Millennium Post

India's first 100

India achieved 100 unicorn startups well before it was predicted; but before the next 100, certain gaps must be plugged

Indias first 100

Twitter throws up gems of wisdom. Nope, not necessarily from its latest owner, Elon Musk. But one can encounter some of the best kept secrets of life and business on the microblogging platform. A few days ago, it left me in splits. A witty tweet noted that budgets for Indian weddings were about the same size as seed funding for startups. It's true, innit? The amount of money that parents, especially those of a girl child, spend on futile, exorbitant functions and wining and dining of lesser-known aunts and uncles, is simply insane! Very few Indians, even those who can afford it, pay for their own wedding. It's like a rite of passage or a way to make parents feel sorry for robbing their kids' freedom. When I see these over-the-top weddings, I can't help but wonder what better use such moolah could have. Charity, pledging to a good cause, investing in one's future etc. — you get the drift. But once again alluding to that tweet, it's also true that wedding funds could very well fuel entrepreneurship dreams among the youth.

This is definitely food for thought especially since India just recently hit the 100-unicorn mark; three years ahead of what was predicted. A unicorn, for the uninitiated, is a startup with a valuation of USD 1 billion. We have 100 of them; with the last few coming in quick succession. Hitting a century is a momentous occasion indeed and a celebration of the young Indian's entrepreneurial spirit; this achievement was no mean feat. Let's congratulate the tenacity of the Indian unicorn founder and the dynamic teams behind them. Indian startups have disrupted sectors from across the spectrum — from fintech and stock-broking to car resale and food and grocery delivery — while cleverly manoeuvring tax laws and regulations. This 100-unicorn mark is an affirmation of the entrepreneur's resilience, innovation, and ability to tide over exigencies such as Covid-19. We must salute the entrepreneurs also for creating a staggering number of jobs at a time when joblessness has been hitting intermittent highs in India. As per a news report, Indian startups generated 2.84 million jobs in India even with the raging pandemic. Of these, the top unicorns created a sizeable 2.58 million jobs.

These 100 unicorns are slated to pave the way for many others who will enter the coveted club of businesses with a billion-dollar worth of valuation and more. If a report by investment fund, Iron Pillar, has it right, India will clock 250 unicorns by 2025. But before we aim for the next 150, a closer look is needed to fill in a few necessary gaps. Only 23 of the 100 unicorns are profitable and some from the group have current valuations of below USD 1 billion — that's the biggest elephant in the room. Over the last few years, we have seen investors also become aware that simply chasing valuation alone won't do. Businesses must not keep bleeding and at some point, should break even, and heck, start making money too. Building sustainable long-term businesses should be on our anvil as we target the next 100 unicorns.

Let's also set another important target for the next bunch of overachieving startups. In the current cohort, only 15 per cent have at least one female founder. Ecommerce sector rules the roost with 43 per cent female representation among founders, while among cities Delhi leads with 7 female unicorn founders followed by Bengaluru (5) and Mumbai (3). For the next 100, let's push the envelope on gender diversity. More women-led startups getting investment would boost greater participation of women in India's workforce whose skewed numbers need an urgent rejig. But for women to become entrepreneurs, there has to be a change in social perceptions. Women, and men too, should be encouraged to bite the entrepreneurial bullet. The road isn't easy and is often a lonely one, but if we must have our next set of unicorns, or at least successful, profitable, long-lasting businesses, then encouragement from family can be crucial. So, why not have a humble wedding reception and instead of 'kanyadan', be your daughter's first angel investor?

The writer is an author and media entrepreneur. Views expressed are personal

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