Microsoft has launched a support scheme for Indian agtech startups, to help them “build industry-specific solutions, scale, and grow with access to deep technology, business, and marketing resources.”
The program, named Microsoft for Agritech Startups, will offer a range of tech and business tools to early-stage Indian companies operating in the space.
The program is split into three tiers, each catering to startups at different stages of growth. All participating companies from seed to Series C stage will be able to get beneficial access to Microsoft’s Azure cloud computing platform, including free credits, technical support, and help with onboarding to the Azure Marketplace, where they can both buy services from, and offer their own to, other Azure network partners.
They’ll also be able to use Azure FarmBeats – which Microsoft unveiled late last year – which brings together agricultural datapoints from sensors, drones, satellite imagery, and multiple other sources, and uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to turn them into actionable insights. AzureBeats industry partners include drone manufacturers DJI and SenseFly, ag robot developer EarthSense, and sensor maker Teralytic, and it counts the likes of the US Department of Agriculture among its customers.
Startups looking to develop new, customized solutions will be able to use Azure FarmBeats to obtain and analyze agricultural data and build their own models, without the timeframe, cost, and other resources required to collect their own datasets.
Microsoft for Agritech Startups will also help participating companies which have ready-to-go enterprise solutions to sell their products and services through Microsoft’s partner network, and by developing joint go-to-market strategies with the US tech giant.
“Sustainable agricultural technology can transform the global food landscape. Agritech startup innovations are addressing some of our key challenges connected to agriculture and food production,” said Sangeeta Bavi, director, startup ecosystem at Microsoft India.
“The Microsoft for Agritech Startups program is among the early steps in our journey towards empowering these startups in India and transforming global agricultural practices.”
Indian agtech has been thrown into the spotlight by the Covid-19 crisis and the lockdowns and movement restrictions it has caused. Speaking as an AgFunder Digitalks panelist in April, Temasek‘s agribusiness managing director Anuj Maheshwari said that ag marketplace startups in the country were seeing increased demand as commodity traders and buyers sought new ways to connect with farmers.
The ag marketplace model “never really took off because switching costs was too high,” but that “changed overnight with Covid,” he said. The boom, he explained, was in large part due to intervention from the Indian government, which – in the absence of traditional farmers’ markets – is using online platforms to buy and sell produce to keep the agrifood economy ticking over.
Microsoft isn’t the only major tech company reaching out to India’s agtech startups at this time. In April, IBM began offering 30-day free trials to its Operations Dashboard, a weather-monitoring tool for farmers and agtech startups.