How does NetApp Excellerator help startups ‘excel’ in their journey?

The pandemic has impacted several lives and business, but startups are especially feeling the pinch during this time. Startups are now trying to conserve cash or find alternative methods of cash flow. Some startups that work on new-age techs like AI and ML offer additional services to existing clients. This helps them generate cash. Similarly, several of them venture into the SaaS model to bring in some more revenue. Thus, they aim to aid their working capital management. However, B2B startups are faring relatively better despite the COVID-19 pandemic. Startups are now gaining some traction by participating in corporate accelerator programs. NetApp Excellerator is one such program that has been mentoring startups for almost 3 years. The program has recently onboarded its 7th cohort.

Read the story of the Excellator Program from Madhurima Agarwal, Leader, NetApp Excellerator and Director of Engineering Programs, NetApp. From how corporates and startups have joined hands to accelerate innovation in recent years, to how NetApp Excellerator helps startups to excel, Madhurima outlines the story of the program.

Describe the startups that have worked with NetApp Excellerator and highlight some of the successes of the startups from the previous cohorts.

As a global cloud-led, data-centric software company, NetApp through its Excellerator program aims to fuel innovation by partnering with startups that have a similar technology alignment. We foster deep-tech B2B startups that provide cutting edge solutions in the areas of cloud, AI, IoT, DevOps, Kubernetes, and data management. We have worked with over 40 startups across seven cohorts.

The success of our alumni is a testament to the value offerings of the NetApp Excellerator program. Over 70% of our startups have secured the next round of funding. Additionally, Adya, ArchSaber and VitaCloud have been acquired successfully. We have also seen startups from previous cohorts receive awards at prestigious events and forums. Just recently Securelyshare, CloudSEK, Myelin Foundry and Lightwing in 2020 received the Emerge 50 awards for the most innovative software products. SecurelyShare also won stage 2 of Nasscom’s DSCI grand challenge for the development of an automated system to enable privacy-preserving analytics and forensics. Instasafe was recognized by Gartner as a representative vendor for Zero Trust Network Access along with Senseforth named as the Gartner Cool Vendor in Conversational AI Platforms 2020.

What are the pain points in the current B2B startup landscape? What are the areas in which startups are looking for mentorship?

We started this program in 2017 to share our unique outlook in a landscape that was devoid of able mentorship for B2B deep-tech startups. Through NetApp Excellerator, we wanted to leverage our perspective and experience to mentor startups in the data domain and invest in solutions that will help enterprises through the new era of digital transformation.

The biggest challenge faced by B2B startups is access to customers and long closing sales cycles. While SaaS startups find it easier to reach a wider potential client base, being closer to a customer can cause scales to tip in favour of enterprise startups. Again, most enterprise startups face the challenge of proving their scalability to clients.

Funding in B2B has picked up in the past couple of years. We see a great interest in B2B especially B2C was the clear favourite. The recent NetApp Zinnov report highlighted the fact that B2B startups in 2019 received over $3.0 billion in equity funding. This is a 2X growth in average and median ticket size of funding as compared to the previous year.

Scalability to enterprise-grade brings its own set of product challenges and that’s one area where we are seeing a lot of demand for tech mentorship. Most of these startups are born in the cloud and not having a strong understanding and handle on cloud data security, migration and storage can cause performance to suffer. This is where NetApp mentors come in and share expertise to help startups find the right product-market fit.

What kind of training and mentorship does NetApp Excellerator provide to the startups?

NetApp Excellerator provides both technical as well as business mentorship to startups. The NetApp team, in collaboration with industry-renowned external mentors coaches the startups on cutting-edge technologies, platforms, tools, and business acumen. The startups also have access to top-class infrastructure. This includes NVIDIA DGX workstation at NetApp’s AI Centre of Excellence in Bengaluru. This workstation provides access to AI supercomputing power for deep learning at the convenience of a workspace. With the changing circumstances, the cohorts have evolved to become virtual in nature which only helped us strengthen the global outlook of the program as we see more participation from international startups. The program enables startups to experiment and tune their models, iterate faster, and deploy their work seamlessly. Additionally, we have also made our Cloud Volumes ONTAP license available to help optimize cloud storage costs and performance while enhancing data protection, security, and compliance.

The cohort duration also includes a mix of workshops involving coaching and mentoring as well as progress on the Proof of Concept (POC). We also create opportunities for them to increase visibility through various means such as webinars, conference participations, and one-on-one industry connects.

As a result, the startups can pivot and strengthen their technology solutions while becoming product-market fit. Meanwhile, they can also enhance the overall user experience. This creates significant business impact for them.

Describe NetApp Excellerator and highlight why/how it is the right program to help leapfrog a startup’s business

Simply put, NetApp Excellerator helps startups ‘excel’ in their journey. We are currently in our 7th cohort, set to graduate this month. Our program has been designed to help data-driven startups create revolutionary world-class products and solutions that are enterprise-grade and market-ready.

We help startups leapfrog their business in three ways – product innovation, customer insight and VC connect. As mentioned earlier, startups get global mentorship to build transformational products. Our experts also aid these startups in gaining insights into customer needs, understanding, and navigating through their requirements. The startups also train on how to effectively pitch their solutions to customers and investors. Through our vast investor connects, we enable startups to forge fruitful relationships with prominent VCs. These connections have had beneficial results for our alumni. After graduating, over 70% of the startups have secured follow-on funding.

We also provide the startups with a paid-for proof of concept (POC) opportunity. This enables them to generate revenue and validate their products before deploying them. With free access to NetApp infrastructure and licenses, the startups can test their products for a real-world scenario.

What are some challenges that you or the startups have faced in the duration of the program? How did you overcome the same?

Our program is demand-driven and is customized to the needs of the cohort; hence we don’t face many challenges. However, one challenge that we did face since the onset of the pandemic was adapting to a virtual system. There were fewer options to meet as a group. It wasn’t as easy to build the kind of connect that comes from an in-person meeting. Because, mostly in a virtual setting, it takes time for people to open up, to start working comfortably. However, we have adapted well to the virtual set up and seized the opportunity to onboard four international startups in our current cohort.

Can you highlight some of the interesting solutions that you have worked on/co-developed with the startups?

While we do not co-develop solutions, we have partnered with some of our startups to create joint offerings. E.g., we are working closely with one of our startups, ZScore, in the Australia market. Z-Score is doing some pioneering work around data-refining, to ensure that good data is separated from bad data. This is a critical need given the increasing dependency on data for making business-critical decisions.

We recently published a whitepaper with Curl Analytics, a graduate from cohort 5. The integration of NetApp® ONTAP® AI with the Paras AI solution from Curl Analytics unlocks an end-to-end AI value chain for users, resulting in time and cost efficiencies. This enables teams to build a deep learning solution in a couple of days rather than in a few months. It results in time savings by 15x for model development.

We are in touch with some of the early-stage startups we have mentored in our previous cohorts and we look forward to connecting with them when the time is right.

Blog Source: CIOL