Top 101 South Asian Founders list reveals Australia’s $1.1b unsung startup heroes

Top 101 South Asian Founders list reveals Australia’s $1.1b unsung startup heroes

SAARI Collective founder Sandeep Varma

A group of Australian entrepreneurs who have raised more than $1.12 billion since 2013, among them women who are punching above their weight compared to their international counterparts, has been heralded by a new report as unsung heroes in the startup space being largely ignored by mainstream media.

The 101 South Asian Australian Founders List released this week the SAARI Collective has highlighted the impact of one of the world’s fastest growing populations in Australia’s startup community.

The SAARI Collective, a media startup that seeks to use the power of media to improve the visibility of South Asians and their contributions to Australia, researched hundreds of founders to come up with the list.

“As we began to research, it became evident that many South Asian founders themselves believed the numbers were low, and it became clear that South Asian founders were not often visible in the media or well-seen in the emerging Australian startup ecosystem,” says SAARI founder Sandeep Varma.

However, Varma says this is starting to change.

“This list marks the start of a new era of South Asian leadership in tech entrepreneurship in Australia, as this list showcases the outsized and significant contribution South Asian Australian startup founders are making to Australia and globally.”

Among the key findings of the list are that South Asian founders are ‘disproportionately successful’ in Australia, with 78 per cent of the startups on the list having raised more than $1.12 billion in combined investment funding since 2013.

It also found that of the 101 startups on the list, 22 are led by female founders, or just under 22 per cent of the group.

“This is marginally higher than the global average of 15 per cent female founders in a startup ecosystem,” the report says.

Startups on the list are dominated by SaaS and information technology businesses, with the remainder operating in the medtech, fintech, edtech and AI fields.

However, the report finds that South Asian Australian founders were on average less likely to receive media attention than their Anglo-Australian counterparts.

“Many founders on the list have never been featured in mainstream Australian media,” says the report. “South Asian startup founders did not commonly feature in leadership or in-depth profile magazines or media.”

While many founders did not perceive a bias against them when it came raising capital, the report does suggest that the Australian startup ‘ecosystem did not reflect the diversity of its people’.

The 101 South Asian Australian Founders List is not ranked in any order but, when it comes to recent capital raises, Alok Kulkarni, the founder of Cyara, tops the list.

Cyara, a customer experience assurance platform that uses cloud-based 'outside-in' test automation and monitoring for IVR, digital and omni-channel engagement, recently raised $425 million, which is the most of any company in the list. Robin Khuda’s AirTrunk, a data centre operator, is close behind at $332 million.

Other founders to make the list include Sean Senvertine, founder of MyDeal; Manuri Gunawardena (HealthMatch); Ahmed Haider (Zookal); Shahrooz Chowdhury (Liven); Tash Menon (Mash); Raj Bagri (Kapture); Amanda Siqueira (Vapar); Ajay Prakash (Entry Level); Kshitija Deshmukh (Foboh); Benjemen Elengovan (MyGigsters) and Mubin Yousuf (Navi Medical Technologies).

The list also includes Business News Australia Young Entrepreneur Awards finalists Gaurav Kawar (Book an Artist); Aamir Qutub (Enterprise Monkey); Anish Sinha (Upcover); and Shivani Gopal (Elladex).

Despite the report citing ‘systemic barriers’ for South Asian female founders, this cohort has raised more than $120 million in capital while running some of the best-performing or most innovative companies.

“Female founders on the list were vocal about the need for more female-led startups, more media attention and the need for greater support and greater equity in investment funding,” says the report.

Research conducted by The Creative Co-Operative, which was founded by Priyanka Ashraf who appeared on this inaugural list, reveals that when venture capital was at a high in 2021 with $10 billion raised in Australia, black women and women of colour accounted for just 0.03 per cent of that total.

Yesha Patel, who is among the 22 female founders to appear on the list, concedes many women of colour may be ‘more afraid’ to put themselves out there.

“We're more comfortable with just working hard on the background, behind the scenes,” says Patel, who founded After, a company that seeks to ethically dispose of textiles.

“Maybe there's fear, some lack of confidence, because of the colour of our skin, and that the majority out there looks different to us.

“I'm sure there are many other South Asian founders like myself that feel, because we don't see ourselves out there, we're less confident.”

Some founders, such as Cyara’s Kulkarni, see positives in being of South Asian descent.

"My mum and dad sacrificed a lot to come to Australia, to give the kids a better life - if they did that, I want it to mean something,” says Kulkarni.

“So, I drew strength and inspiration from that to really give it a go, because not that many people get that opportunity. If I’ve gotten that opportunity, I’m going to give it the best possible go."

Riz Mridh, the founder of Hampr, a food and culture platform that supports workplaces to improve employee experience, takes a more philosophical approach.

“Being an Australian here, there's no such thing as risk because the worst thing that's going to happen, especially when you've gone through being educated and you've got experience - the worst thing I'm going to have is a good job,” Mridh says.

“That's the way I look at it every single day. If everything goes bad today, I'm going to walk into a job tomorrow.”

The compiling of such a list is an enormous undertaking, and Varma explains this is the first attempt and the SAARI Collective is open to feedback regarding successful entrepreneurs who were omitted and may not have been on the group's radar, or potentially didn't meet the tech-specific requirements. 

Highly successful South Asian entrepreneurs not mentioned, who Varma notes SAARI was not aware of prior to publication, include 2022 Gold Coast Young Entrepreneurs of the Year, K&G Group co-founders Dr Anuj Gupta and Mannu Kala, as well as 2022 Brisbane Young Entrepreneur Award - Professional Services winner, SAI Security founder Peter Dodeja

Other Gold Coast Young Entrepeneur Awards winners of South Asian background, and former Australia's Top 100 Young Entrepreneurs listers, are Dr Tanya Unni and Dr Ameer Hamza, co-founders of Amtan Medical. 

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