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BENGALURU: Faith in the innate genius of Indian entrepreneurship was top of mind at the country's de facto startup summit, as celebration of success and optimism about the future presented an interesting contrast to the more sombre prevailing narrative.

The brightest stars of the startup firmament, government leaders, investors and senior business executives came together in India's tech capital Bengaluru to pay tribute to the winners of The Economic Times Startup Awards, and pause to reflect on the state of affairs in one of the world's most important startup hubs.

"Indian entrepreneurs are too talented to lose any of the global wars; it's going to be the Indian companies," said Avnish Bajaj, the founder of venture capital firm Matrix Partners and the winner of the Midas Touch Award for Best Investor. "And no victory is sweeter than the one which comes after a bitter war."

More than 350 guests were on hand at the glittering ceremony to applaud winners in 8 categories.

Rock show by startup pros

The rigorous process of choosing the best of best began with nominations from peers in the startup sector and ended with the meeting of high-power jury on August 6.Zinnov and iSPIRT were ET's knowledge partners.

The range and depth of the startups which won the awards came in for particular praise, more so because many of them were solving difficult problems with technology at the core of the solution.

Freshdesk, the Chennai-based provider of cloud-based customer support software, was awarded the Startup of the Year trophy by Nitin Gadkari, the Union minister for road transport, highways and shipping.

Flipkart cofounder Sachin Bansal; Snapdeal cofounder Kunal Bahl; Ola cofounder Bhavish Aggarwal; and Kavin Bharti Mittal, the founder of Hike Messenger, represented Indian startup 'unicorns' with a valuation of at least $1billion. Also joining the celebrations were InfosysBSE 0.95 % cofounders Nandan Nilekani and Kris Gopalakrishnan; NITI Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant; Biocon Chairperson Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw; Quess Corp CEO Ajit Isaac; and Karnataka's Minister of State for IT & Tourism Priyank Kharg ..

True to the spirit of the occasion, the ceremony was rounded off with a scintillating musical performance by a rock band of startup professionals who came together to perform just for the evening.

Unique nature of India

Aggarwal, whose company won the inaugural ET Startup of the Year award in 2015, said in a panel discussion that it is imperative for the entrepreneurs to recognise the unique nature of India as a market, and solving local problems with home-grown solutions is the way to succeed in the country.

"Execution in an Indian environment is very different from execution in a western environment, on multiple fronts," said Aggarwal, whose company counts Japan's SoftBank as its main investor and competes against Uber, the world's most valuable startup.

Kant, who has been tasked by the prime minister with preparing a comprehensive policy for ecommerce and retail, asked Indian founders to think global, and not just worry about the domestic market.

"Quite often we in India start looking at ourselves with domestic boundaries; do not do that. Think big, think large, penetrate minds," said Kant, the architect of the Start-Up India initiative.

Gadkari's interactive session, where he was quizzed on a range of issues related to policy and infrastructure, was a big hit with the guests. The minister came in for praise for his candour, and his willingness to proffer help where he could.

"Gadkari's speech was very impressive. Though I couldn't catch every word of it, my wife who talks Hindi well helped me understand it," said Girish Mathrubootham, the cofounder of Freshdesk.

Funding in the form of growth capital for more mature startups has been on the decline during the past few months, and most consumer Internet companies are now turning their attention from growing market share to becoming profitable.

Still, startup activity in India is vibrant as young people take to entrepreneurship in ever larger numbers and earlystage funding is plentiful for good ideas.

More caution this year

"This year there has been a lot of caution. That actually is a great thing as businesses are looking at profitability and making sure metrics work," said Meena Ganesh, the CEO of Portea Medical and the winner in the Woman Ahead category.

Like Kant, Nilekani asked founders to set ambitious targets and work backwards on operational plans, describing the ability to think big as a "mind game" that young entrepreneurs must play.

The other differentiating factors, he said, will be domestic capital and understanding of local conditions. "What I found with global companies is that they are very good when it is rolling out the same thing everywhere. The moment you come to a country and some rules change they are like deer in front of a headlight," said Nilekani, who is also a prolific investor.

Flipkart's Bansal, too, emphasised the value of local knowhow and domestic capital, pointing to the preponderance of Indians in early-stage funding of startups.

"For example, somebody like me taking capital from someone sitting in San Francisco not doing anything about India versus taking capital from Nandan (Nilekani) is a huge difference," he said.

The grand show also afforded unmatched opportunities for the guests to meet peers, and FreeCharge chairman and Comeback Kid award winner Kunal Shah said he had done three months' worth of networking in one evening.

"We are so proud of all these entrepreneurs who have taken a courageous and commendable step to fulfil their dreams. Its takes vision, determination and hard work to walk the path to success," said Anand Kripalu, the CEO of associate sponsor United SpiritsBSE -0.37 %.

ITCBSE -0.25 % Gardenia, the associate sponsor for hospitality, rolled out the service experience for the evening and showcased its signature cuisine for ET's discerning guests.