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Ten Indian start-ups become unicorns

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(billion-dollar companies) in just 100 days

BY S VENKAT NARAYAN

Our Special Correspondent

NEW DELHI, April 10:

The market value of as many as 10 Indian start-up companies, popularly known as unicorns) has crossed one billion US dollars each during the past one hundred days!

Business to consumer messaging solution Gupshup has raised $100 million in funding from Tiger Global at a valuation of around $1.4 billion. This makes it the sixth unicorn in the past week and tenth since January 1, 2021.

The $100-million marks the first close of a round and is set to be followed by a second close of higher value to be completed soon, Silicon Valley (USA)- and Mumbai-based Gupshup said.

Gupshup intends to use the investment to augment its product, expand in global markets, and also plans to evaluate acquisitions to help it transform business communications across various messaging channels.

Gupshup, which claims 80% revenue growth from pre-pandemic time, closed 2020 with annual revenue run rate of around $150 million. This is Gupshup’s first fundraising in almost a decade as the profitable (Artificial Intelligence (AI)-based messaging platform raised $10 million earlier in 2011 from Charles River Ventures, Helion and Globespan. With the current round, total funds raised by Gupshup stands at $150 million.

Serial entrepreneur Beerud Sheth, co-founder and CEO of Gupshup, said the investment will help them meet rising demand for conversational experiences in business to customer interactions. And they chose to go for it rather than having an operational cash flow need.

“The pandemic has accelerated digital communications by businesses. And messaging platforms have emerged as the new digital storefront,” Sheth said. He previously founded Elance (now called Upwork), a US-based listed enterprise.

Launched in 2004, Gupshup is a pioneer in business messaging and its Application Programming Interface (API) enables over 100,000 developers and businesses, and delivers over six billion messages per month across 30+ messaging channels. Its clients span banking and financial services, travel and hospitality, e-commerce, and other businesses.

Over the years, business messaging has gone beyond just SMS (Short Message Service) with the rise of Internet Protocol (IP)-based messaging channels such as WhatsApp, RCS, and Gupshup’s own Gupshup IP (GIP) messaging.

“Gupshup is uniquely positioned to win in this market with a differentiated product, a clear and sustainable moat, and an experienced team with a proven track record,” John Curtius, partner at Tiger Global Management, said.

This is the firm’s second investment this week after leading an $83 million funding in online investment app Groww on Wednesday.

Ten startup companies have announced reaching unicorn (over $1 billion) in 2021 till date, and six of them have entered the elite league in just the past week.

Gupshup, Groww, Sharechat, PharmEasy, Meesho, and CRED turned unicorns this week. India saw 11 companies making it to the unicorn charts in the year 2020.



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SriLankan Engineering converts Airbus A320 passenger aircraft to a cargo freighter for operator Fits Air

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SriLankan Engineering the engineering and maintenance arm of SriLankan Airlines, has entered into a strategic collaboration with UK-based Avensis Aviation to offer Maintenance (MRO) services for the embodiment of Passenger-to-Freighter (PTF) conversions for Airbus A320 and A330 aircraft.

The first output of this collaboration was the embodiment of a PTF conversion of an Airbus A320 aircraft for the operator FitsAir which was recently completed on time and within the budget.

SriLankan Engineering is an EASA approved MRO facility with major maintenance check capability at its base in Colombo, Sri Lanka. The expansion into aircraft modification and conversions is part of its strategy to rapidly develop its maintenance portfolio and thereby attract foreign airlines to Sri Lanka for maintenance services.

“With Covid restricting passenger travel, many airlines and aircraft leasing companies are converting passenger aircraft into cargo freighters. SriLankan Airlines has already converted its own aircraft and has the expertise to offer this service externally. The cargo conversion market is booming, and we are getting onboard at the right time. Avensis Aviation is the ideal partner for us as they bring in the modification approvals and the customer reach.” said Shevantha Weerasekera Head of Engineering for SriLankan Airlines.

