After years of working with India's over $100 billion IT services industry for maintaining their software systems, application development and back office work, CIOs of Fortune 500 companies are now looking to tap into the country's software product ecosystem. And this time, it's not just about setting up a corporate accelerator like Target did and Coca Cola is exploring -- instead, technology leaders from Citibank, Proctor & Gamble and Colgate Palmolive are among 50 top executives planting themselves in the front rows of a day-long startup pitching session organized by iSPIRT on Thursday. InTech50, an event organized by Indian software product think-tank iSPIRT, selected 50 product startups in India to pitch their ideas to these global technology buyers controlling billions of dollars in IT budget. Two of the biggest challenges faced by startup founders anywhere in the world are -- getting early users, customers and raising money from investors to fund growth, experiments. While there are enough networks, accelerators and VCs helping startups pitch their ideas to investors, getting customers is still a daunting challenge. For software product entrepreneurs based in India, and looking to serve customers based in the U.S., understanding real customer needs takes too much of time. Piyush Singh, CIO of Great American Insurance who was also the co-host of this event, said Indian startups need to learn early from enterprise customers. "It's the end customers and users who determine whether a product will be successful or not. So we are trying to bring end customers early in the game, so these startups learn and go innovate," said Singh. "Sometimes these product startups realize too late that they may have built a wrong product and it's too late to pivot," Sandeep Singhal of Nexus Partners said at the event on Thursday. InTech50's list of software products pitching to the global CIOs included startups offering HR software, analytics, customer management, social analytics and IT help desk in the cloud. The startups pitching at the session brought a mix of mature, few year-old companies and some of the recently launched ideas. Zipdial for instance, has already made its name by offering mobile marketing and analytics solution, and Ezetap too has had its share of early success. Among the newer startups, gesture-based tracking solution TouchMagix, iViZ that takes ethical hacking to the cloud, Capillary Technologies, the social CRM startup that got funding from Amex recently and big data startup Stelae Technologies looked interesting. Also pitching were several recruitment startups such as Interview Master, WhistleTalk and RippleHire. Qubole, a big data startup founded by former Facebook engineers, and counts Pinterest among its top customers, also looked interesting. As we wrote in February this year, software products can be a $100 billion industry in India by 2025, an ambition that may sound too bullish on the face of it, but not overly aggressive if you look at the rapid progress of startups such as Zoho, Druva, FusionCharts and Eka Software. There's a lot going for Indian startup ecosystem lately, even if it's far from being anywhere close to the Silicon Valley, or matching the success of Israeli startups. In 2013, VCs and angels invested around $1.6 billion in 293 startup deals in India. There are over 3,000 startups in India with around 1,000 being added every year to the list. Of these, nearly 43% are product startups, according to iSPIRT. For Fortune 500 CIOs exploring to work with Indian startups, it's a huge shift after years of outsourcing their software development and back office work to the country's biggest IT companies such as TCS, Infosys and Wipro. "Some of us are disappointed with their (big IT companies) lack of innovation and ability to co-innovate even after years of relationships. Hunting for disruptive technology ideas is a board agenda and we will go anywhere from Silicon Valley to Bangalore to identify such startups," said a senior IT leader with one of the companies looking to work with Indian product startups. You can also view the complete list of InTech50 startups here.
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