Published on November 21st, 2018 | by Andrea Bertoli0
Bringing Indian Startups Into The Global Green Business Conversation
November 21st, 2018 by Andrea Bertoli
ClimateLaunchpad, the world’s green business competition, just completed its 2018 Grand Final in Scotland. Each year the competition grows in both size and reach. The 2018 competition featured a record of 1,500 cleantech entrepreneurs applying for National Competitions in 44 countries, and 50 Boot Camps across the globe.
While ClimateLaunchpad, a program of Climate-KIC, started as a primarily European competition, each year the competition expands the borders further beyond the EU. This year saw a record number of participants from oil-producing countries in Africa and elsewhere, and it was also the first year that India entered the competition.
There were 45 Indian national level contestants, and 4 teams that attended the Grand Final in Scotland. And it was JSP, a team from Chennai, India, that won Second Prize in the Finals, making it a pretty successful year for this newly participating country.
Pratap Raju is the country lead/trainer for India, and I got to chat with him at the event (and again over email) about bringing a new country into ClimateLaunchpad, what the innovation sector is like in India at the moment, and what we can expect to see in the coming years.
CleanTechnica (CT): When we chatted in Edinburgh, you told me that ClimateLaunchpad did a ‘test’ competition in India following last year’s event to gauge interest. Can you tell me a bit more about how that worked, and how India then became a participating country?
Pratap Raju (PR): After the Grand Final in 2017, Frans and team wanted to do an out-of-cycle pilot in India to see what the response would be. So we launched ClimateLaunchpad in Mumbai to learn how to run the program and test the response to the same. Although developing new outreach channels in weeks was not easy, the response was really great, with 45 relatively strong applications. This gave us the confidence to immediately run ClimateLaunchpad in four more states this year, primarily in South India. So even in our first year, we ran five programs in India supporting 45 startups in our program!
Now we are gearing up to run 12 state programs in India in 2019, repeating in Sri Lanka, but also adding Maldives and Mauritius. That’s about 150 cleantech startups. And in 2020, we are aiming to cover every part of South Asia and supporting 300 cleantech startups a year!
CT: Can you tell me a bit more about the country-level competition that you hosted this year? What types of businesses were you seeing, and were there any trends?
PR: India truly is more a continent than a country when it comes to running startup programs! So it is really difficult to get good responses out of one metropolis like, e.g., Bangalore, and accept a good response from startups in Delhi! Not to mention the need to deepen the coaching network throughout India. And India’s federal structure devolves a lot of power to states to support startup ecosystems locally.
So we decided to set up a network platform that brings is local partners in each state to support outreach, coaching, and stakeholder engagement – basically replicating ClimateLaunchpad’s global partnership strategy one level down to our own region. But, going forward, if we are going to reach our 300 startups target in 2020, we are planning to run India itself as four regional platforms – North, South, East, West – with neighboring countries being part of a regional hub.
In this first year, we haven’t seen any strong trends, and had wide representation of ideas from renewables to waste and water, from B2B to B2C and B2G, etc. And given the industrial diversity in the regional, and the myriad environmental problems we face, we don’t think there will be specific trends. However, one promising areas does seem to be in data analytics where India is using its IT strength to work on AI/MI, blockchain to solve our environmental problems increasingly. In fact, two of our National winners – JSP in precision agricultural services, and HeatGrade in energy efficiency – both relied heavily on data analytics to give our solutions more power.
CT: You mentioned that as recently as about a decade ago there really wasn’t much cleantech innovation happening in India (as the startup sector was more focused on consumer internet, IT products, etc), but this has changed rapidly in the intervening years. What are your thoughts on why this happened and what we can expect to see in coming years?
PR: I think that, after seeing so much startup success in other areas, our confidence in India – whether among the government, business, and even entrepreneurs themselves – that cleantech startups can play a major role even in the energy transition to sustainability, which previously took a top-down approach by both the government and business.
Also, given the large industrial base in South Asia, we will see a strong push by industry to support cleantech startups in solving their own industry-related problems. Governments may support urban sustainability programs but, given limited funding, may not be as big a driver as industry in supporting the cleantech startup ecosystem.
CT: Tell me a bit more about your background and work with ClimateStudio and your plans to nurture the startup community in Bombay and beyond.
PR: Well, I actually grew up in a small, and I mean small, town in Florida. After college, I worked on Wall Street for a few years before going back to school to get a Masters in Development at Oxford. With this, I decided to move to India for the first time and, before joining some development institution, decided to become an entrepreneur myself to learn more about India on the ground.
First I tried my hand at starting an IT company in 2001, where I punctured the myth that IT is part of the genome of all Indians. It was not! So then I become a Bollywood writer and producer for several years, and did a fair share of TV commercials. But when the financial crisis hit, I made an exit and became a solar and wind developer in 2009, through which we commissioned 84 MWs of RE plants from 2009-16.
Seeing the tide turn in renewables as competition heated up, I started focusing on innovation in cleantech in San Francisco and Singapore, before developing our platform in South Asia over the last 2-3 years.
Now, we have set our ambitions very high for the Climate Collective. Besides the pan-South Asia platform of ClimateLaunchpad programs by 2020, we are launching our follow-on accelerator, Climate Runway, an industry-focused acceleration and piloting platform, in Mumbai and Chennai in 2019, expanding to Delhi and Kolkatta in 2020, again supporting both India and the neighboring countries. And we hope as well to launch our first seed and Series A venture fund locally by end-2019 as well!
CT: What else would you like to share with our readers?
PR: We all believe that India will have to play a huge role in solving our many environmental problems we face globally. And although India is only now starting to get traction in cleantech, I believe it will indeed be among the largest cleantech opportunities in the world in the next five years, and there is so much space and opportunity not just for us and others in India but for all the amazing cleantech companies and platforms around the world who will surely be welcomed to come here and help us win these challenges.