Microsoft hosted a forum inviting startup founders across diverse industries to share their views on the AI opportunity for startups in India, opening a dialogue on the potential of AI to accelerate innovation and growth for the sector. In the last few years, India’s startup ecosystem has seen massive momentum, with technology playing a critical role in spurring growth and scalability.
Against this backdrop, Sangeeta Bavi, Executive Director, Digital Natives, Microsoft India, was in conversation with Pratik Desai, Founder and CEO at Kissan.ai, Laina Emmanuel, Co-founder and CEO at BrainSightAI, and Lakshman Pasala, Co-founder and CEO at NeverInstall discussing how with AI, the opportunity to drive impact for startups increases manifold. The experts discussed what’s needed to create a positive startup ecosystem, the factors that will increase AI adoption and learnings from their own AI journey.
Anchoring this discussion, Microsoft shared its commitment to empowering startups across all stages, and its goal to democratize AI so everyone can develop, use, and benefit from AI. Through the Founders Hub platform, Microsoft works to support early-stage founders with technical support, go to market assistance, access to Microsoft’s customer and partner ecosystem and training support for scaling growth. Open to anyone with an idea, the Founders Hub platform is designed to address the most common challenges startups face.
Excerpts from the discussion
AI OPPORTUNITY FOR STARTUPS
Sangeeta Bavi: “We are in a geography and time that is super exciting. India is known as the startup nation, fifth largest economy, third-largest startup ecosystem and second largest ISV ecosystem worldwide. India is also the third-largest country to have AI talent, which is very interesting considering where we are today in our AI journey. It is a great time to view India as a product nation, instead of a service nation, and start looking at what we can do for making India an AI nation. There is no one better than the startups, community of founders, and practitioners for making this happen. AI will soon become hygiene as opposed to being something separate that tech companies adopt. AI will become the fabric across products and experiences.”
Pratik Desai: “We launched Kissan.ai as the first voice to words vernacular, generative AI platform designed for farmers. Everyone else can read English and check Google unlike most of the famers. We have to start focusing on the problem that we can solve and that is where we can really build a generational company. We have lower purchase power parity and so, for a startup, charging consumers to begin with is a typical problem faced. We have to begin with services to start getting revenue, then grow the consumer business, and move to expansion gradually. It is good to begin with the service business and then move to the consumer side. We have one of the largest growing consumer bases in India, and we will see many products and AI companies providing specific solutions. The next 10 years seem very compelling.”
Lakshman Pasala: “How much time are we saving, right? That's become one of the core metrics for us. Earlier somebody would take a couple of minutes to an hour to do a task. With AI, we see the time that they are taking to get a similar approach is massively reduced. At the end of the day, the biggest currency that we see for humans is time. The big value that AI would end up creating is it will give humans more time. Time to do a whole host of other things.”
CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR EARLY-STAGE FOUNDERS
Pratik Desai, Founder and CEO at Kissan.ai, “AI business is still a business. So, as a founder you have to make sure that you're creating value. You cannot control the consumer and business adaptation rate for the AI. So that means generative AI can be also expensive for inference and training cost. If you're starting a business with GenAI, then make sure you have your unit costs and some customers ready to pay to begin with. Depending on that, start building your tech and infrastructure because you may end up running out of money very quickly with AI tools because the GPU's and everything is very expensive too.”
Lakshman Pasala, Co-founder and CEO at NeverInstall stated that “Founders who are building companies are looking at AI in their workflows as one of the levers that either improves productivity or decreases costs. What excites me for this year is there's going to going to be a Cambrian explosion across couple of sectors. 55% of the developers are using some form of Copilot and that changes the way that you write code, the way that your workflows are set, and I would say this year would be one of the big years where you would see a lot more adoption across other workflows as well.”
INDIA’S AI OPPORTUNITY
Sangeeta Bavi, Executive Director, Digital Natives, Microsoft India, said “We've barely scratched the surface. Currently, we're witnessing various scenarios beyond conversational AI. Across different sectors, there's a plethora of content generation use cases spanning markets. These scenarios extend to various domains, such as image generation and editing. Interestingly, there's a startup focusing on comic strips, reducing the creation time from multiple weeks to just a few hours – a testament to the power of AI. We observe numerous scenarios in audio transcription and translation, converting content from one language to another, and enhancing monetization in the media industry. Beyond conversational AI, there are additional use cases like fraud detection, predictive maintenance, and personalized recommendations. These are just a few things that are now starting to surface. However, this is not the end. As we experiment more, we anticipate discovering even more interesting scenarios in the future.”
Laina Emmanuel, Co-founder and CEO at BrainSightAI, spoke about India’s AI talent. She said, “The talent in our multidisciplinary team is phenomenal, and getting this talent in India is very hard to find anywhere. Across the world, India has this microcosm of all these interdisciplinary fields from software engineering to neuroscience to machine learning, all present in high density. I believe we're very ready to build cutting-edge products. Just the data arbitrage and the labor arbitrage from India are incomparable when you look at the entire world. The Microsoft Startup program helped us think about details, from building cloud infrastructure to considerations and unit costs. All those questions were important because we could have easily detailed ourselves building different architectures, which would have been super expensive.”
Lakshman Pasala, Co-founder and CEO at NeverInstall said “At the end of the day, we will always find a new way for the workforce to adapt, incorporating different types of jobs. Some jobs may become less prevalent, but it's not about jobs becoming obsolete; rather, many jobs tend to merge. This has been the case every decade and say, every 50 or 70 years, something transformative happens, and there are paradigm shifts. I would say that as a collective world, we figure out the next phase where human labor is required because there's always a need for human labor in the progression of our society.”
ADVICE FOR STARTUPS AND FOUNDERS
Laina Emmanuel, Co-founder and CEO at BrainSightAI, said, “As a first time entrepreneur, I think the advice I have for most startup founders is find your tribe, find a set of people who will help you and support you when you are building the business, or somebody who will tell you all the bad decisions that you could possibly take but in context.”
Lakshman Pasala, Co-founder and CEO at NeverInstall, gave advice to new founders. He said, “For the first time, a lot of entrepreneurs in their 20s or early 30s have an opportunity to be part of creating a specification of a particular technology or a use case. The first principle is to not look at the playbooks that have worked for the previous decade. New playbooks have to be invented, and every other thing around value creation, which is to talk to your customers and understand their problems. All of those principles still remain the same. While you may not have a product framework, the principles around value creation and more service-oriented mindset remain.”
Pratik Desai, Founder and CEO at Kissan.ai stated “We are specifically seeking individuals with agricultural knowledge for roles in data annotation and labeling. This type of job is expected to become more widespread. Those with degrees in physics, for example, could contribute to verticals like agricultural finance or physics-specific areas within data curation, aligning with their expertise instead of universally learning coding.”