Stories From India’s Startup Schools

 At 100X.VC, we have established good relationships with Indian incubation centers, most of which are linked with universities and other excellence centers. 100X.VC’s mission is to support them and enable their innovation through seed investments. We have already invested in 20 startups to date and seek to provide information about incubators to entrepreneurs around the nation. Thus, as a part of 100X.VC’s live session, the accomplishments of various communities are recognized, and their stories are shared.

The discussion panel for the topic ‘Stories from India’s Startup Schools’ had the following members -

  • Ramesh Loganathan, professor of Co-innovation, IIIT Hyderabad
  • Vijay Talale, CEO of COEP’s Bhau Institute of Innovation
  • Dr. Puran Singh, Faculty Incharge at IIIT Mandi Catalyst

Let us have a look at what questions were asked by me, Shashank, and the answers by the panelists.

What is the role and the kind of programs at IIIT, Hyderabad for incubators?

IIIT, Hyderabad has a Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE), which is more than 12 years old. The initial 3 to 4 years were spent just figuring out the necessary things. After these years, the CIE finally started making an impact. And by 2014, they had 17 startups, and it was the largest incubator in the country at that time. Their incubator was the reason behind the coming up of T-Hub. T-Hub is set up by the government. It is a founding institute to help founders structure their ideas. Once it has been structured, the startups are run independently by the founders. They focus on early-stage startups, especially in the field of technology and innovation. Among the 100 startups being guided by T-Hub, around 40 are based on technology and innovation. 

It is a base incubation. Most of the startups come and start working from the space. They have structured mentoring programs known as micro accelerators. In addition to this, there are accelerators, which are half-yearly programs. These are very deep and intense programs. They receive around 70 to 100 applications for this every year, from which only 2 to 3 startups are selected. The selected startups are early-stage startups and have a prototype. In most of the cases, they have not even gone to the customers yet. Moreover, at T-Hub, they also invest in promising startups.

How is COEP’s Bhau Institution of Innovation helping the startup ecosystem?

COEP is one of the oldest engineering institutes in Pune. Vijay Talale, along with his team, has started an incubator there, which is called Bhau Institution of Innovation, Entrepreneurship, and Leadership. A few years back, the courses about entrepreneurship and innovation have been running in COEP for a few years. The incubator at COEP was started in 2017, which got a grant from the Department of Science and Technology as a Technology Business Incubator Grant. Under this incubator, there are early-stage startups from the idea stage to the MVP stage. The focus area of COEP’s Bhau Institute is the Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning, AR, VR, healthcare technology, cybersecurity, and grassroots innovations. As a part of grassroots innovations and social entrepreneurship, there are startups in edutech and agritech.

Coming back to the type of startups they have, there are student startups from the students of COEP or other colleges of Pune. Also, there is a Virtual Incubation Programme where startups are supported virtually from across the country. In addition to this, they have a physical infrastructure that is provided to startups. Startups are supported from the idea validation stage as a part of pre-incubation. They also provide technology and business mentoring. The startups are also helped in getting funded.

How has IIIT Mandi Catalyst been identifying scalable and good opportunities?

IIIT Mandi was started in 2017. It is located in a remote place in Himachal, where connectivity can sometimes become an issue. Most of the startups that have come to IIIT Mandi were looking to build their product at a low cost. This destination is perfect for them. At IIIT Mandi, they offer residential places for startups as well. They can have a nice crossover of the students’ life as well as the entrepreneur’s life. They can engage with the faculty and students at IIIT Mandi. They get access to a low-cost, high-quality product. An added advantage is that you are away from large cities’ problems such as commuting large distances for work and high cost of living so that a lean startup can be built with the help of IIIT Mandi Catalyst. DST supports the IIIT Mandi Catalyst. They host three programs from DST. They provide funding to the startups for the early stage to the commercialization stage, including every intermediate step. They do not consider themselves as investors but as a friendly philosopher guide. They have an ecosystem where people are genuinely interested in making their ideas succeed.

They have supported around 70 startups in the last three years. Most of these have spent at least three months on the campus, built out their product, and got commercialized. It is a crossover of the intellectual world where you can access the faculty, their academic progress, infrastructure, and people from the industry.

How is the landscape evolving post-COVID-19? Why is it important for startups to leverage the incubation centers now more than ever?

Ramesh Loganathan, along with his team, went on overdrive. They have done many things and are still doing now. They are a few task forces around COVID-19 trying to look at technology related to startups. They leveraged this opportunity and took out a big campaign to find startups doing anything in COVID-19 or even if they could do something. They uncovered 9 to 10 promising startups. Most of them were in other spaces and just had an opportunity in COVID-19 by modifying some part of what they were doing. Then, another campaign was launched, known as ‘Unpitch,’ where different startups were focused on, such as the early stage, angle stage, and post-angel stage. 

At the end of April, they did a survey. Fifty startups responded to the study. Most of them were early-stage or had just come out of the early-stage. To a pleasant surprise, 30% of startups were looking at an outlook better than what it was 2 months before. So, there must have been some spaces where they were enabling some kind of remote activity. 70% of the startups said that it was almost as usual. They were not seeing any particular downfall.

According to Vijay Talale, COVID-19 is an unprecedented scenario. Naturally, there were a lot of challenges for startups. But, there is one fundamental philosophy of startups that they see every challenge as an opportunity. They focused on how to utilize the coming months where they may not be using incubation facilities. COEP’s Bhau Institute continued mentoring online, providing support, and additional support for COVID-19 to startups. Moving further, Vijay thinks that a lot of startups will find short term as well as long term solutions for this. This will bring out new opportunities for healthcare, supply chain, digital collaborations, etc. 

Dr. Puran Singh agrees with Vijay's perspective. He thinks that a lot of startups are affected but there are other startups that have seen opportunities as well. People have become more innovative in thinking art and putting their ideas to work. People are thinking of doing things in a faster, better, and cleaner way. So, innovation has definitely come to people’s minds and many people have started to bring their ideas to work. But, COVID-19 has changed a lot of things. A lot of people have migrated back to their hometowns. So, incubators play a crucial role in building the market for startups. A startup is usually an idea that is trying to get to work but there might not be enough sources. So, incubators bridge the skill gap before you reach the customers. The incubators can step up and bring more opportunities to validate the ideas of these startups. There is a quick product development infrastructure ready with the incubators. So, instead of putting your money in setting up your own office or hiring people, an incubator already has all these problems solved. Moreover, incubators are well connected, not only to the investors but also to the governments and corporate partners. 

In a nutshell, in these uncertain times, the innovation sector is going to see a lot of attraction. So, incubators are going to play an important role to bring the ideas of the startup founders closer to commercialization. 

- 100X.VC Team

Published on: June 10, 2020