After touring the startups, investors and enablers in the western states of Gujarat and Rajasthan, Inc42’s startup hub tour moves to the east coast and to the land of revolutionaries such as Rabindranath Tagore and Swami Vivekananda. West Bengal has centuries-long rich literary and arts heritage, but decades of communist rule has impacted how entrepreneurs are viewed by the local population.
“We had 35 years of communist era and after that there has been a lot of political turmoil. Though parties have changed over the years, the communist ideology has stayed back with the people,” said Abhishek Rungta, chairman of TiE Kolkata.
Rungta told Inc42 that West Bengal still lives with a negative perception of entrepreneurs and look at entrepreneurship as second grade profession. This has led to a lot of young talent feeling hopeless and choosing to move out of the state.
The TiE Kolkata chairman noted lack of good talent as one of the major challenges in the growth of Bengal startup ecosystem and said, “it is essentially a virtuous cycle where you need talent to build good businesses but talent does not stay back without the formation of good companies.”
Yet it is only in scarcity that the true strength of an innovator is seen. Rungta noted that resilience is one of the biggest strengths of Bengal’s startup founders and enablers. Because there are not many funding or mentorship opportunities in the state, most of the startups are focussed on building a sustainable business or finding innovative ways to bootstrap the company, according to him.
As per data recorded by Datalabs by Inc42, startups in Kolkata have raised $43.73 Mn across 37 deals from 2014-2019. Under DPIIT’s State Startup Ranking framework, West Bengal was among the aspiring leaders on the basis of its startup policy and implementation, seed funding support, awareness, outreach and more.
Prominent Startups In West Bengal Ecosystem
Sector-wise, West Bengal startups are primarily in the food and agriculture space, followed by healthcare and education, according to Shubhrangshu Sanyal of IIM Calcutta Innovation Park, which is a not for profit company setup by IIMC to promote entrepreneurship and innovation. The cities backing up Kolkata’s lead in the West Bengal’s startup ecosystem include Siliguri, Durgapur, and Asansol.
Some prominent names from the state are:
- Wow! Momo: Wow! Momo Foods is a quick service restaurant chain that originated in Kolkata in 2008. In September this year, it raised $23 Mn Series B funding round from US-based investor Tiger Global. Wow! Momo currently operates over 282 outlets of Wow! Momo and 11 outlets of Wow! China across India.
- Brickcell: Founded by Sunandan Mukherjee, Tushar Kanti Basu, Sandipan Mukherjee in 2015, Brickcell’s Humic Feed or Fert makes aquaculture more profitable for marine farmers and sustainable. The product is used to reduce ammonia in the water bodies, balance the pond’s acidity levels and control other parameters that are crucial for a successful aquaculture harvest. Brickcell claims to have helped farmers in producing export quality fish in ponds and biofloc tank.
- Stock Edge: Kolkata-based Stock Edge is an equity markets analytics and research app, primarily for NSE and BSE data. It helps Indian stock market traders and investors make better decisions by providing them with daily analytics, visualisations and alerts customised according to their individual needs and portfolio. The company was founded by Vineet Patawari and Vinay Pagaria.
- Agastya Buoyant: Founded by Sandip Nair and Prantik Sinha in 2015, Agastya Buoyant is a startup that’s designing, manufacturing and servicing inflatables such as trash boom, underwater lift bag, floatation bag, Blimp and Aerostat among others, for use-cases in disaster management, aerial surveillance and biogas generation.
West Bengal’s Startup Enabler Ecosystem
The big gap in the state has been the acceleration that is how do you provide right guidance at the right time. It is happening in pockets here and there but it is not happening at the same scale as in other rising startup states ecosystems, said Rungta. He added that in leading startup hubs Delhi NCR, Mumbai and Bengaluru most of the talent is from Kolkata and West Bengal, so one of the biggest factors for the lack of talent in Kolkata is that the talent feels restricted and hopeless about the prospects of nurturing a startup here.
Besides TiE, West Bengal also has organisations such as NASSCOM Startup Warehouse, Headstart, Calcutta Angel Network merged with Mumbai Angels, Venture Catalysts, and Indian Angel Network (IAN).