given the growing emphasis on stronger unit economics and profitability. With businesses having realised that offline retail is going to stay while online retail is only going to get bigger, going forward the need of the hour will be an omnichannel strategy “where you can convert your supply chain into value chain by using automation to improve return, improve customer experience by delivering on time, every time, and optimise costs”, as emphasised by Shukla.

Watch the full presentation here.

In the same track, Aakash Sinha, Professor of Practice at Shiv Nadar University and the Founder and CEO of Omnipresent Robot Tech, presented a roving view of the cutting-edge technology that Omnipresent harnessed to develop the software enabling the Pragyan rover to navigate the moon. During its 14-day odyssey, it would have been difficult for the Pragyan rover to communicate back and forth in real-time via earth. And Omnipresent Robot Tech had to build a solution to solve this challenge. Indeed, the team developed an innovative solution via which the robot was able to build a 3D model replicating whatever it caught a sight of, and also navigate safely around craters, rocks, so on and so forth. Sinha delved into this deep tech phenomenon during his presentation titled ‘Developing technology for Chandrayaan Rover Navigation and how it can help solve big challenges in space and aerospace domain’.

Watch the full presentation here.

Smart electricity, EV revolution, green mobility
Meanwhile, Pranesh Chaudhary, Founder and CEO of zunpulse, shared that there are two ways in which users can reduce their dependence on the regular sources of electricity, i.e. by putting solar panels on the rooftop, and by storing electricity in batteries for powering homes. The latter especially applies to those living in parts of the country where supply of electricity is still not dependable.

However, once you have clean electricity how do you consume it? “You can use it to power air conditioners, geysers, fans, mixers, etc. but how do you ensure you are using it in a sustainable way, ensuring you are using the least electricity possible? This is where the Internet of Things (IOT) comes into play, which allows users to have a sense of the electricity being consumed at a unit level, an hourly rate, and so on… It also allows them to control the consumption of electricity,” said Chaudhary during his presentation titled ‘Clean and smart electricity’.

That’s the thesis with which zunpulse started in 2016, wherein early on they identified a huge gap in the solar rooftop market: Customers weren’t sure of the panels to get or the subsidies to avail (solar being a government-subsidised segment). To address this, the company, which under the arms ‘zunroof’ and ‘zunsolar’ sells comprehensive solar products to consumers in rural regions, built a three-‘D’ framework where D stood for Design, Deliver and Diagnostics.

Diagnostics includes a complimentary IOT device, which helps customers track the performance of the solar panel, which in turn gives an analytical snapshot of how much electricity is being produced by the system and so on. The device also enables zunpulse to provide customers with maintenance support in a bid to “Smartify Indian homes”.

As part of his presentation titled ‘Staying ahead of the curve: BluSmart’s pioneering journey’, Anmol Jaggi, Co-founder and CEO of BluSmart, pieced together his thesis of people, planet and prosperity as he unravelled facets of a “more humane face of technology”.

Right at the inception, BluSmart refrained from opting for the aggregator model of the ride hailing giants. Instead, they opted for the full-stack model wherein they own all their cars and charging stations. The Co-founder and CEO of the born-electric, integrated, and full-stack EV ride hailing service and EV charging infrastructure operator also added that the rationale behind opting for an EV model was simple: Electric is good for the environment; electric is good for profitability. Electric fuel is around seven-eight times cheaper than diesel fuel and around five-six times cheaper than CNG fuel.

The company’s primary goal is to guarantee that each car delivered to the customer has sufficient charge for a successful trip and can return to a charging station; or can complete another ride. To achieve this, the company relies on real-time data driven insights from cars on the road. “We had to get data from all the cars; we had to embed it in our algorithms and mix and match rides to see that for instance, if a trip distance is 20 kms, and it’s a rainy day, there would be increased traffic jams… We had to consider how such various scenarios will play out and how those will determine the charge the vehicle will consume…to map out that the vehicle reaches a charging point where there aren’t long queues…” said Jaggi.

The problem statements for BluSmart were environmental impact and zero cancellation, while those for the driver partners were to drive safely without worrying about finances or fuel. Very soon, BluSmart is likely to open their charging stations to the public such that private EV vehicle owners and commercial fleet owners are able to leverage the infrastructure, and this Jaggi believes will catalyse the EV momentum.

