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The Tech Pod, IncubateInd, E-4, Sector 3, Third floor, Noida, 201301

NetApp is the data authority for the hybrid cloud. They provide a full range of hybrid cloud data services that simplify management of applications and data across cloud and on-premise environments to accelerate digital transformation. Together with their partners, NetApp empowers global organizations to unleash the full potential of their data to expand customer touch points, foster greater innovation and optimize their operations.

NetApp Excellerator is NetApp’s global start-up program that aims to fuel innovation by partnering with deep-tech start-ups. They work with start-ups working on cutting edge technologies and take them to the global map by providing access to NetApp’s customers. All this while offering best in class technical and business mentorship along with access to NetApp’s network.

Madhurima Agarwal is the Leader of NetApp Excellerator. In an interaction with The Tech Pod, Madhurima speaks about the future of AI in Indian businesses. Read more!

Tell us something about yourself and what does NetApp Excellerator do?

With a masters from IIM-A, I have over 17 years of work experience across enterprises and startups. As the Leader of NetApp Excellerator, I oversee the program to provide strategic counsel and guidance. Through the six cohorts, the program has evolved from mentoring early stage startups to developing paid proof of concepts with them, where we have onboarded startups as partners. Being an ex-entrepreneur, I also actively provide mentorship to the startups and help them anticipate and understand the customer needs better. As the Director, Engineering Programs, my role at NetApp also involves building stronger customer connects and an enhanced collaboration between engineering and market-facing functions, including tighter collaboration across India Sales.

NetApp Excellerator is a startup accelerator program that, as the word suggests, enables startups to ‘excel’ in their journey. We are currently in our 6th cohort, due to graduate later this month. This is the flagship startup accelerator program from NetApp. We’ve successfully mentored 35 B2B startups so far. At NetApp, we like to be involved in promoting technology for creating positive business impact and creating nourishing partnerships to develop and deliver innovative solutions for customers. Keeping this focus in mind, we try to engage with startups that lay emphasis on this and are technologically aligned to our business imperatives, so that we can leverage our expertise to mentor them and drive revenue opportunities. The accelerator program has been designed to help data driven start-ups create ground-breaking world-class products and solutions that are market ready. It also enables start-ups to use NetApp expertise and its ecosystem of partners, subject matter experts and customers to realize the maximum potential of their ideas.

How do start-ups benefit from NetApp Excellerator?

At the NetApp Excellerator, we help startups refine their data-driven capabilities through product innovation, customer insight, VC connect and access to NetApp collaboration tools. Startups get both technical and business mentorship to build global enterprise-grade products that are transformational. NetApp experts help these startups gain insights into customer needs, understand those and navigate their requirements. The startups are also trained 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 evolved the program recently and began offering a paid proof of concept to startups, providing them an opportunity to generate revenue and validate their products before deploying them in the real world. They also get free access to NetApp infrastructure and licenses to enable them to test their products for a real-world scenario.

What is your take on AI-based technology changing how we normally do things?

It is evident that AI has permeated nearly every facet of our lives. The advent of AI has impacted every industry and it has been the harbinger of new-age tech like IoT, robotics, and big data. There are over 40 trillion gigabytes of data today with 2.5 quintillion bytes of data generated each day. (Source), and AI-based technology derives insights from it to arrive at meaningful outcomes for businesses. The impact it is having on our present day lives is huge. For example, it has brought a paradigm shift in the healthcare industry by automating repeated tasks, creating a personalized patient experience, and reducing workload in research. In the BFSI sector, it is transforming customer interactions and engagement. Similarly, AI is making a huge impact on supply chain management to identify customer requirements, predict when the supply will reach and in material management and stock taking. It is safe to say that AI is at the forefront in changing the world and thus it makes it that much more important that the technology is used to find new and innovative ways to solve real world problems.

What kind of technical and business mentorship do you offer to the startups?

NetApp is the leader in cloud data services, and we began the accelerator program in 2017 with our unique outlook as a 25-year old startup. Through the NetApp Excellerator program, the company wants to share its unique perspective and experience around data with startups and invest in solutions that will help enterprises through this era of digital transformation. We have a world class team that has great global technology and business expertise. The NetApp team, in collaboration with industry-renowned external mentors, coaches the startups on cutting-edge technologies, platforms, tools and business acumen. The startups have access to best in class infrastructure such as the NVIDIA DGX workstation at NetApp’s AI Centre of Excellence in Bengaluru. The DGX workstation is the fastest workstation for leading – edge AI development which provides access to AI supercomputing power for deep learning at the convenience of a workspace. This helps the startups engaged in deep learning exploration to experiment and tune their models, iterate fast, and deploy their work effortlessly. We have also made our Cloud Volumes ONTAP license available to cohort 6 for technical expertise to help optimize cloud storage costs and performance while enhancing data protection, security and compliance. As a result, the startups are able to pivot if needed, strengthen their technology solutions, and product market fit while also enhancing the overall user experience. This creates significant business impact for their clients. In addition, three of our alumni have had successful exits. These achievements are a testament to the success of the NetApp Excellerator program in establishing the business and technology viability of the startups.  

How is big data and IoT evolving together?

IoT and big data, are not only interdependent but also hugely impact each other.

The huge amounts of data that the IoT generates would not be of any use without the analytical power of big data. Big data and IoT need to be harnessed mutually to derive insights from information and then move that insight to action. For example, in healthcare, big data has led to research transformation with IoT being able to use this data to improve remote diagnoses and provide personalised patient experiences. (Source) Another example of how IoT and big data are changing the way the world operates can be seen in AiKaan Labs, a startup from our sixth cohort, that manages IoT devices which will become ubiquitous as the pandemic drives higher adoption of edge devices and IoT sensors.

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