The largest city in Gujarat, the “Land of the Legends”, Ahmedabad is blessed with spectacular Indo-Persian architecture, mesmerising gardens and numerous lakes (natural and artificial). Renowned as the birthplace of the Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi, Ahmedabad has also emerged as an important economic and industrial hub in India. As of 2014, it was identified as one of the top ten richest cities in the country, with a gross domestic product of $64 Bn. Today, the city also boasts a fast-growing group of startups that are developing innovative solutions to some of the common problems faced by people in the state and India at large.
To bolster the fledgeling startup ecosystem that is emerging in the former capital of Gujarat, Inc42 in partnership with Amazon India recently hosted the fifth instalment of its localised startup meetup series – BIGShift on November 25 in Ahmedabad. The event brought prominent startup founders, influencers, investors, and ecosystem enablers together for an engaging discussion about the challenges of starting up and team building and the much-dreaded fear of failure.
So, Why BIGShift In Ahmedabad?
Gujarat is inhabited by an industrious, business savvy populace. In fact, as per the 14th edition of Dun & Bradstreet India’s, ‘India’s Top 500 Companies’ report, Gujarat is home to 29 of the top 500 Indian corporates, including the likes of Adani Enterprises Ltd., Adani Power, Gujarat Petronet, Cadila Healthcare and Torrent Pharma, among others. In the last few years, the state has witnessed a dramatic increase in the number of tech startups, so much so that an entire ecosystem complete with investors, incubators, accelerators and influencers have cropped up around it.
The Government of Gujarat formulated its “Startup Policy” in June 2016, with the goal of bolstering the ecosystem that was taking root in the state. The policy revolved around three main pillars: innovator (one who gets the incentives for his/her ideas and venture); institutions that mentor startups in the initial phase (such as incubators, accelerators, universities, R&D institutions etc.) and government committee, whose role is to approve and finance the projects.
According to former Gujarat Chief Minister Anandiben Patel, the state’s IT and Electronics startup policy was finalised with the aim to promote 2,000 new ventures over the course of five years. Under this policy, the state also announced plans to create 50 incubators to mentor and guide these startups. The state intends to attract a total of $1 Bn (INR 7,000 Cr) of investment through its startup policy.
In January of this year, the state’s current CM Vijaybhai Rupani unveiled India’s first Student Startup and Innovation Policy. As part of the initiative, a State Innovation Fund with a corpus of $29.3 Mn (INR 200 Cr) was also launched, of which around $14.6 Mn (INR 100 Cr) was to be allocated by the state government and the remaining amount by internal sources and departments.
A Look At Some Of The Prominent Startups, Investors And Influencers In Gujarat
Among the startups that are currently operating out of Gujarat are events discovery platform Allevents.in, Aditi Gupta and Tuhin Paul-founded Menstrupedia, mobile apps development solution Space-O Technologies, social college selection platform CollegeBol, Templatic, and others. Coming to Ahmedabad specifically, AngelList claims that there are over 44 startups in Ahmedabad alone, including alternative lending platform Lendingkart, foodtech startup Jolly Food Fellow, healthcare firm eSwasthya, Ecolibrium Energy, among others.
Fundraising is always a major concern for startups. To ease the anxiety that surrounds fundraising and make working capital more accessible to new companies, several investment firms have sprung up in Gujarat in recent decades. Major among these are Gujarat Angels, a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to assisting early-stage and high-growth potential business ideas; GVFL, which is an independent, autonomous board managed venture finance company and Lead Angels; a platform for angel investing and supporting early-stage companies. Prominent angel investors include Sunil Parekh, founder of Gujarat Angels; Chirag Patel, founder and CEO of Net4Nuts; Rohit Kilam, IT Transformation Leader at Adani Enterprises and Sterling Addlife India CEO Rajiv Sharma, to name a few.
When it comes to key people and organisations driving the startup ecosystem in Gujarat, there is an ample number of mentors/advisors that are nurturing promising new startups in the state. Well-known mentors in the state include CIIE CEO Kunal Upadhyay; Madhukumar Mehta, Chief Mentor Emeritus of the International Centre for Entrepreneurship and Technology; Neeraj Sonalkar, Founding Co-director at Ahmedabad-based VentureStudio; Paresh Vora, Head of Operations at VentureStudio and Jatin Chaudhary, co-founder of eChai Ventures.
Some of the accelerators and incubators in Gujarat are IIM Ahmedabad’s Centre for Innovation Incubation and Entrepreneurship (CIIE), MICA Incubator, ESpark Viridian Accelerator, NBDI (NID Incubator), International Centre of Entrepreneurship and Technology (ICreate), VentureStudio, Incube Ventures, IIT-Gandhinagar Incubator, DA-IICT Centre for Entrepreneurship and Incubation (DCEI) and the Centre for Entrepreneurship Development (CED).
Other organisations that help support emerging startups in Gujarat include TiE Ahmedabad, eChai, HeadStart and the Startup Weekend. The state also boasts a number of coworking spaces such as CIIE’s Ideapad, Working Company and Regus.