During his presentation titled ‘Technology and data play in electric vehicles,’ Darryl Dias, Co-founder and Director of Magenta Mobility, delved into the fast-evolving space of clean energy and green transportation.

Dias summed up the chief characteristics that continue to adversely impact traditional logistics: pollution; lack of safety; high costs; sub-optimisation. “Road transportation, cargo deliveries alone excluding the passenger segment, emits close to 221 million tonnes of carbon dioxide. These are the problem statements that we are solving,” he said.

The company owns an EV fleet and charging infrastructure powered by their in-house chargers.“EVs are nothing but technology and data on four wheels…” he elaborated.

“There is a layer of technology that sits on the vehicle, the charger and the charging infrastructure altogether,” Dias explained, as he elaborated on this tech stack, which monitors the charge, the battery voltage and temperature, and even alerts, including overspeeding. Its distinguishing tech feature is a pilot-stage video dashboard with in-built inside and outside-facing cameras designed to detect harsh acceleration, blinks, drowsiness, yawns, etc.

Accelerating financial inclusion in Emerging India
During his presentation titled ‘Finhaat: Building financial services for emerging India,’ Vinod Kumar Singh, Chief Executive Officer and Founder of Finhaat, Singh explained that the company is reimagining how financial services are delivered in rural India and semi-urban India. Finhaat is a unique financial services distribution platform that caters to the distinctive needs of the financially underserved sections of the population.

Low uptake of formal insurance and savings products in the smaller towns and villages of India is a grave area of concern for the financial sector, especially in which Finhaat operates. The most common answer to explain this phenomenon of under penetration is affordability “but once we go deeper we realised that there are three key issues: poor customisation to cater to specific needs, poor after-sales support leading to low renewal rate of financial services, and a lack of trusted one-stop service providers for financial solutions that provide end-to-end support,” said Singh.

Primarily, the company targets rural households within two income brackets: Those earning INR 1-3 Lakh rupees annually, and those earning INR 3-7 Lakh rupees, annually. The former with limited savings is typically served by microfinance and NBFCs. While the latter, with greater saving potential — aspires to owning assets like shops, two and four-wheelers. Finhaat tailors solutions to these nuances recognising the need for frugal efficient products, given the limited capacity to pay. “That’s why we tie up with institutions that have a presence in rural and semi-urban areas… We curate financial products for every partner institution which are meant for their own customer segment… We have digitised the entire journey, which not only covers the sale of products but also the claims experience…”

Catering to another underserved segment that of micro enterprises is Aye finance. According to Sanjay Sharma, Co-founder and Managing Director of Aye Finance, until today the company has enabled the financial inclusion of more than 7 lakh micro enterprise owners and disbursed over INR 9,200 cr catering to more than 150 types of businesses in this segment during the past nine years. Today, it has a presence across 22 states in India.

There are 63 million Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) in India and generate more than 100 million jobs, second only to agriculture, the largest contributor to jobs, highlighted Sharma, during his presentation titled ‘Transforming Micro Enterprise Lending in India.’

He explained the challenges of lending to micro enterprises, which is essentially an unorganised segment, are that they have very little business documentation, no prior credit history, no business transaction in bank statements, and low tech adoption.

Aye adopted a “cluster-based approach”, which has helped them figure out that each cluster has its own markers of how they generate revenues, the margins they have, and so on. “We enrich that data using other parameters like demographics, supply chain data, etc. and using this we come up with an analytical score which helps us to underwrite this segment…” said Singh.

The ET Soonicorns Summit 2023 was co-presented by Persistent – Google Cloud and had myBiz by Makemytrip as the Scaleup Enabler; Persistent – Google Maps as the Associate Partner; SAP India as the Technology Partner; Balancehero India as the Associate Partner; Tracxn as the Research Partner and Kimirica, Deciwood, Boat, Sleepy Owl, Beyond Snack and Jaggic as Gifting Partners.

Watch the full ET Soonicorns Summit 2023 here.

For more information on the ET Soonicorns Summit 2023, visit our website.

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