Tech is the new mainstay in the new normal: Padmaja Ruparel, co-founder, Indian Angel Network

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June 07, 2021 1:30 AM

In 2020, technology and digital innovation took the centre stage in sectors such as agritech, fintech, healthtech, manufacturing, etc.

Padmaja Ruparel, co-founder, Indian Angel Network and founding partner, IAN FundPadmaja Ruparel, co-founder, Indian Angel Network and founding partner, IAN Fund

The second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic has created panic amongst caregivers and patients about physical visits to medical facilities. Telemedicine is picking up and the trend continues with e-pharmacy, online delivery of medical supplies, etc. The opportunity for quality healthcare services, home care devices, online pharmacies, etc. is growing across the country,” Padmaja Ruparel, co-founder, Indian Angel Network and founding partner, IAN Fund, tells Sudhir Chowdhary in a recent interview. Excerpts:

How do you see the investment opportunities for digitally-driven startups in 2021?
In 2020, technology and digital innovation took the centre stage in sectors such as agritech, fintech, healthtech, manufacturing, etc. Hence, 2021 is clearly seeing an increase in funding in these tech-centric plays, B2B SaaS plays, which can scale quickly across geographies and new markets in the growing tier II and III cities that are waiting for innovative solutions. Thus, 2021 surely looks exciting with an increase in quality investment opportunities in India and overseas.

How do you analyse the past year in terms of challenges and learning for the startup ecosystem?
Despite the lockdown challenges in 2020, several startups saw the writing on the wall and quickly started to align with the new normal. They built a resilient model to respond to the ongoing crisis with a seamless shift from offline to online. They also realised that the pandemic has brought a behavioural change in customers’ needs, spending habits, as well as mode of buying. And, the key to a successful transformation is to engage with changing customer behaviour and understand the market at large. Subsequently, a number of them reoriented their models towards online, leveraging deep technologies such AI, Big Data analytics, IoT, etc.

Do you think startups that emerged from the crisis will have a larger opportunity in digital economy in 2021?
The year 2020 was catalytic for the country’s startup ecosystem. Despite the pandemic challenges, the country witnessed the emergence of 11 Unicorns. More than ever before, startups enhanced their focus on emerging new-age technologies such as IoT, AI, data analytics, etc., to bridge wide-ranging gaps that were introduced in the market. Thus, technology is the new mainstay.

Moreover, the pandemic not just opened up new markets for startups but helped several of them to diversify into sectors that are bucking the trend with the creation of demand pockets. With deepening digital acceleration, innovation is playing a crucial role, adding value to the rapidly growing startup ecosystem.

How do you see the future of consumer brands that shifted online?
Consumer behaviour has changed in various ways—online shopping, focus on fundamentals, need for social distancing, etc. For consumer brands especially, the need to evolve product mix, packaging, distribution models, brand building mechanics, etc., has become the difference between success and failure. Also, there is a great opportunity for smaller brands to create an effective social media presence and scale online, with direct-to-consumer (D2C). And in 2021, we are seeing hybrid models emerging and will build higher scale and efficiencies.

With health and medicine gaining global attention, how do you see the growth of the sector this year?
The trends of 2020 in e-health and healthtech firms are continuing in 2021. The second wave has created further panic amongst caregivers and patients about physical visits to medical facilities. Telemedicine is picking up as it is convenient for both medical professionals and patients alike. The trend continues with e-pharmacy, online delivery of medical supplies, etc. Given the pandemic, preventive care and out patient departments are moving to the home enabled through technology. Close to 80% of hospital infrastructure is set to be in-patient focused. Hence, the opportunity for quality healthcare services, home care devices, online pharmacies is growing across the country. Healthcare is set to follow the penetration of the internet infrastructure.

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