#Asia Under deluge, India’s SaaS capital finds a lifeline in startups


Chennai under deluge Photo Credit: McKay Savage

Chennai under deluge Photo Credit: McKay Savage

It is known as the SaaS capital of India, but it’s in a crisis. Chennai is under deluge after weeks of abnormally heavy rains, the worst in over a hundred years. Houses, roads, rail tracks, and the airport runway are submerged and 190 people are dead.

In this acute crisis, drenched residents have found a friend – in startups, many of them from Bangalore. Ironically, the states in which these two cities are located, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, have always been at loggerheads over – you will never guess it – water. A river runs through both states and for decades an argument over water rights has remained unresolved. But desperate times call for desperate measures, don’t they?

Never before have startups played such a stellar role during a crisis in India. Using crowdsourcing for information, they have stepped into the troubled waters with food, rescue, and relief. The SaaS connections between Chennai and Bangalore have been activated.

See: Why are Indian startups so SaaSy? I took a bus ride with 40 entrepreneurs to find out

Friends in need

Photo Credit: Marc Falardeau

Photo Credit: Marc Falardeau

The SaaS community of Bangalore – essentially a network of startups that provide software as a service – has sprung into action. On Friday its representatives will leave for the flooded city with food, medicines, clothes, and other essentials that could provide relief, a source told Tech in Asia.

Practo, one of India’s leading medtech startups, has drawn up a list of hospitals and doctors who can be called for any emergency.

Amid reports that some cab drivers were fleecing people, on-demand taxi provider Uber has announced free rides today and tomorrow. Its main rival in India, Ola, has been supplying its drivers with food and lamps.

A website called Chennairains.org has risen to the occasion. It collects data from social media and messenger apps and puts it on a spreadsheet. This information – on people and places offering shelter according to locality – can be accessed by the public.

Chennai dwellers have also taken to tweeting helpline numbers, and safety tips. Three hashtags: #ChennaiRains, #ChennaiFloods, and #ChennaiRainsHelp are providing real-time updates, with over 500,000 related tweets in 24 hours. Many have come forward to provide mobile top-ups to those in distress.

How this happened to Chennai

Photo Credit: Toufeeq Hussain

Photo Credit: Toufeeq Hussain

Home to 4 million people in India’s deep south, Chennai is the capital of Tamil Nadu state. It is flanked by the Bay of Bengal on one side and Karnataka on the other. Weeks of unusual rains have battered the city, virtually cutting it off from the rest of the state. Poor urban planning and illegal constructions have led to severe water-logging.

Many homes have run out of food. The city’s power supply has been stopped to prevent electrocutions. Phone lines have been disrupted. The airport has been shut down till Sunday, and educational institutions have been closed. The government has pressed rescue and relief workers into service. But rains are predicted to batter the city for another week.

With water surging up to the second floor in parts of the city, many find themselves marooned. Amid this crisis, startups are helping the way only they can. Here’s a list of some at work:


Medtech startup Practo has put together a list of verified doctors and hospitals that people can call and go to. And the list is being updated every hour. “Let’s get the word out and help as many people as we can,” the startup said in a press release.


The mobile payment and commerce platform is helping people stay connected with family and friends by offering an instant recharge of INR 30 (US$0.50) free of cost. Residents can call 18001030033 and share the mobile number that they want to get topped-up.


The taxi startup is giving free rides to residents today and tomorrow.


The transportation app is supporting hundreds of Ola drivers whose homes have been affected. They are being supplied with essential food items and emergency lanterns. It had launched Ola Boats last month to help people marooned by the waters.


With hygiene and sanitation bound to take a hit, health officials have sounded an alarm over a possible outbreak of waterborne diseases like dengue, malaria, and chikungunya. But UrbanClap, an online marketplace for services, has stepped in by providing pest control camps at three locations in the city.


The food delivery startup has invited residents to donate a meal through it, which Zomato matches with a meal of its own. A meal for two under this offer is priced at INR 100 (less than US$2) and a user can buy up to 100 meals.

The water dispute between the two states notwithstanding, the techies of Chennai and Bangalore enjoy a close rapport. Bangalore is the startup capital of India, but Chennai has emerged as a SaaS hub. So SaaS entrepreneurs from Bangalore make regular trips to Chennai to learn from their peers. This time the trip is for disaster relief.

See: SaaS is the new black – and it has found a place in Chennai

This post Under deluge, India’s SaaS capital finds a lifeline in startups appeared first on Tech in Asia.

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