Accel earnestly rethinks early-stage startup investing in India | TechCrunch

Accel earnestly rethinks early-stage startup investing in India | TechCrunch


By any benchmark, Accel is among the top venture firms in India. With nearly two dozen Indian unicorn startups, including several category leaders, Accel’s track record speaks for itself. But yet, the partners leading the firm’s early-stage accelerator program, called Atoms, are uncharacteristically introspective about their learnings and the changes they have been implementing to improve the odds of success.

“One fundamental belief we have is that at some point of time, all VC firms look the same to a founder. It’s just money,” said Prayank Swaroop, a partner at Accel, in an interview.

All VC firms have also grown increasingly focused on making early-stage investments in India in recent years and finding the next Flipkart at the seed stage. The shift is primarily driven by the realization that India is not producing many billion-dollar exits, making it imperative to the VC funds to get in earlier to dramatically improve their returns.

Accel has been trying to find the right fit for its early-stage accelerator program for nearly half a decade now. Before launching Atoms, the venture firm explored building a repository of knowledge base and community with Seed to Scale, something that it continues to build on.

“We did Demo Days, we were trying to be very similar to a lot of other funds,” said Swaroop, pictured above.

Just as fast Accel tried things, it has also walked back on some of its steps. It no longer attempts to initiate mingling between Atoms portfolio startups and other investors, for instance. Swaroop recalled a conversation with a founder who told him how the investor-meetup felt like the startup was being put on a treadmill to artificially impress other potential backers.

Another candid feedback from founders revealed that many were not comfortable engaging with peers in the industry who were years ahead of them. “We are trying to find our own unique path and what has worked for some of the other firms, we think it’s not working for us,” he said.

So here’s what that path looks like. Atom’s third cohort features just eight startups, notably smaller than other well-known accelerators. And all the selected startups operate within two sectors: AI and Industry 5.0 (smart-manufacturing.)

Accel invests up to $500,000 in the handpicked startup’s pre-seed round and there is no valuation cap. In addition to helping the startup strategize, Accel also helps them meet industry players that can become potential partners and customers in the future.

More on this shortly, but first, the third cohort of Accel:

Spintly is an IoT platform that simplifies access control to commercial and residential buildings. Unlike traditional systems, Spintly uses a distributed IoT architecture and edge computing technology, which eliminates the need for heavy back-end infrastructure and enables smartphone-based door access to users. Spintly has eliminated 200k plastic badges and 2k miles for wired infrastructure from the built world and currently servers 300+ customers and 4k+ doors.

Canada-based Asets has launched an AI-powered, first-of-its-kind cloud-based Integrated Design Suite, a multidisciplinary CAD, simulation and engineering design platform that helps Engineering Procurement Construction (EPC) and end-owner companies accelerate their early-stage engineering by 10x. Customers benefit from the rapid deployment of engineering resources, lowering effort time and costs related to engineering projects.

Tune AI
Tune AI is a GenAI stack for enterprises with solutions that include Tune Chat, an AI chat app with over 180,000 users and powerful models for text, code generation, and brainstorming, and Tune Studio, a comprehensive solution for fine-tuning, deploying, and managing the Gen AI model lifecycle and enabling data security with enterprise-grade compliance.

Skoob is a generative AI platform which is revolutionizing the way readers interact with books. Instead of navigating through entire volumes, we harness the power of AI to dissect books into topic-centric sections. We are making knowledge consumption intuitive and user-friendly.

Arivihan is India’s 1st AI-based 100% Automated Learning Platform providing each unique school student with a personal tutor in their pocket at ₹300 per month, guiding them in planning for their exams, teaching them with video lectures, talking to them, solving their queries instantly, and validating their knowledge by testing and improving them anytime they want, in the speed they require.

Meritic is a storytelling co-pilot for financial planning and analysis (FP&A) teams to automate reporting and business analytics. Meritic combines the power of knowledge graphs and language models to do highly contextual analysis, collect qualitative insights, generate relevant commentaries and automate financial deck creation.

(Two startups in the cohort remain in stealth for now.)

Accel handpicked AI and Industry 5.0 as the themes for Atoms because the firm believes that these two sectors will look even dramatically larger in the next 10 years, said Barath Subramanian, the other partner leading Atoms.

Subramanian said Industry 5.0 has emerged as a key theme as the archaic plants in India and elsewhere are finally modernizing, paving ways for startups that are bringing efficiencies to take a slice of the tens of billions of dollars flowing to consulting firms and others each year by the industry. “These factories generate a lot of data, but until now it hadn’t been used,” said Subramanian.

The industry has also benefited from New Delhi’s push and incentives to attract foreign firms to expand their manufacturing bases in the country and also the growing ‘China + 1’ shift among global giants.

More than 800 startups applied to be in Atoms 3.0, and about 300-400 applicants were AI startups. Swaroop said nearly two-thirds of all pitches focused on AI startups that sought to solve HR and marketing problems. “There’s too much of noise in the market that it’s a signal for us that we should hunt elsewhere” he said.

“Beyond the capital and learning sessions, being part of Atoms has given us a strong founder community and highly collaborative peer group – for instance, when Meritic is faced with a challenge we can turn to any other team at Accel LaunchPad, which is where we currently operate, or to anyone from Accel’s network of over 200 portfolio company founders, to arrive at a solution,” said Pallavi Chakravorty, co-founder and CEO of Meritic, in a statement.

“The Founder Anonymous sessions have helped us open up to the cohort in an unfiltered manner and the GTM talks have been pivotal in shaping our B2B sales thinking.”


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