Read: Indian Startup Hubs: Startups and Ecosystem Builders In The Gujarat Startup Ecosystem
Now that we have learnt quite a bit about the Gujarat startup ecosystem, let’s take a look at the all the action from the BIGShift Ahmedabad edition!
Session One: Moving Past Failure
For the first session of the day, Sunil Parekh, Founding Curator of the World Economic Forum, graced the stage to talk about the ways startup founders and aspiring entrepreneurs can move past the fear of failure. With an illustrious career encompassing more than three decades to his name, Parekh currently serves as an advisor to various businesses and enterprises like Zydus Group, Jubilant Group and the Society for the Promotion of Indian Classical Music And Culture Amongst Youth (SPIC MACAY).
He is also the Gujarat Council Member for the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI). Coming to his role in Ahmedabad’s emerging startup ecosystem, Sunil is a Patron Member of TiE Ahmedabad, where he helps identify and support innovation through mentoring and financing. He is also a board member and mentor of IIM Ahmedabad’s Centre for Innovation Incubation and Entrepreneurship (CIIE), which claims to have incubated and invested in over 50 innovative ventures across the high-tech sector.
During his talk at BIGShift Ahmedabad, Parekh implored budding entrepreneurs and startup founders to identify the root cause of failure and embrace a “never give up” attitude. He said, “Everyone learns a lot from successes, but not from failures because we don’t talk a lot about failures. What are the learnings from failures is what we should, instead, focus on. The most important question to ask is why do you want to be an entrepreneur? If you don’t know why you are an entrepreneur, then there could be a reason for failure.”
“I have worked with startups for roughly 18 years now and what I have learnt is that the reasons, why people choose to start up, are largely the same: difficulty finding a good job, lack of discipline needed to last at that job, enthusiasm to build something of their own and lastly, the need to do something risky, adventures and powerful. Often the reasons for failure are also rooted in this,” added Sunil.
According to him, before starting out, every entrepreneur should ask himself/herself three elemental questions. One, why does he/she want to become an entrepreneur? Secondly, is he/she fundamentally a people person or a technology person? Finally, are you in it for profit or to make a social impact? He concluded, “This is ultimately about self-knowledge as it would help you to look at life, the project and the whole picture in a different way. You need to think about what your motivation is and what you want to achieve. Somewhere, these are all related to the effort you put in and the failures you set yourself up for. However, resilience is needed to be able to get up and start again.”
Session Two: Zero To One – Starting Up To Seed Funding
With more than 17 years of experience in academics, banking and financial services sectors, the second speaker at BIGShift Ahmedabad is the CEO of technology business incubator, CrAdLE. Having worked at various positions in HDFC Bank and ICICI Bank, Mayank Patel currently teaches finance-related courses to post-graduate students of business enterprise and development studies at the Entrepreneurship Development Institute of India as well as participants of the Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation Programme (ITEC).
Short for ‘Centre for Advancing and Launching Enterprises’, CrAdLE is an incubator that nurtures and mentors 10 tech and business startups every year. During his session at BIGShift, Mayank addressed the key challenges that startups face in the initial months and years. In addition to sharing some ways through which founders can overcome these obstacles, Patel offered valuable insights into the basics of team building.
According to Patel, finding the right co-founders, mentors and support systems is crucial to a startup’s success. He explained, “The first challenge many startups face is identifying co-founders. Many a time, it is seen that the person who comes up with the ideas doesn’t have all the skills needed to execute these ideas. That’s why it is imperative that the founder finds people who can help him/her vision. They should include people with cross-functional skills. In fact, it has been seen that investors too prefer cross-functional teams.”
“Another challenge, from the perspective of investors, is having a technology-based innovation in a startup. As defined by the Government of India, one of the most critical features of a startup is having a technology-based innovation. The challenge now is that the government won’t recognise a business as a startup if it is not based on technology,” stated Mayank.
When it comes to selecting an incubator for your startup, Patel believes that founders need to look at the incubator’s strengths as well as its offerings. He added, “One of the biggest needs of a startup, I feel, is not money, but mentoring. If the incubator offers proper mentoring, the probability of success for a startup becomes very high. Funding comes only after the startup has built a value proposition in the products or services it is offering.”
Session Three: Finding Your Co-founder And Building The Core Team
As part of the concluding session of BIGShift Ahmedabad, Lendingkart co-founder and COO Mukul Sachan took the centre stage to advise aspiring entrepreneurs on the best ways to find co-founders and build their core teams. With an MBA degree from IIM Bangalore under his belt, Mukul’s envious corporate career took him around the world, from Bangkok to New Zealand.
He has held several high-profile management positions in finance, operations, strategy and business development across various industries, including of Director of Finance at Lebua and Analyst – Fixed Income Trading at Futures First. Speaking about his entrepreneurial journey, Mukul said, “Our innovation at Lendingkart has been around using analytics and technology for more efficient credit evaluation. We have managed to give out loans to more than 16,000 small businesses across 900 cities and towns in India; all this while operating from one place which is Ahmedabad. Unlike the traditional NBFC model, which requires multiple branches, we have only one office, which is in Ahmedabad. That has been our distinction.”
