El Professor sure knew what he was talking about when he said “Just stick to the plan”.
The intelligent, meticulous, and determined Sergio Marquina taught the world the importance of planning – and taking risks – in the heavily watched final season of Spanish crime drama Money Heist.
It may not be immediately apparent, but the heists at the Royal Mint of Spain and the Royal Bank of Spain had much in common with entrepreneurs and the journey of entrepreneurship.
The unshakeable focus and emphasis on planning, teamwork, leadership, time and resource management, studying the market and opposition, connecting to a cause, and never saying die – these are life lessons we learnt as we binge-watched Money Heist.
Most entrepreneurs know the importance of following these principles as they set out on their startup journeys. To start, create, build, and grow something isn’t easy – especially in a world that’s still reeling under the onslaught of COVID-19 – and one must continue to persevere.
Heading into 2021, research firms and industry experts had predicted that India would see a significant increase in the number of unicorns. It’s the last month of 2021, and the Indian startup ecosystem has already added 44 new entrants to the coveted $1 billion valuation club. And there are many more soonicorns waiting in the wings.
Startups did stellar work through the year as numerous Indian entrepreneurs showed their resilience and deeper understanding of the country’s on-ground problems. They were amply rewarded by investor attention, solid growth, and further opportunities.
But as the Professor says, “Time is greater than money”.
And, without further ado, we bring to you our list of the top 25 startup stories of 2021:
Over the last 10 years, we at YourStory have been presenting the Tech30 — our specially curated list of India’s top 30 early-stage tech startups.
The 300+ Tech30 startups, including the likes of Freshworks, Niramai, Pixxel, Innovaccer, Chargebee, and others have cumulatively raised growth capital of more than $2 billion, helped create over 31,000 jobs, are totally valued at $6.8 billion+, and have attracted investments from more than 400 investors.
For the first time in the history of TechSparks and as a sign of India’s burgeoning startup ecosystem, this year, we presented not Tech30 startups but Tech50 — our list of 50 of the most innovative, disruptive startups, cutting across sectors and demographics that we are convinced have the potential to solve problems at scale and redefine the future. We have chosen the freshest crop of early-stage tech startups that will go on to become the next generation of changemakers.
This year’s startups have been handpicked from over 1,500+ applications. It was heartening to see startups headquartered in Tier II cities like Jaipur, Indore, Coimbatore, Surat, Nagpur, and Lucknow making it to the top 15. The maximum applicants to Tech50 2021 launched their startups in 2020 and 2021— a reassuring statistic for what was a very tough period for most startups.
Our picks include AarogyaAI, Addverb, Apna, Bigbox, Bittron, Blingg, BlockSurvey, CellStrat, CustomerGlu, Defy Aerospace, Devic Earth, Digantara, DIY.org, DrapCode, FamPay, GimBooks, GoSats, GreenSat, GroCurv, Growfitter, Hesa, HyperStealth, Intellemo, Jamsfy, Jidoka, KidEx, Marut Drones, Mogi I/O, MOJOPAQ, Multipl, Neokred, Neuphony, Neurostellar, Nyus Media, OneCode, Pretture, Rackpiper, ReshaMandi, Share At Door Step, SmartClean, STAGE, Subtl.ai, TENTO, The Green Meat, Toch.ai, Upscale, Uznaka, Vibranium, Xane AI, and Zippy.
Shantanu Naidu, the Founder of GoodFellows, works as Mr Ratan Tata’s business assistant, and says the benefits of his intergenerational friendship with Mr Tata as well as his affection towards the elderly over the past several years prompted him to embark on his entrepreneurial journey.
GoodFellows is an upcoming for-profit startup providing intergenerational friendships, and calls itself a “companionship company”. It employs young, educated graduates up to the age of 30 to create intergenerational friendships between them and the elderly to reduce loneliness. This is especially relevant because according to the 2011 census, almost 15 million elderlies in India live by themselves.
“Intergenerational friendships are a kind, meaningful, and authentic way to help the elderly living alone with companionship and warmth in the way that GoodFellows is offering. I am keen to see how GoodFellows progresses and wish Shantanu and his young team all the very best,” says Mr Ratan Tata, who is privy to the first-hand developments of GoodFellows.
Bengaluru-based startup Samosa Party, founded by Amit Nanwani and Diksha Pande, is building a D2C brand using one of India’s most humble snacks.
The co-founders want to create a differentiated experience for the urban millennial customers who value convenience, hygiene, and quality even if they have to pay extra.
What started as a single takeaway store in Bengaluru serving eight to nine varieties of samosas is today available across 15 locations in the city, as well as online on food delivery marketplaces and its own website.
