16 unicorns, $11bn funding: Indian startups rise sans Chinese money

New Delhi: The great Indian tech startup story is being rewritten amid the Covid-19 pandemic as traditional sectors still bear the brunt.

With 16 unicorns (startups with a valuation of over $1 billion) and more than $11 billion in funding, chiefly from the US-based investment firms (till June-end), the year 2021 has proved that Chinese investment is no longer needed in a �self-reliant’ India amid the new normal.

The Indian tech startups started to shun Chinese investment in 2020 as desi corporates and wealthy individuals, along with investors from other countries, came onboard to fund the homegrown firms.

In the first half of 2021, investors have pumped in at least $11 billion into the Indian tech startups in over 600 deals, which is growing at an exponential rate.

The US-based investment firm Tiger Global is currently leading when it comes to investing top dollars, overtaking another US-based venture capital firm Sequoia Capital as the top investor in the burgeoning Indian startup/unicorn ecosystem.

IT industry’s apex body Nasscom had forecast that India will have 50 unicorns before the end of 2021. The country has already surpassed that number which now stands at 52.

The $1 billion valuation club now has new unicorns in Digit Insurance, InnovAccer, Cred, Meesho, Gupshup, Pharmeasy, Groww, Urban Company, Mohalla Tech (ShareChat and Moj), Chargebee, Moglix, Infra.Market, Zeta, Five Star Business Finance, BrowserStack and logistics firm BlackBuck, the latest entrant.

The list will only grow in the remaining months in a mobile-first country where internet and digital access is increasing by each passing day.

In 2019, Chinese investors poured $3.9 billion into India, up from $2 billion in 2018. This investment scenario took a turnaround from May last year amid face-offs and skirmishes between Indian and Chinese troops at locations along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in eastern Ladakh.

As a result, investment from China in Indian companies fell to $263 million across 15 deals in the first half of 2020. Sensing the atmosphere, homegrown tech startups started to look elsewhere for investments, and their calls have been answered.

Media reports have claimed that nearly 150 investment proposals from China worth more than $2 billion were stuck in the pipeline.

According to Prabhu Ram, Head-Industry Intelligence Group (IIG), CMR, the rise of new unicorns and IPOs signals the arrival of the golden age of Indian consumer internet startup ecosystem.

“As a vibrant mobile-first nation, India’s digital economy has been growing on the back of strong digital infrastructure, including rising smartphone penetration, affordable data costs and rising app downloads,” Ram told IANS.

“Over the past year, the pandemic gave further impetus to digital consumption. Responding to the needs of the digital economy are startup entrepreneurs, from urban as well as aspirational India who have been solving for an array of unique use cases,” he added.

After the bumper IPO, Zomato’s shares gained nearly 80 per cent on the first day of trading on the Bombay Stock Exchange, taking the market value of the food delivery platform to nearly $13 billion.

“The tremendous response to our IPO gives us the confidence that the world is full of investors who appreciate the magnitude of investments we are making, and take a long-term view of our business,” said Zomato CEO Deepinder Goyal.

The new-age consumer tech-driven startups, which touched the daily lives of millions during the pandemic, have joined the investment bandwagon and are raking in the moolah.

“As India and the world seek to emerge from the pandemic, India’s consumer internet ecosystem is in the midst of a perfect storm. The recent startup successes will increase investor appetite for risk-taking, and will also attract global investors,” Ram noted.

Last year, the Indian tech startup base witnessed a steady growth at a scale of 8-10 per cent (year-on-year) with over 1,600 tech startups and a record number of 12 additional unicorns — the highest ever in a single calendar year, according to a Nasscom-Zinnov report.

That record has already been broken in the first half of this year and the great Indian tech startup story is set for a big leap for the rest of the year.