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The MoneyControl Startup Conclave highlights: How grit and AI are helping build India's future

Funding winters and AI booms might seem scary, but India's determined and innovative entrepreneurs only see opportunity

Published: Jul 31, 2023 08:46:02 PM IST

The MoneyControl Startup Conclave highlights: How grit and AI are helping build India's futureThe first edition of MoneyControl Startup Conclave — the definitive forum for the most consequential debates on the Indian startup ecosystem — took place on 7 July in India’s very own Silicon Valley, Bengaluru.

Founders, investors and entrepreneurs from a wide range of industries spoke at the event, including a special keynote by T Rabi Sankar, Deputy Governor, RBI, and an opening keynote by V Vaidyanathan (MD and CEO IDFC First Bank). These were soon followed by sessions featuring the co-founders of Billdesk, RazorPay, PhonePe and more, representatives from First Global and Peak XV partners, educators from the likes of Coursera, and many more. Sessions were packed and the atmosphere buzzing with an air of excitement and possibility.

Two of the major themes at the event were the impact of the current funding winter on India’s startups, and the transformational effect of AI.

The tough get going

The theme of this year’s conclave — The Tough Get Going — was very much in line with the general sentiment of 2023. It’s a theme representing the grit and determination, not to mention the endurance and spirit, of the entrepreneurs who are driving India’s startup boom despite what many perceive to be a funding winter.

Building on that theme, keynote speaker V Vaidyanathan noted that the key reason for India’s thriving startup ecosystem wasn’t just India’s young, digitally-savvy population, but the fact that India had now become a land of entrepreneurs. This, he explained, was a fundamental and important shift in India’s mindset, where we’ve gone from being job-seekers to entrepreneurs.
Vinod Khosla, co-founder of Sun Microsystems, had a lot to say on entrepreneurship as well. In his view, a funding winter and global disasters like Covid and the Ukraine war present more opportunities than they take away, opening the door for entrepreneurs to step in and find unique and interesting solutions. For example, he pointed out that Covid pushed many companies originally based in China to India, and that the Ukraine war had prompted a global push for energy independence.

Regarding the funding winter, Khosla stated that valuations were unsustainable earlier, but now they’re reasonable, and with companies pushing for capital efficiency, we’re looking at a more sustainable startup boom. In fact, he states that Indian investors are too cautious, more focused on revenue than on building assets, which be believes to be more valuable in the long run. This is one thing he hopes will change in India’s funding mindset.

AI as an opportunity

A surprising takeaway from the event was the bullishness around AI. While there is concern at many levels that AI will take jobs away, everyone was incredibly bullish on the opportunity that AI presents, with Khosla going so far as to say that India has too much technical talent to not take advantage of the opportunity.

It might not be prudent to invest in building up new fundamental models from scratch given the limited academic research happening in India in the field of AI, but it’s certainly not difficult to collaborate with western researchers and universities. They see huge opportunities for scaling up AI-powered solutions, however. These could include new-age apps, re-thinking old apps in new ways, etc.

Coursera CEO Jeff Maggioncalda, who says that ChatGPT gives him sleepless nights, revealed that his company is working on building a GPT 3.5-based teaching model for their students. Education has to adapt, how we teach and learn, he said, calling AI the “biggest positive transformation that education has ever seen” and that we’ll never go back to printed textbooks.

Abhishek Singh, President and CEO, NeGD built on this from a governance perspective, stating that he sees AI as a huge opportunity for improving accessibility to services for over 500 million Indians. As Nvidia’s Vishal Dhupar noted, we already know what our strategy is going forward, it’s “is AI for all.” Singh admitted that the biggest challenge in India right now is infrastructure — compute power for AI — and that investment in that area is ongoing. The second challenge is up-skilling and re-skilling India’s vast talent pool to take advantage of the opportunity that AI presents.

For more context and deeper insight, as well as deep dives into other areas such as the fintech vs banking debate, growth vs profitability, securing digital India, and more, do watch the full video here: 

This event was brought to you by our presenting partner IDFC First Bank, powered by Peak XV Partners (formerly Sequoia Capital India & SEA), in association with Reliance Industries, Amazon Web Services, Cisco, PWIP and Span Communications. Our broking partners were Mstock and Mirae Asset, while our gifting partner was WickedGud.

The pages slugged ‘Brand Connect’ are equivalent to advertisements and are not written and produced by Forbes India journalists.

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