The startup is growing profitably and launched in Gurugram in April this year, “but with the second COVID wave hitting immediately, we were unable to do much there”, she adds.
The D2C brand records 50,000 orders per month, and its customers consume close to 50 lakh samosas a year. “More than 80 percent of our customers are repeat customers,” Diksha says.
Ananda Verma, Founder and CEO, Fasal
For decades, Indian agriculture has relied on farmers’ intuition when it came to crop cycles, soil nutrients, climatic conditions, and other parameters.
Entrepreneur Ananda Verma, who hails from a farming family of UP’s Azamgarh District, feels even experienced farmers have not always been able to escape the perils of climate change, losing their crops to unpredictable weather conditions, soil degradation, and unmitigated pest attacks.
“Even though agriculture is the primary source of income in Azamgarh, most farmers faced the same problems and were unable to prevent crop losses,” Ananda says.
Precision agriculture startup Fasal uses AI, IoT, and analytics to remove the guesswork from farming, enabling thousands of horticulture farmers to manage their crops remotely and profitably.
Kainaz Messman Harchandrai and Tina Messman Wykes: Co-founders of Theobroma
At 24, Kainaz Messman Harchandrai never expected to be bed-ridden by a freak accident. An alumna of The Institute of Hotel Management (IHM), Mumbai, and Oberoi Centre of Learning and Development (OCLD), Delhi, Kainaz was a pastry chef at Oberoi Udaivilas in Udaipur.
“I simply loved my job, and being unable to do what I wanted to wasn’t something I was prepared for. The doctor had said I couldn’t be a chef, as I had to be on my feet all day,” she says.
But that didn’t stop Kainaz, who, along with her sister Tina Messman Wykes, founded Mumbai-based Theobroma, a brand that has now achieved a cult status of sorts.
Since its launch in 2004 with a seed capital of Rs 1 crore, which the sisters borrowed from their father, Theobrama has established itself as a leading food and beverage destination. It has grown to 78 outlets across Mumbai, Delhi, NCR, Hyderabad, and Pune. The patisserie aims to double its Rs 121 crore revenue in the coming year.
DusMinute Co-founder Apoorva Mishra
There are more than 100 million apartment and residential units in India, according to IBEF. These housing societies are so large that people need a blend of physical and ecommerce stores to support the occupants.
To create a better living experience for residents, Apoorva Mishra, Ankita Asai, Nikhil Gupta, Bavadeep Reddy, Kishore Seela, and Nachiappan started DusMinute in 2017.
The Bengaluru-based startup is a hyperlocal-managed living platform that sets up supermarkets, pharmacies, café, etc., in gated communities. Residents can also order them through the resident-exclusive app and get them delivered home.
In addition to providing a safe and convenient shopping experience, especially during the pandemic, the startup claims to be focusing on curating the amenities as per the individual requirements of the residents and also personalising them.
“We are building the future of urban living in India. As the cities are growing metropolitan, gated communities are increasingly becoming the preferred choice of living. With the ever-busy lifestyle, convenience has become a necessity,” says Apoorva.
After her first startup Buttercups, an online lingerie brand that was acquired by Amazon in 2019, Arpita Ganesh was looking at what to do next. She thought of starting a socks brand, but that didn’t pan out the way she had hoped.
When the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown was announced in March 2020, Arpita was left wondering how she would arrange meals for her dogs – a nine-year-old and a three-year-old with different dietary requirements. Aware that existing packaged brands in the market weren’t good for the dogs, she to cook.
“I started doing a lot of trials. I started seeing and reading up on the different things that I could do with the foods. When I saw a shift in their activity and energy levels. I realised I was onto something,” says Arpita.
It led her to start Pawfectly Made, a home-cooked meal service startup for pets in Bengaluru in 2020.
Team Hanugen Therapeutics
India has about five lakh cases of Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD), one of the various forms of muscular dystrophy that affects boys primarily, and causes progressive weakness.
Bengaluru-based Hanugen Therapeutics is developing a solution for treating this fatal rare disease by developing an innovative oligonucleotide-based therapeutics to solve the problem.
The startup was founded in 2017 by Dr Arun Shastry, Ravdeep Singh Anand, and Manjula Muniraju.
“We received the clinical trial approval and Manufacturing Test Licence from CDSCO in August 2020, but did not begin work as we did not want to risk the children who are already immunosuppressed during COVID time. As part of this trial, which will go on for one year, children will be given IV injection shots once every week and their condition will be monitored,” Dr Arun says.