“Avensis Aviation provides innovative and scalable aircraft conversion solutions ranging from its light ‘LEVIS’ Preighter conversion to ‘NAVIS’ full freighter conversion through its European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) approved modification,” said Rubin Flower (Director of Business Development Avensis Aviation).

Asitha Ranaweera Deputy Chief Officer for FitsAir stated, “Though it seemed a simple straightforward process, working remotely with a designer, covid protocols, regulatory compliances made the project slightly complicated. However, the Sri Lankan Engineering team has stood up to the task and performed well to deliver the aircraft in an excellent condition.”

The technical sales teams of SriLankan Engineering and Avensis will aggressively promote the aircraft conversion portfolio to attract more maintenance activity to Sri Lanka.

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Stability and sustainability underpin Q1 results for HNB

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HNB recorded a Profit After Tax (PAT) of Rs 4.7 Bn during the first quarter of 2021 while Profit Before income Tax (PBT) amounted to Rs 5.5 Bn. At Group level PBT and PAT were at Rs 5.9 Bn and Rs 4.8 Bn respectively.

The substantial monetary loosening adopted to revive the pandemic hit economy resulted in AWPLR dropping by nearly 400 bps over the past 12 months. This resulted in the interest income decreasing by 13% YoY to Rs 23.7 Bn. Interest expenses too exhibited a decline of 17.2% YoY to Rs 13.1 Bn driven by strong CASA (current accounts and savings accounts) mobilization. The CASA ratio improved from 36.2% in March 2020 to 39.7% by the end of Q1 2021 as the CASA base grew by 30% YoY to Rs 395 Bn. As a result, the Bank’s Net Interest Income (NII) for the first three months 2021 decreased by 7.2% YoY to Rs 10.6 Bn.

Commenting on the Bank’s results Managing Director / CEO of HNB Jonathan Alles stated: “HNB has demonstrated resilience, strength and stability during a year of unprecedented disruption. We are grateful for the complete trust and support of our customers, investors and other stakeholders throughout this time. I also wish to place on record my deepest appreciation for the unwavering dedication of our staff in continuing to serve our clientele through multiple waves of the pandemic, despite the inherent risks involved. Our top priority during this time was to ensure their safety while supporting customers affected by the pandemic.

“We provided moratoria under three phases while granting working capital finance out of CBSL schemes and our own funds. In addition to the financial assistance provided during the last year, we enhanced our digital proposition to ensure that customers could securely and reliably access all of our services while staying safe from the pandemic. This included introducing many new features on SOLO – our digital payment platform, and the launch of our new Digital Banking App and e-commerce capabilities for SME clients among many others. We are currently in the process of further refining these powerful new services, which will undoubtedly provide greater convenience for all HNB customers in the future.”

Net Fee and Commission income for the first quarter grew by 10.2% YoY to Rs 2.3 Bn as business activity rebounded during the period. The Credit Cards business, Trade and Remittances which constitute a major share of fees performed well despite restrictions on imports continuing to be in place. Other fee sources, which also encompass digital business lines rose by 24.4% YoY.

Exchange rate volatility and movements during the period, led to substantial revaluation gains on swaps and forward agreements. Swap costs were also lower relative to the corresponding quarter of 2020 as swap premiums declined in line with Dollar interest rates. Accordingly, the Bank recorded a net exchange gain of Rs 1.9 Bn which was a 53% YoY improvement compared to Q1 2020. The total dividend income from investments for Q1 2021 was Rs 421Mn compared to Rs 13Mn in the corresponding period of 2020, as dividends declared for the financial year 2019 were paid only in Q2 2020 due to the pandemic.

NPA ratio of the Bank improved marginally to 4.28% as at end of Q1 2021 compared to 4.31% as at end December 2020, as majority of customers who were previously under moratorium commenced repayments since October 2020. The impairment charge for the quarter ended 31st March 2021 was Rs 2.7Bn in comparison to Rs 4.7Bn recorded for Q1 2020. The impairment for Q1 2020 included a charge of Rs 708Mn on account of sovereign bonds mainly as a result of the sovereign downgrade that was effected in April 2020.

