What’s common between Dr Geetha Manjunath, creator of a breakthrough AI solution for detecting early stage breast cancer and Dr Jo Aggrawal, the creator of Wysa, an AI chatbot that helps in improving people’s emotional resilience? Well, they were both backed by Google’s Start-up Accelerator programme that has been nurturing women entrepreneurs across India.
Google’s dedicated accelerator for women founders addresses unique challenges like access to capital, finding tech co-founders, and leadership development. The programme has seen some success, with a strong peer group and support system for women from various backgrounds. Moreover, the representation of women founders has evolved over the years, growing from under 8 per cent to 30-35 per cent applicants. The dedicated women founders’ programme has helped improve these numbers.
For Paul Ravindranath, head of the Google Accelerator at Google India, it is these kinds of stories that keep him inspired. “This is what fuels me… the thing that brings me closest to impact is this programme that I’ve been working on for the last five or six years,” he told indianexpress.com in an exclusive interview.
The women founders are not only required to sell the idea of their company to raise money, but also have to brave certain inherent biases in the ecosystem. The idea of a woman as a leader, a CEO, or a CXO, requires stronger storytelling and a certain underscoring. This is where the peer group and support system nurtured by Google comes into play.
“Women founders enjoy having a peer group and access to a safe space where they can be vulnerable and share shortcomings as a founder, an area they are finding challenging. Creating that space for conversation sharing, being vulnerable as founders, sharing your darkest fears as founders is precious,” Ravindranath explained.
Google is nurturing women entrepreneurs from across the nation. It has been focusing on supporting entrepreneurs from Tier II and Tier III cities, where, according to Ravindranath, over 60 per cent of entrepreneurs come from. With initiatives like startup school, virtual mentorships, and collaboration with state governments and partner accelerators, the tech giant aims to nurture early-stage start-ups, emphasising specifically on women founders.
These programmes have been designed to encompass various aspects of business including product strategy and leadership. Moreover, partnerships with organisations like the Deshpande Foundation and the Kerala Startup Mission help in creating a grassroots connection, providing knowledge and access to these founders, and fostering growth in the Tier II and Tier III ecosystems.
Google has been actively involved in the startup ecosystem in India since 2014. The company has initiated various programmes to support startups, such as the Launchpad Week and the Accelerator programme, to help them grow and innovate. And, these programmes have been helping women realise their entrepreneurial potentials.
Google’s Accelerator programme has evolved from a one-week format to a three-month-long support program. It has expanded to 19 accelerators worldwide, with three cohorts a year in India. The programme offers deep dives into various aspects of start up, including product strategy, tech strategy, growth plans, and more.
According to Ravindranath, Google’s programmes have supported 157 companies in India, including a unicorn, with almost $3 billion in fundraising. They have created more than 13,000 jobs and have recently started a dedicated accelerator for women founders.
The Accelerator programme has been focusing on companies that harness technology in innovative ways, especially ML and AI. The programme is vertical-agnostic and supports wide ranging startups from healthcare, retail, FinTech, media, entertainment, EdTech, agritech, and more. The programme is also fostering an active community of thought leaders and it nurtures a longstanding association with its participants, essentially entering into a lasting mentorship.
“Google maintains a strong connection with the alumni of their programmes, offering continuous engagement, mentorship, and support. Alumni also contribute back to the programme, acting as mentors and coaches for current cohorts,” said Ravindranath.
Ravindranath said Indian start-ups evolved from replicating existing ideas to tackling larger, complex social issues, especially in areas such as healthcare and public policy. “A large part of our ecosystem has a strong engineering background, and they bring that expertise in. If you look at the evolution today, we have startups picking up large, complex problems in society, solving for healthcare and public policy,” he adds.
He emphasised on the strong technical background possessed by Indian founders and entrepreneurs which is fueling innovation. According to him, the post-pandemic era has led to a surge in the number of new internet users in India, paving the way for innovative solutions, opportunities. The Google executive also highlighted the technical prowess, adaptability, speed of Indian startups as their most distinctive factors.
With its accelerator programme, Google has been supporting startups in mitigating several India-specific challenges in sectors like education, agritech, fintech, retail, etc. Google’s association with the participating entrepreneurs does not end there. The search giant maintains a strong connection with the alumni of the programmes, offering consistent engagement, mentorship, and support. The alumni also contribute to the programme, acting as mentors and coaches for current cohorts.