How ‘Startup Of The Year’ Freshdesk aims to be the next big unicorn

Software company Freshdesk has claimed top honors at The Economic Times Startup Awards 2016, joining a group of winners distinguished by technical prowess and a track record of performance.

Meeting on Saturday in Bengaluru, an exemplary jury chaired by InfosysBSE 0.61 % cofounder Nandan Nilekani plumped for those combining solidity and an ability to scale, choosing winners in eight award categories.
Joining cloud-based help-desk software company Freshdesk on the top step of the podium are Avnish Bajaj of venture capital firm Matrix Partners (Midas Touch Award for Best Investor); Meena Ganesh of home healthcare provider Portea (Woman Ahead); Kunal Shah of FreeCharge (Comeback Kid); discount brokerZerodha (Bootstrap Champ); Mitra Biotech (Top Innovator); Agrostar (Social Enterprise); and smart electric bike maker Ather Energy (Best on Campus).

“The depth and variety of startups was staggering,” said Amitabh Kant, the CEO of the government’s policy-making think-tank Niti Aayog. “From startups that were trying to cure cancer to startups that were in the field of education and skilling, the range of important problems they were trying to solve was truly impressive.”

Other than Nilekani and Kant, the Bojury for the second edition of the ET Startup Awards consisted of Google Southeast Asia and India Vice-President Rajan Anandan; Curefit cofounder Mukesh Bansal; Flipkart cofounder Sachin Bansal; The Wharton School professor Kartik Hosanagar; Times Internet Vice-Chairman Satyan Gajwani; Vani Kola of Kalaari Capital; Subrata Mitra of Accel Partners; and Paytm founder Vijay Shekhar Sharma.

Cab aggregator Ola was the Startup of the Year in 2015. The jury made its choice from among five shortlisted candidates in each category. Wherever jury members had an interest in any of candidates, they recused themselves from voting to ensure that selection was absolutely fair. The discussions were wide-ranging and intense, with focus on long-term prospects, reflective of the mood in the startup sector where valuations and fundraising for Internet companies have cooled off, and profitability is becoming salient.

“If you had made a list a year ago and compared it with the list today, the quality difference is huge,” said Flipkart cofounder Sachin Bansal, referring to the rapid evolution of the startup sector. “The quality of entrepreneurship has gone up. There is a long list, and it is very diverse, ranging from education and healthcare to robotics and agriculture, while earlier there was only consumer internet.”

The initial pool of candidates was created by the founders of India’s most prominent startups as well as the country’s best-known venture capital investors. This ensured that the ET Startup Awards were a recognition bestowed by, for and of the best among peers. T’s editors worked with knowledge partners Zinnov and iSpirt to create the final shortlist. Zinnov curated the shortlist for seven categories, while iSpirt curated the Bootstrap Champ category.
ITC Gardenia was the Associate Sponsor for hospitality. Freshdesk saw competition from food delivery app Swiggy, online grocery retailer BigBasket, learning app Byju’s and healthcare technology company Practo. Eventually, the Chennai-based company, cofounded by former Zoho executives Girish Mathrubootham and Shan Krishnasamy, prevailed.

“They (Freshdesk) are going to be an incredible company to be built out of India and an example for nextgeneration companies,” said Anandan of Google. “The time for B2B (business-to-business) has come. Freshdesk is leading the way.”