Leap Finance Founders Vaibhav Singh and Arnav Kumar
Many Indian students aspire to study abroad as the next step for their career growth. However, the lack of credible information on the application process and the high cost of loans act as deterrents.
To address these two specific challenges, two friends and IIT-Kharagpur alums Vaibhav Singh and Arnav Kumar decided to launch Leap Finance in 2019. The Bengaluru-headquartered startup is an intersection between the worlds of fintech and edtech.
“We wanted to be the one-stop-shop for everything that a student needs to successfully move abroad,” Co-founder Vaibhav Singh says.
Vidyakul Founder Tarun Saini (R) with Co-founder Raman Garg
Tarun Saini calls himself “a country boy-turned-hustler who made a dent in the Australian education space” and is now building ‘Bharat Ka Online School’.
When he returned to India in 2018, Tarun discovered that despite the growth of online learning, the situation hadn’t improved much in villages and small towns. Most quality education — online or offline — in India was being imparted in English. Hence, the demand-supply gap in afterschool learning for state board students was massive.
Tarun founded Vidyakul in August 2018 to solve this problem. He also roped in Raman Garg as Co-founder and CTO.
Vidyakul claims to be one of India’s earliest vernacular e-learning platforms that offers quality education at affordable prices to children from low-income families that may own smartphones, but have limited spending power.
The Gurugram-based edtech startup’s mission is to help state board students in Tier-II, III, and IV towns get wider access to online tuitions and afterschool coaching in languages like Hindi, Gujarati, Marathi, and so on.
With our lives becoming busier than ever, cooking has taken a backseat. This is where Bengaluru-based Euphotic Labs has stepped in with a solution.
The kitchen robotic startup has developed an app-driven autonomous cooking robot called Nosh, which can cook about 200 one-pot dishes such as Kadhai Paneer, Matar Paneer, Chicken Curry, Fish Curry, Carrot Halwa, Potato Fry, etc., as per individual taste preferences.
“Our vision is to make the food experience seamless so that everyone can have freshly cooked food as per their taste preference, work schedule, and health requirement,” Yatin Varachhia, Co-founder of Euphotic Labs, tells YourStory.
Yatin, who did not like the corporate life and was bitten by the entrepreneurial bug, decided to quit his job and start Euphotic Labs in 2018 with three engineers to build Nosh. Later, Pranav Raval, Amit Gupta, and Sudeep Gupta came together as co-founders, as they “believed in the potential of the product”.
Gurugram-based startup, Zingbus founded in May 2019 by tech graduates Prashant, Ravi Kumar Verma, and Mratunjay, aims to make intercity bus travel smoother by managing everything from booking a ticket to ensuring a good service experience and safety standards.
Operating on an online marketplace model, Zingbus encompasses all aspects of bus travel, says Co-founder and CEO Prashant Kumar. This includes finding the right bus, booking a ticket, providing the boarding and departure times, taking care of the customer experience during the journey, and adhering to safety norms.
Zingbus’ “full-stack technology-enabled” fleet of intercity buses offers a “standardised experience at an affordable price”, says Prashant. For bus operators, the startup aggregates their fleets on one platform and optimises inventory, schedules, and pricing.
More people today are working out at home than ever before due to the COVID-19 pandemic that has necessitated social distancing norms, as well as unexpected lockdowns. Flexnest, founded by fitness enthusiasts Rhea and Raunaq Singh Anand, is helping people work out better.
“Once the pandemic hit and all gyms shut down, we had to look for fitness products for home use. We were shocked when we discovered that nothing existed in the Indian market. It was either bad quality products available at mom-and-pop shops, or we had to import equipment, which costs lakhs of rupees,” Rhea says.
They decided to do something about it themselves, and Flexnest, their home fitness D2C brand, came into being.
Founded in 2020, the Gurugram-based fitness startup offers premium smart and non-smart fitness equipment for home use. The startup integrates its smart equipment with content solutions to enable people to work out in groups, via online classes.
Flexnest currently has over 15 products on its website and on Amazon.in, as well as a mobile app where users can track their body vitals, as well as do group or individual workouts.
Manush Labs’ Founder Piyush Verma
Around half of India’s startups are from Tier II and Tier III cities, the Economic Surveys of 2018-2019 and 2019-2020 show. In fact, the number of startups from beyond the metros has grown significantly in the recent past as innovators from these regions set out to solve very unique India-specific problems.
Enter Manush Labs, a social impact accelerator that wants to foster an inclusive entrepreneurial ecosystem by empowering India’s innovators and entrepreneurs from Tier II cities and beyond to build sustainable businesses and scalable solutions and businesses through access to funding, mentoring, and network building within the innovation ecosystem.
