With two months of 2019 still to go, Indian tech startups are already having their best year as a record amount of capital flows into the local ecosystem in a major rebound since the darkened funding environment of 2016.
The unlisted tech startups in India have raised $11.3 billion this year, a substantial jump from last year’s $10.5 billion fundraise, research firm Tracxn told TechCrunch.
This year’s fundraise, the largest sum for the local ecosystem in any year, further moves the nation’s burgeoning startup space on a path of steady growth. Since 2016, when tech startups accumulated just $4.3 billion — down from $7.9 billion the year before — flow of capital has increased significantly in the ecosystem. In 2017, Indian startups raised $10.4 billion, according to Tracxn.
Startups with consumer-facing offerings including financial services have attracted most of the venture capital this year — about $8.2 billion, Tracxn said. Following that is retail startups that have bagged about $2.3 billion and those that offer enterprise services, with $1.5 billion. (There is some overlap of startups whose offerings fall under more than one category.)
Investors’ growing appetite for equity in India’s startups shows that the local ecosystem is maturing, said Dev Khare, a partner at VC fund Lightspeed Venture Partners. In an interview with TechCrunch, Khare noted that in 2014 and 2015, startups were largely focused on building e-commerce solutions and replicating ideas that worked in Western markets.
“But today, they are tackling a wide-range of categories and opportunities and building some solutions that have not been attempted in any other market,” he said. He attributes much of this change to the arrival of telecom operator Reliance Jio and some government efforts, such as introduction of GST taxation system for businesses and introduction of UPI payments infrastructure.
Jio, a three-year-old telecom operator run by India’s richest man, Mukesh Ambani, has disrupted the market with incredibly low-cost mobile data. The low-cost data meant that overnight, tens of millions of Indians were able to come online for the first time.
This, alongside a cash crunch created by New Delhi in late 2016, led to a sudden explosion in demand for content and services, including mobile wallets that created a massive opportunity for local startups to innovate, Khare said.
Financial services firm Paytm, which has raised more than $2 billion to date, has more than 200 million registered users in India, while Google Pay has amassed over 67 million active customers in less than two years of its existence.
Additionally, Khare said more people than ever in India today are willing to work at a startup. Citing Lightspeed’s internal research, he said in 2010, only 10% of founders of startups that had reached a Series A financing round had worked at a startup before. That figure went up to 36% in 2014 and ballooned to 70% last year.
There are some other promising signals as well: Of the top 150 Indian startups that raised capital in the first half of this year, 17.3% of them were either led or co-led by women, Indian news outlet The Morning Context reported on Wednesday, citing data from research firm Venture Intelligence. This is a substantial jump from last year, when just 10% of startups counted women as their founder or co-founder.
A trend that appears to continue from the last several years is concentration of funds in a smaller number of startups. So far, tech startups in India have participated in 872 financing rounds, compared to 924 last year, and 1,141 in 2017.
But that number, as well as total fundraise amount, could change substantially by the end of the year as many more startups prep to close new financing rounds. Zomato, Swiggy and Paytm alone are expected to close rounds worth as much as $3 billion in the coming months.
It’s a fascinating turnaround for the nation, which just 10 years ago had a very small startup ecosystem. In a recent interview with TechCrunch, Paytm founder and CEO Vijay Shekhar Sharma recounted the early days of One97, the parent firm of Paytm, and how difficult it was for him to raise a few hundred thousand dollars.