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HomeTechET Startup Awards 2023: a winter’s tale of grit, guts and glory

ET Startup Awards 2023: a winter’s tale of grit, guts and glory

The high-powered jury tasked with choosing the winners of The Economic Times Startup Awards 2023, which met virtually on Tuesday, had gathered in the backdrop of one of the tumultuous periods for the Indian startup ecosystem. The sector has witnessed one of the worst slowdowns in risk capital funding for startups that has stretched for over a year, drawing the moniker of a “funding winter”.

The eleven jurors including top business leaders, startup entrepreneurs who have taken their companies public recently, marquee investors and other founders, would therefore display a razorsharp focus on business models built for the long term.

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In addition, they considered allied metrics such as corporate governance standards, and the profile of senior leaders within the shortlisted firms.

The jury members logged in from across India, Singapore, and the US, armed with an 87-page dossier, prepared by ET’s editorial team. The document, which included confidential data from the companies, is designed to provide a deeper understanding of the contenders.

Chaired by Kotak Mahindra Bank founder and director Uday Kotak, the jury met for almost two-and-a-half hours. They participated in intense discussions on each of the eight categories with each member presenting their viewpoints on each of the candidates.

“The quality of nominations across categories were of very high-quality. Winners in categories like the Top Innovator have shown the courage to take on really large-scale problems that can make a big difference,” juror Supam Maheshwari, who is the cofounder & CEO of FirstCry said. “The perseverance of founders like Mukesh Singh of ZopSmart is truly inspiring to all of us. It captures the real journey of a startup which includes the highs and lows over the years (while) coming out stronger from it,” he added.

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In several categories, like Bootstrap Champ, Midas Touch and Startup of the Year, the jury was split on their selections, but the detailed debates yielded this year’s eight winners from among the thirty-eight nominees. The shortlist of five candidates in each category – with the exception of Social Enterprise and Woman Ahead which had four nominees each – was trimmed to two or three companies after initial voting. This was followed by the jurors debating the merits of each to arrive at a final consensus, by way of a secret ballot. The core strategy deployed by the jury this year was to look at innovation that could be applied and the wider impact on society in categories such as Top Innovator and Social Enterprise, respectively.

Kotak said the jury’s deliberations were “free flowing” and allowed us “to come to a better and more appropriate thinking process for choosing winners out of very high-quality companies and entrepreneurs.”

In categories like Midas Touch for the Best Investor, the emphasis remained on actual deliverables and distinctiveness of the bets taken by nominees. Some categories like Bootstrap Champ, Comeback Kid and Best on Campus witnessed incisive debates with jury members making strong yet succinct arguments for their respective choices.

Arjun Sethi of Tribe Capital said that the discussions in the jury meeting gave him qualitative insights into the startups that were nominated. “The discussions that we had here will give me a different look and aspect. It was hard to pick as they are all doing so well.”

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