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Student Startups Powering Next-Gen Innovation: Meet The Winners Of The Grand Challenge 2020

Campus Fund and AWS launched the Grand Challenge 2020, a unique pan-India competition for student entrepreneurs

The competition was conducted over four elimination rounds with 179 applicants shortlisted to 10 finalist startups across sectors such as agritech, fintech and robotics, automation and allied tech

Agritech startup qZense, Automation Startup Workduck and spacetech startup Digantara were chosen as the three winners of the Grand Challenge in December

With the objective to transform India’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, Campus Fund and Amazon Web Services (AWS) launched the Grand Challenge 2020 in October 2020, focusing on the student entrepreneurship space that often suffers from a lack of investments and a supportive ecosystem to act as a feedback mechanism. 

The Grand Challenge was envisioned to bridge this gap and provide students with a platform to showcase their ideas and ventures, and an opportunity for them to be mentored by the industry’s biggest names and even attract funding. The challenge saw 179 applications, with 10 startups selected for the final round to pitch to a jury on December 10, 2020. The jury included Sriharsha Majety, CEO & Co-founder of Swiggy; Phanindra Sama, founder of redBus; Vidit Aatrey, founder and CEO of Meesho among others.

The winning startup received credits worth $10K from AWS and a fast track to the investment committee meeting of Campus Fund for equity investments. The three winners of the Grand Challenge 2020 were qZense, Workduck and Digantara.

qZense Takes The Crown

Agritech startup qZense emerged as the winner of the Campus Fund and AWS Grand Challenge 2020. Founded in 2019 by Dr. Srishti Batra, the agritech startup is using deeptech principles to tackle farm issues. The core idea is to use technology to eliminate human error from the agricultural system by digitising and cataloguing fresh produce to solve supply chain issues. 

Through its AI-powered smart supply chain management, the startup is able to reduce food wastage and mismanagement in the fresh food supply chain due to manual errors. qZense has already started a pilot project with the retail giant Reliance Fresh. Apart from that, it also has presence in the exports segment and ecommerce platforms for consumers and wholesalers.

On the competitive edge for qZense, cofounder Batra said, “We are an end-to-end platform. Our patented AI-driven technology incorporates multiple IoT sensors in very unique ways. We are capturing critical biological data and physical data for a holistic solution. We are always working for tech advancements for the future as well.”

Student Startup Tackling Space Debris Attracts Attention

Besides the winner, the Grand Challenge 2020 saw Digantara win the second runner-up spot for its spacetech solution. Founded by college students in their early 20s, the Bengaluru-based startup plans to employ patented laser ranging modules in a constellation of nano-satellites to detect space debris.

The startup has won accolades from the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and other similar institutions. “Working in the space industry requires a good network in the space sector. As students, we had to write to hundreds of people to receive a few replies and actually seek their advice,” Digantara’s founder said about the challenges of working in this space. 

So far, the startup has raised INR 50 lakhs in funds through government grants.

Digantara was mentored by Siddharth Chaudhary, AVP Tech Development Fund, for AGNIi part of the Invest India programme. “It is an interesting startup. If the technology delivers, they could be at the forefront of space tech coming out of India. The team is committed and has identified viable use cases,” Chaudhary told Inc42.

Meet The Ten Finalists Of The Grand Challenge 2020

The Grand Challenge 2020 started its application process in September  2020, with 179 applications received from various cities, universities and across different fields of expertise. 

After the eligibility round, the first shortlisting saw 123 contenders who went through four elimination rounds. From November 1st to November 29, in the elevator pitch round, all eligible participants were tasked with delivering a 15-minute elevator pitch to the Campus Fund team. Further, in the mentor round, which ran from November 30th to December 8th, the qualifying participants were assigned industry veterans as mentors. Together, the mentors and teams spent 30 minutes to discuss each idea in detail and provide feedback and insights. 

Gaurav Arora, head of the startup ecosystem, APAC AWS, spoke to Inc42 sharing his views on the event. He said, “It’s incredibly exciting to see how India’s student entrepreneurs are leveraging technology to advance emerging industries like agritech, fintech and robotics. We have been delighted to support these entrepreneurs with mentorship and technical support. Excited to see the winners of the Grand Challenge scaling to the next level and encouraging more student entrepreneurship in the country.”

Student Startups Powering Next-Gen Innovation: Meet The Winners Of The Grand Challenge 2020

India’s student entrepreneurship landscape has been an often-overlooked part of the startup ecosystem. Students often have great ideas that can solve real problems but lack the industry support, investments, and experience to bring these to the market. This leads to many student startups failing to take off and not reaching their potential. 

The AWS and Campus Fund Grand Challenge 2020 focuses on this very aspect of the startup ecosystem and provides students with access to industry mentors, as well as the opportunity to raise funds at an early stage to take their ideas and products to the market. Initiatives such as this also provide students with the chance to build networks in different sectors and helps them see how the entire startup ecosystem is connected.

Speaking about supporting student startups, Grand Challenge mentor and NEN Wadhwani Foundation’s Ankit Machhar, said, “It was great mentoring these student startups as part of the Grand Challenge. All four ventures that I spoke to have done significant work on the ground and I believe with proper hand-holding and mentoring support, they will be able to scale up their respective ventures. We are very sure this would definitely add up to the efforts made by all of us to build a sustainable student startup ecosystem in India.”

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