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These 10 Indian startups are solving emerging market challenges and inventing the future for billions.
NEW DELHI, India — India's startup scene is running a decade or so behind China's, but it's on the same path to creating scores of billion dollar internet companies, according to World Startup Report founder Bowei Gai.
Early leaders — like e-commerce company Flipkart, travel portal Makemytrip, and ticket booker Redbus.in — have succeeded by helping people overcome some of this country’s byzantine infrastructure problems. The next wave of innovators are thinking bigger, disrupting the TV and advertising business, reinventing location-based services, and even helping out the embattled Indian farmer. In doing so, they may very well be inventing tomorrow for millions of people.
Here are some dynamic startups to watch.
Most Indians lack identity documents, creating a huge opportunity for Incights. Jen Hardy. Flickr Commons.
Identity verification is a huge problem everywhere, but much more so in India — where documents are frequently forged and only 2 percent of the population use credit cards.
With Incights' voice recognition software, banks and other companies that rely on the telephone to complete transactions can eliminate passwords and PIN numbers, offering better protection and greater simplicity for their customers.
Unlike competitors’ technology, Incights' voice recognition system works over the end-user's mobile phone, even if it's the most basic model available. There's no “last mile device” for customers to buy and roll out to their branches and franchises, a feature that could make Incights a winner as India pushes forward with plans for mobile banking.
It's a big opportunity. The Reserve Bank of India plans to bring the three-fifths of the population who don't have accounts into the banking system. This will require outsourcing to local shops and to one-man bank branches in remote areas where ID proof is hard to come by.
“If you look at the Indian market, we are at a place where authentication is required,” said Incights founder Varun Chandra. “There's a lot of fraud.”
CropIn has partnered with Pepsi to make farming more profitable. Noah Seelam. AFP/Getty Images.
Started by 30-year-old Krishna Kumar with a $200 loan from a friend in 2010, CropIn has partnered with companies like Pepsi to make farming more profitable through better planning. A desktop “dashboard” lets product managers follow agricultural experts into the field, where they input data on the farms they monitor.
For Pepsi, the app ensures that extension workers — 45 experts running quality control for 3,500 small farmers — actually make their field visits. It also vastly increases efficiency. Previously, three field managers could only cover about 15 acres a day. With these GPS-enabled apps, five people can cover 600 acres.
Farmers benefit through immediate access to custom advice on fertilizers and pesticides. This year, CropIn booked a milestone 10 million rupees ($200,000) in orders.
90 percent of Indians live beyond reach of healthcare. Noah Seelam AFP/Getty Images.
Forus Healthcare aims to eliminate the leading causes of blindness among the 90 percent of Indians beyond reach of the healthcare system. Its low-cost device allows barefoot doctors to screen patients for glaucoma, macular degeneration and diabetes-related retinopathy. India has 110 million diagnosed diabetics, and far too few ophthalmologists to conduct their required annual eye screenings. Moreover, via telemedicine, ophthalmologists can interact immediately with non-profit “eye camps” — meaning new revenues as well as fewer blind people.
Forus has enormous potential for revolutionizing ophthalmology as well. Its 3Nethra scanner could replace up to four hospital devices, saving clinics as much as $80,000 on equipment. And because the data are analyzed by computer, anyone with basic training can operate the device, allowing ophthalmologists to focus on patients whose results come up positive.
When co-founder Shyam V. Rao showed 3Nethra to then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as part of a program to encourage innovation around the world, he says she immediately saw potential for the device in the US. With 3Nethra, a general practitioner could perform an eye exam and confer with an ophthalmologist online, saving the patient time and the government money.
Nowfloats.com enables companies to dispense with website techies. Sam Panthaky. AFP/Getty Images.
Tired of ornery techies? Send three text messages to Nowfloats and the company's software engine will have your small business website up and running in 13 minutes or less – automatically optimized for local search, enabling your store to score via Google.
The market's a large one. Only about 600,000 of India's 10 million small and medium enterprises are online, according to Nowfloats co-founder Ronak Kumar Samantray.
Once the site is up, Nowfloats allows store managers to update their sites with new inventory or discounts by text message, as well as send alerts to their registered users.
Companies like Nokia have adopted the service for their franchisees; Customers searching for a particular phone are directed to a store that has it in stock, at a discount price. “In India, any solution has to be really simple,” said Samantray. “SMS is something that anybody can do.”