“More than a year after the pandemic, it is unfortunate that we are now seeing the most severe rise in COVID-19 cases to date. All of the lessons that we have learned over the past year will be put to the test. While progress has been made in terms of vaccinations, the economic impact of this latest wave of COVID-19 infections will hinge on how effectively we as a nation are able to rally together to control the spread of the virus.

In this crucial moment, as a responsible domestic systemically important bank, as always, we will continue to support our valued customers and play a meaningful role as an essential service provider. We have already enabled all our digital channels, and are also fully geared to support business revival and help rebuild our nation. We request the public to remain calm, adhering to all health and safety guidelines provided and to act with responsibility and compassion towards one another. We also urge the authorities to expand the vaccination programme and in particular seek their support to make vaccination a priority for front line and critical staff across the banking industry,” Alles stated.

The zealous focus on cost optimization facilitated a marginal 1% YoY dip in Operating costs to Rs 5.8 Bn. Cost to Income was hence improved by a commendable 170 bps relative to the comparative period in 2020 to 38% for Q1 2021.

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Green Energy Champion 2021 off to a great start!

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Applications welcome till 22nd May

The Green Energy Champion (GEC) 2021 which was launched earlier this year is off to a great start, to find the next set of green energy champions who will revolutionise the areas of sustainable mobility, energy efficiency, and renewable energies in Sri Lanka.

An invitation to all energy innovators was disseminated island wide in April and continues to remain open until 22nd May for all startups and SMEs in the country that possess creative and innovative products, activities, and projects which promote energy efficiency and the use of renewable energy solutions in Sri Lanka.

Green Energy Champion was initiated in 2016 with the aim of encouraging the innovation and implementation of Green Energy solutions in Sri Lanka, particularly to serve the day-to-day needs of the public. The first three editions witnessed excellent receptivity, with participants ranging from private households and universities to municipalities, public authorities, and small and medium-sized enterprises. The GEC campaign has also played a significant role in creating awareness and educating the general public on energy efficiency via print and online media over the years.

Green Energy Champion is implemented by Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, on behalf of the Federal Foreign Office, in association with the Sri Lankan Ministry of Power – State Ministry of Solar, Wind and Hydro Power Generation Projects Development.

The past competitions have unveiled several successful initiatives over the years – efficiently leveraging solar, biomass, and hydro energies to establish a shared vision where renewables form the basis of energy for the future. The previous winning entries succeeded tremendously in showcasing best-practice models for sustainable energy in the country while also paving the way for similar projects to be implemented in the future.

This year, the Green Energy Champion offers applicants the chance to gain exclusive access to an advanced business accelerator program – the Green Energy Champion Accelerator 2021, implemented by Hatch and Good Life X – which will help fine-tune and develop their business ideas while also preparing them for exciting local and international partnerships in the Green Energy ecosystem. Green Energy Champion is also offering up to LKR 1.5 million in product development support.

The six-month long accelerator program will be followed by a formal Partner Matchmaking Event aimed at facilitating networking amongst key green energy stakeholders. The final phase of Green Energy Champion 2021 will be marked by a ‘Demo Day’ where shortlisted candidates, having completed their training and networking requirements, will showcase their renewed ideas and solutions.

If you are in the business of energy sustainability, then there is no doubt that the Green Energy Champion is for you! The accelerator will actively support you with business and market intelligence to establish and grow your business, while also enabling you to identify potential opportunities and take calculated risks for smooth market entry. Furthermore, it will offer visibility among key political stakeholders while also extending potential penetration opportunities in global markets.

So, head on over to www.greenenergychampion.lk to apply or get more details on what is undoubtedly going to be a great opportunity for you and your business!

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