Founded by Piyush Verma, a Tata Fellow and graduate from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, US, Manush Labs is on a mission to bridge the gap between the international entrepreneurship and investor community and entrepreneurs of India.
It aims to do this by exposing innovators and entrepreneurs from across the country to global experts through a series of programmes and services designed to foster an inclusive entrepreneurship culture pan-India.
WiJungle Co-founder Karmesh Gupta
When Karmesh Gupta started his entrepreneurial journey along with his cousin Praveen Gupta in 2014, he did not know what was in store for them. Within three years, they faced three continuous failures, which taught them the three most important lessons for any startup founder — resilience, hard work, and consistency.
Continuing with their exploration, the duo decided to take a plunge into the cybersecurity segment. In 2017, they launched WiJungle to disrupt the global cybersecurity segment and launched its product – Unified Network Security Platform (UNSP).
The Jaipur-based B2B startup is now helping organisations manage and secure their network with a single-window solution. It claims to have grown its customer base by 200 percent last year, and its partner network by 130 percent. It is now serving over 25 countries worldwide.
Zvolv Co-founder Hardik P Gandhi
The low-code and no-code movement is fast becoming popular among businesses. While most enterprises today invest in ERP and CRM tools like SAP, Oracle, Salesforce, etc., not all processes can be managed through them.
This is where Zvolv comes in, putting technology in the hands of businesses, enabling them to automate processes in-house without having to go through large IT shops.
Founded by Hardik P Gandhi, Pushkar Prasad, and Sujoy Chakravarty in 2015, the Pune-based startup provides an alternative way — a no-code intelligent automation platform — to build enterprise applications faster, with little to no upfront cost, and no developer dependence.
EMotorad Founders: Kunal Gupta (L), Rajib Gangopadhyay, Sumedh Battewar and Aditya Oza
Electric Vehicles (EVs) are the future of mobility. With the Indian EV market yet to reach its full potential, many upcoming EV startups in the country have been developing smart mobility solutions. One of the latest entrants in the sector is Pune-based e-cycle startup EMotorad (EM).
Founded in 2020 by Rajib Gangopadhyay, Kunal Gupta, Aditya Oza, and Sumedh Battewar, the EV startup aims to bring across premium quality electric cycles at an affordable price, utilising its local sourcing and manufacturing capabilities.
The startup, with clients in 58 countries, is offering three models at present and aims to give commuters an environment-friendly and economical way of commuting.
Mousumi Kapoor, Founder and CEO, Continual Engine
Founded in 2018 by entrepreneur Mousumi Kapoor, Continual Engine is an AI-enabled education startup that uses deeptech to find simpler, affordable, and more effective ways to make learning content more accessible.
The Dallas-headquartered startup is building assistive technologies for the visually challenged and people with special learning needs.
It uses AI, ML, computer vision, and NLP to make complex images and documents accessible to the visually impaired and those with special learning needs. It has impacted over 100,000 learners, and has clients from leading academic publishers to Fortune 500 companies.
Mousumi says: “Our goal is to leverage computer vision, ML, and deep learning algorithms to create ‘continually learning engines’ that can deliver transformative learning solutions and solve meaningful problems at scale.”
The pandemic posed a huge challenge to stakeholders of the Indian education system, especially individual tutors who were used to the offline setup.
To enable them to continue teaching online without having to deal with fragmented and complex digital tools, Teachmint built a SaaS-based mobile-first end-to-end solution, which allows them to not only host and record their classes, but also hand out assignments, take attendance, and more. The edtech startup is helping one million+ tutors across India teach online for free.
Launched in early 2020, the Bengaluru-based startup is the brainchild of IIT alumni Mihir Gupta, Payoj Jain, Divyansh Bordia, and Anshuman Kumar. The four have executive experience at OYO, McKinsey, Swiggy, and Roposo, and were recently featured in Forbes 30 under 30 Asia list.
The second wave of the pandemic knocked the wind out of India’s healthcare system. Indeed, as people desperately look for verified information to locate hospital beds and find oxygen cylinders, plasma, medicines, and other such resources, one tech innovation — a WhatsApp chatbot called IntroBot —fast became the go-to resource for instant, verified pan-India leads.
IntroBot, which is built by entrepreneurs Divyaansh Anuj and Utkarsh Roy, is a WhatsApp AI community chatbot that is powered by a team of 400 volunteers and collaborations with initiatives like COVID Citizens and others in the Indian startup ecosystem.
