Indian startups get a head start from NASSCOM
Business Management

Indian startups get a head start from NASSCOM

Kolkata is known as the ‘City of Joy’ rather than a startup destination. It therefore came as a bit of surprise when NASSCOM setup an incubation center for startups in Kolkata  last month. When I posed this question to Rajat Tandon, head of 10,000 Start-ups and senior director of NASSCOM [National Association of Software and Services Companies], his reply was immediate and emphatic. “Why not?” he asked.

In fact, it’s a master stroke by NASSCOM. East India has long been neglected by everyone, especially the technology sector, though there is no dearth of latent talent here. An outpost in Kolkata may well lead to some exciting new ideas and talent.

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“Kolkata is a goldmine of talent and an emerging location for entrepreneurs. Startups in this region are coming up with many innovative initiatives and are experimenting with state-of-the-art technologies such as mobile, cloud and social. Under the circumstances, it’s probably the best place to find and nurture startups,” said Rajat. It’s initiatives like these which have set them apart from other organizations.   

The startup scene in India is not exactly a hotbed of activity. Venture Capitalists invested $48.3 billion into startups in the US in 2014. China in comparison has attracted $15.5 billion in the same year. According to Reuters, the Chinese government will be setting up a $6.5 billion fund to support startups in emerging industries in 2015. The Indian story is far from being impressive with a measly $2.8 billion spread across 1,108 deals. Obviously India needs a lot more investment if it wants to encourage startups to set up shop in the country.

In this context, 10,000 Start-ups, an initiative taken by NASSCOM, is of tremendous importance. The stated aim of 10,000 Start-ups is to nurture ten thousand viable startups in the next ten years beginning from 2013. The vision is to foster entrepreneurship, build entrepreneurial capabilities at scale and strengthen early stage support for tech startups.

Rajat emphasized the scope and range of activities in which they are involved, not just in finding cash for startups. “10,000 Start-ups is an entire ecosystem for startups right from identifying raw talent, nurturing, mentoring, skill development, incubating and providing co-working space for startups,” he explained.

The real problem that Indian entrepreneurs face is that there are very few investors and venture capitalists interested in putting seed capital in promising startups. Everyone is queueing up to fund big eCommerce entities of course. Flipkart, an online retail portal, raked in $1.91 billion in 2014 while Snapdeal snapped up $627 million from Softbank in one fell swoop. But in this eCommerce spring, startups are staring at a drought-like situation. Even though it’s this segment of entrepreneurs which needs to be taken care of.

This role is being played by 10,000 Start-ups which has roped in some big guns for support. This includes Google for entrepreneurs, Microsoft ventures, Kotak business boosters, Intel software and a number of other organizations. These not only bring in much needed funds but also a wealth of experience in nurturing entrepreneurs. The startup environment is complex and the needs are unique. For instance some entrepreneurs have a strong technology background but lack marketing skills, while others need infrastructure support.    

NASSCOM created its first co-working facility called Startup Warehouse in Bangalore. It followed it up by setting up a Warehouse at Kolkata in January 2015 to support the fledgling startup ecosystem. Now plans are afoot for establishing similar facilities in Pune, Hyderabad and Mumbai. And it will be covering most of the other Indian cities in due course.   

Expectations are running high but it is important to remember the fact that 10,000 Start-ups is itself just 21 months old. Still a lot has been achieved in this short period. In addition to setting up two warehouses, 10,000 Start-ups has conducted about 462 events in 22 cities in India which were attended by a whopping 25,000 eager entrepreneurs. And to date 10,000 Start-ups has built a vibrant social community of over 100,000 existing and aspiring startups. The program has also hosted some of the global icons of the technology world like Eric Schmidt, Michael Dell, Vinod Khosla, Sundar Pichai and more recently Satya Nadella.

As they say – proof of the pudding is in eating. Ultimately, only results in the form of successful startups will count. Rajat is quick in ticking off success stories on his fingers. “Our protégées from Bangalore Warehouse include Tooki Taki which raised $1.4 Million in four rounds from ten investors, Bookpad got acquired by Yahoo, Bakfy recently got acquired by Common Floor, Sign Easy and Boutline got accelerated by Microsoft Ventures,” he said.

Indian culture is a mélange of opposites. While our goddesses jostle for equal space with the gods on our altars, our pathetic record of female entrepreneurs is shameful. Lately there has been a hue and cry over the glass ceiling for women the world over.  Statistics in India fare no better. Efforts made by 10,000 Start-ups in this regard are therefore noteworthy.

WomenTechship – A Dialogue with Women Entrepreneurs in Delhi was a program held in December 2014. Rajat Tandon explained that this event was part of a special initiative targeted towards women entrepreneurs in technology, called ‘Girls in Technology’ (GIT). He said that various workshops and programs were conducted in Bengaluru and Chennai in addition to Delhi. They were attended by over 350 delegates. In January 2015, NASSCOM and Black Box Connect also announced the launch of Blackbox Connect Female Founders Edition to encourage and evangelize the women startups community in the country.

“Through our collaborations and initiatives we hope to create more inclusive networks and to move the needle for women entrepreneurs,” Rajat said.

10,000 Start-ups has a long road ahead. Indian culture, work environments, funding opportunities and entrepreneurial spirt are by themselves unique. Directly transplanting Western techniques to evaluate Indian startups is unlikely to work. It requires local skills and knowledge. Moreover, the audience or market is limited in India. Obviously there are many challenges. Probably Indian tech entrepreneurs will finally go the software way – global.

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Sankarambadi Srinivasan

Sankarambadi Srinivasan, ‘Srini’, is a maverick writer, technopreneur and a geek. He writes on transformational social processes and technology trends which influence our daily lives.

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