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The public sector focus of AWS (Amazon Web Services) has been well documented, and has been a key area of focus for the company. Apart from working with the government to offer digital solutions for public sector problem statements, AWS Startup Ramp Program was launched in India to integrate solutions developed by local startups to technology innovations required by various state and central government departments.
In an interview with YourStory, Deepti Dutt, Head of Strategic Initiatives, Public Sector at Amazon Internet Services Private Limited (AISPL), said, the AWS Startup Ramp, launched in July 2021, in India, has now scaled to eight new countries in the Asia-Pacific and Japan region. Apart from developing specific solutions for public sector problem statements, the partnership also helps Indian startups reach a larger international market.
Edited excerpts from the interview:
Deepti Dutt [DD]: When I joined AWS four years ago, my broader charter was to focus on domain areas and domain solutions. So, I focused on urban and rural utilities, geospatial and other stuff. When I was talking to different government customers, I realised they need innovation that cannot be procured by writing Statement of Works (SoWs). They needed newer solutions happening on the ground.
For example, when I was talking to agriculture departments, they were talking about issues they faced with respect to the authenticity of the seeds being procured and the traceability aspect of organic food. Similarly, people were talking about how farmer advisory or insurance can be made easier. And then we had startups like working on it.
On one hand we were speaking to government customers and realised they were looking for innovation, and at the same time we were talking to another set of customers, who were builders or startups. The startups in the impact area depend on the government for large scale outreach. Bringing them together is a way to solve both problems.
We started some informal programmes like innovation challenges with the Maharashtra Government and the West Bengal Government. The startups became the engine of innovation to the government and the government became an engine of growth and scale for the startups. This saw good traction, and we formally launched the AWS Startup Ramp in July, 2021, with India to make startups in the impact sector successful.
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DD: The programme is now operational across nine countries in the Asia Pacific and Japan region, including India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, and Vietnam. The AWS Startup Ramp is a good example of two things we hold dear to us–working backwards from customer need for innovation, and second is India as a sandbox for the world.
DD: We do not have a breakdown of the number of startups AWS works with in-country at this point, but I’d like to share that we have developed multiple engagements with startups across segments such as agriculture, healthcare, smart cities, education, and application areas such as machine learning, analytics, IoT, security, drone-tech, and others.
Some examples of startups that have on-boarded onto the AWS Startup Ramp program include Bengaluru-based healthtech startup and Mumbai-based plastic waste management startup, .
DD: Our approach to support startups is around three key pillars. One is the technical mentorship, second is the go-to-market support that we offer to startups at different stages. The third is around community support, from CXO mixers to getting like-minded startups together.
I would like to spend more time on the second pillar. We cater to three stages in a startup’s life–the ideation stage, MVP (Minimum Viable Product) stage, and growth stage.
For growth stage startups, we work with specific government entities, launching innovation pods or innovation challenges. We bring the startups together and get them field access, which helps them improve their solutions and get visibility, references, etc. We have launched an innovation pod with the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA) for use of geospatial technology to solve urban problems. Few startups have applied and we created a cohort. Now they will get to do field pilots in select cities and their problem statements. If the pilot is successful, MoHUA can convert the startup solution for procurement.
We have launched another innovation pod with Telangana government-backed T-Hub and World Economic Forum for the use of drone technology for agriculture, traffic management, drought management, and others. We also did a recent incubation challenge with Coal India Limited for analytics solutions and data management to prevent theft and pilferage. Startups are doing field pilots to apply AI-ML on video images as part of this.
The second mechanism is for MVP stage startups where we run Incubation Ramp. In this programme, we work with state-backed incubators like T-Hub, STPI, MeitY Startup Hub or Kerala Startup Mission (KSUM), and we also work with incubators like Villgro and others. Startups at this stage typically need more technical mentorship, and from time-to-time we do challenges around specific areas. For example, we have done challenges with around Swachhata or with Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC) and Department of Science and Technology (DST-Government of India) around healthcare.
For ideation stage startups, we have something called Moonshot Days where we go to Tier II cities and beyond. Here, we partner with Headstart Network, which has a good presence in these cities. These startups need to be heard by influencers, potential Venture Capitalists and mentors to validate their business ideas. Moonshot Days are kind of a pitch day where startups can present their stories, and if they already have a ready solution, we can take them to a higher stage.
DD: All the startups we work with, we give them AWS cloud credits and we really do not expect revenue from them. We understand that until they reach a certain size, they cannot be spending money on the cloud platform.
We are focused more on how we really make the startup successful, and how we help them grow. Our work is to connect the dots and bring the government and startups together.
DD: We work backwards from what our customers are asking and what the priorities by the government are. We kind of decided to do 10 Moonshot Days this year, but we are not restricted by it. For example, in the innovation challenge with Coal India Limited, the problem is very specific to the country and we can’t get global solutions and force fit them here.
DD: We have a natural progression path with something called as AWS Partner Network (APN). Once a startup solution matures, it becomes a part of APN and we have separate programmes that continue to work with them. We do not drop off our partners. For example, we have been working with CropIn for nearly four years and now they are a part of APN, and we are taking them to other countries. Similarly, is getting to our APN.
DD: We see a lot of demand for solutions from Indian impact startups in developing nations from Southeast Asia, Latin America, Africa, and others. We definitely connect them to our colleagues in different countries. As AWS, our revenue is limited to AWS consumption, we do not charge any fee for introducing the startups or their products. We do not charge them any commission for being on the AWS marketplace.
The copy was updated to mention AWS Startup Ramp in full as part of the text.