By sharing real-time, verified leads on everything — from hospital beds to oxygen, plasma, medicines, and other much-sought-after COVID resources — IntroBot helped those on the ground save precious time and precious lives.
Eka Software Solutions
Eka Software Solutions Founder and CEO Manav Garg
When Eka Software Solutions Founder and CEO Manav Garg speaks in English, it would seem like he’s been familiar with the language all his life. But it wasn’t until college that he actually started speaking it.
Manav grew up in a middle class family in the small town of Moga in Punjab. He saw his father repeatedly fail at entrepreneurship, but that did not deter him from taking the plunge himself, after quitting a well-paying job in Singapore.
After getting his engineering degree (in Instrumentation and Control) from NIT (then REC), Jalandhar, Manav armed himself with an MBA from IIFT (Indian Institute of Foreign Trade), Delhi. He became a trader at G Premjee Trading in Singapore, earning a handsome salary, and travelling all across South East Asia. Three years into his job as a coffee trader, he saw an entrepreneurial opportunity through a gap waiting to be filled.
He met with people at IT giants such as Infosys, Wipro and TCS to get a grip on all things software and IT. Manav’s startup Eka’s first product came out in nine months.
Started in 2004, the startup is a cloud-based software solutions provider for enterprises. The first year of the Bengaluru startup’s operations were financed by the then 30-year-old Manav’s personal savings, after which he approached his former employer and managed to get a seed funding of $1 million.
In 2009, Eka secured a $10 million funding from venture capital firm Nexus; in 2013, global private equity fund Silver Lake led a $40 million plus funding round in the startup.
Four years ago, a freak bus accident on his way to Pondicherry upended Rishi Krishna’s life. Not because it resulted in an amputation in his right arm, or even because he had to deal with some of the darker days in his life, so far.
But because the sum of all the experiences he had after the accident resulted in him making a bid for the entrepreneurial life, where his sole mission is to lend a helping hand to other amputees like him. Literally.
His startup Symbionic, an affordable assistive technology venture, focuses on easing the pain and discomfort that amputees often face, especially with trying to use bionic, smart prosthetics.
Founded in 2019 by Rishi and Niranjan Kumar, Symbionic is an affordable, assistive technology startup that makes smart prosthetic devices. The device is nearly 30X cheaper than foreign, imported devices that are mostly used these days.
Team Torus Robotics
While pursuing their mechatronics engineering degree, SRM University alumni M Vignesh, Vibhakar Senthil Kumar, and Abbhi Vignesh decided to opt out of campus placements and set out to build solutions for the Indian defence sector.
In 2019, the trio launched Torus Robotics Pvt Ltd in Chennai to help the Indian Armed forces with modular Unmanned Ground Vehicles (UGV) that could cater to diverse mission requirements.
“It was the same time when India and the Indian Armed Forces suffered its worst loss in 20 years when four heavily armed terrorists launched a grenade attack at a camp in Uri on September 18, 2016. This was our eureka moment and we decided to develop Unmanned Systems to aid and safeguard the lives of our Indian Armed Forces,” Co-founder and Director Vignesh M says.
Torus was launched exactly three years after the Uri attack — post rigorous research and multiple interactions with the Indian Armed forces to understand their requirements.
Somil Mathur and his BITS Pilani batchmates – Jayant Panwar and Kenish Shah – created a platform, PropReturns, where people interested in real estate have the option to become owners of pre-leased commercial properties. This means, an investor can start making passive income after buying a property as it already has rent-paying tenants.
Run by Propreturns Real Estate Technology Pvt Ltd, the Mumbai-based platform was founded in April 2021.
The startup runs a platform where it lists commercial properties. Until September 2021, over 2,000 people were using the platform, and it recorded between 15-20 transactions. The startup did not wish to disclose its revenues as it is still in early stages.
MSME financing platforms have truly become lifelines in a myriad of ways — from saving generational businesses from going under, to helping businesswomen assert their own professional and financial freedom, and so much more.
Digital lender NeoGrowth Credit is one such company.
Founded in 2013 by Dhruv Khaitan and Piyush Khaitan, who together have founded and managed a number of tech companies to serve the SME segment, NeoGrowth Credit is headquartered in Mumbai, and present in 24 other cities in the country.
The digital lending platform specifically targets micro, small, and medium enterprises, and offers a range of secured and unsecured credit products, for different sizes of businesses. It gains a leg up on banks through the documentation and underwriting process.
In FY21, NeoGrowth extended loans to 1,197 women — or 16.4 percent of the total borrowers — as per its Social Impact Report.