In his session at BIGShift, Sachan shed some much-needed light on the key things a startup founder should consider when building his/her core team. He also addressed the challenges of finding a co-founder who aligns well with the team as well as the vision of the company. Taking examples from his own struggles as an entrepreneur, he went on to say, “Lendingkart’s journey would not have been so fast and organised, if we didn’t have good co-founders. Like the saying goes, ‘If you want to walk faster, walk alone. But if you want to walk further, walk together.’ My suggestion would be to find a co-founder who can help with the execution of ideas and tasks.”
“The vision that you have needs a proper and immaculate execution. The one resource that most startups do not have in adequate amounts is time. Therefore, you will need someone who shares your vision and can execute it as efficiently. Most of the times, it is better to have co-founders and teammates with complementary traits and skills,” Sachan explicated.
Session Four: Startup Showcase
Moving to the final session of the BIGShift Ahmedabad edition, six startups were given the opportunity to showcase their ideas and business plans. These included HeavyEquipments, Flinnt, Zabuza Labs, Hello Soda India, WEpaint and Blecan Innovations.
Let’s take a look at these startups and the problems they are trying to solve!
Founded in 2015 by Sunderveer Rajput, HeavyEquipments is a Surat-based online marketplace for heavy equipment used in various sectors such as construction, mining, transportation, agriculture and lifting, among others. Through the platform, users can buy and sell used equipment, including excavators, wheel loaders, cranes, transit mixers,motor graders, forklifts and so on. The startup also provides equipment owner, agents, individuals and corporates with listings for hiring and renting. As claimed by Sunderveer, there is more than 1,000 equipment available for resale and over 10,000 equipment available on rental, across 350 brands and categories.
Co-founded in 2014 by Tarak Yagnik, Flinnt is an Ahmedabad-headquartered social learning platform where learners can join courses aligned with CBSE, NCERT, NSO, IMO, IEO and ASSET syllabi. Through Flinnt, institutions and experts can also communicate and teach online to deliver engaging learning experiences. According to Yagnik, the learning app is helpful for strengthening subject concepts as well as mastering exam preparation.
The study material provided in these courses consist of online videos, quizzes, MCQ, test series, worksheets, notes, online links and images. Additionally, the startup offers access to courses provided by graduate and postgraduate institutions, K-12 schools, kindergartens, publishers, training providers, seminar and conference organisers, tutorials and examination coaching centres.
Established in 2011 by Manas Gajare, who currently serves as the company’s CEO, Zabuza Labs is an app development startup that uses AR and VR to build mobile games. Since its inception, the company claims to have developed over 500 Android apps and more than 50 different game titles, including Balloon Bow and Arrow, Dahihandi Knock Down, John and The Cursed Dungeon and Duple and Save Trees, among others. Cumulatively, these apps have raked in over 8 Mn downloads in the last six years.
Headquartered in the UK, Hello Soda is an international Big Data and text analytics company that was founded in 2013. The startup develops software solutions for clients across five continents in diverse sectors such finance, insurance, recruitment and gaming. Additionally, it offers a suite of multilingual software products that leverage the power of data to provide businesses with real-time insights into their consumers. The goal here is to help enterprises make more data-informed decisions to identify and eliminate the risk of fraud. The Indian arm of Hello Soda was launched last year. Its office is currently located in Ahmedabad.
Launched in 2015, WEpaint is a Gujarat-based startup whose patent applied technology turns any surface – glass, furniture, metal and wall – into a writing board. Once the paint is applied on the surface, it transforms into a dry erase canvas that can be used in offices, schools, colleges and even homes. The company’s products include WEpaint White and WEpaint Clear, which convert any wall/surface to a write-erase, projectable whiteboard. The paint is said to be stain and chemical resistant, while also being scratch proof. In the last two years, the company claims to have served up to 500 customers.
Started by Rishabh Agnihotri and Divye Shah earlier this year, Blecan Innovations is a startup focused on developing solutions for better user experiences. Its flagship product, IEACON (i.e “intelligent enhanced advanced connectivity”) is a digital assistant that offers proximity-based contextual experiences. The solution facilitates faster payments, walk-in ticketing, automated billing, blockchain data processing as well as identification of any physical place in the user’s proximity.
Inc42 and Amazon India have already successfully concluded BIGShift in Chandigarh, Kolkata, Indore and Nagpur. Through BIGShift, we are looking to support the startup ecosystem that is building up in cities beyond Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru. The aim is to help bridge the gap that currently exists between the ecosystems in tier I and tier II cities by making the essential resources available to fledgeling startups in these geographies.
Amazon India, for its part, has been doing quite a bit to facilitate the growth of the startup ecosystem in non-metro cities. In remote areas where a dearth of proper infrastructure is a crippling problem for startups, firms like AWS (which works on the cloud) are working to assist promising new companies by enhancing access to pay-as-you-go IT and cloud services. In the next leg, BIGShift will be hosted in Vizag and Kanpur.
We would like to thank IIM Ahmedabad for letting us host the event at CIIE. Our ecosystem partners – TiE Ahmedabad, HeadStart and eChai who helped us put together this wonderful event.