Microsoft launches program to help Indian startups deploy AI at scale


India’s burgeoning start-up ecosystem is deploying artificial intelligence (AI) in core business operations. To ensure they have access to the right AI resources, partnerships, and guidance to deploy AI at scale, Microsoft has launched a startup program called AI Innovate along with an AI Playbook that will help start-ups in the country adopt the technology.

Big tech companies including Microsoft, Google, and Amazon have been proactive in identifying and supporting promising startups and providing them with launchpads to scale up their solutions. Before AI Innovate, Microsoft has been involved in two similar programs for agritech and healthtech startups. Likewise, Amazon through the AWS Activate program is providing startups with low-cost, easy-to-use cloud infrastructure.

Similar to the boom in agritech and healthtech, India has seen a sudden rush for AI adoption among startups. Microsoft’s AI program is motivated by this rise in interest in AI among Indian start-ups. A 2020 report by Nasscom stated that data and AI have the potential to add $500 billion to the economy by 2025 and could account for 10% of the country’s GDP.

“AI is becoming mainstream, and our own AI startup ecosystem is leading this change. India has the third-largest AI startup ecosystem in the world. AI adoption can add more than 90 billion US dollars to the Indian economy by 2035,” said Anant Maheshwari, president, Microsoft India at the AI Innovate virtual conference.

Rohini Srivathsa, national technology officer, Microsoft India believes every start-up is already an AI startup. “Whether it is healthcare, financial services, e-commerce, education, manufacturing, agriculture, every start-up is leveraging AI in some way or the other, whether it is for customer experience, credit rating, predicting crops, or optimizing supply chains,” she added.

According to Maheshwari, the AI Innovate program aims to empower startups to achieve meaningful innovation at scale. It will help them build business and industry expertise in AI, create relevant scenarios working with Microsoft industry research and engineering experts, give them the opportunity to future proof skilling in AI and ML, and provide opportunities for mentorship from unicorn founders. “This is just a series of programs and interventions that will serve startups as they begin their AI journey,” he added.

The 10-week AI Innovate program will start as a quarterly cohort in November in partnership with The Indus Enterpreneurs (TiE), Mumbai. Start-ups from all major sectors including financial services, healthcare, education, agriculture, space, manufacturing and logistics, retail, and e-commerce have been invited to participate and apply for the first cohort of the program.

According to Maheswari, in the first three months of this program, Microsoft will focus on banking financial services and insurance (BFSI), and manufacturing and logistics as the first two cohorts.

The program will classify startups into three categories based on their size, funding, and status of solutions and the benefits of the program will vary accordingly. The first includes all start-ups that have qualified for Seed to Series B fundings. The second category includes start-ups with enterprise-ready solutions. The third category is aimed at helping startups envision their solutions with help from industry experts. The idea is to build a future-ready solution with guidance from AI professionals and partner experts and see if it can be enhanced.

“Our vision is to help every startup in every industry turn meaningful innovation into actionable results. It’s really important to support the ecosystem, with the right programs, tools, and skills,” added Maheshwari.

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