The story of evolution of one of the city’s oldest and more fertile technology business incubators at Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad (IIM-A) started in 2002 when a few faculty members came together to help evolve research in areas of entrepreneurship and innovation.
Rakesh Basant, former chairperson of IIM-A’s business incubator – Centre for Innovation, Incubation and Entrepreneurship (CIIE) — outlines how CIIE evolved from an interesting “research-led” idea to one of the most successful technology business incubators having supported over 100 start-ups.
Recalling a group of seven-eight members of IIM-A faculty who had came together for the initiative, Basant says: “The idea of incubation came out of research.”
Today, CIIE has evolved into one of the busiest incubators in Gujarat and has travelled a long distance since 2002 when a process called “Anveshan” had first attracted 50-odd applications from “potential” innovators.
The institute with its MentorEdge programme, now, has around 400 mentors, some seed funds and an angel network for finance. It also operates satellite centres in Jaipur and Pune and has branched out from technology to domains like ICT, cleantech and renewable energy, healthcare, agri-sector and social entrepreneurship.
The IIM-A professor says: “The focus for CIIE has shifted from going for only big novel patentable technologies to now, where technology is an important component of the business model of a startup.”
The IIM-A faculty associated with this incubation centre has now risen to 25. “Our role is only strategic to some extent and act as set of mentors giving inputs on finance, manufacturing, marketing, technology, production, and funding. We are not involved with the actual incubation part,” he adds.
Success with a little help
Entrepreneurs who incubated their start-up ventures in the city:
Founder, Gridbots Technologies Pvt. Ltd, CIIE incubatee from 2007-2009
For Pulkit Gaur, an engineering graduate from Rajasthan, the idea of manufacturing robots to help solve problems across domains crystallised into business venture Gridbots in 2004. From one office to three, with an employee strength of 30, Gridbots has an annual turnover of Rs 1-2 crore and it is now making the move from government clients to servicing industries.
“CIIE’s Anveshan programme which scouted for start-ups in 2007 was the best thing that happened to us. We definitely got a foot in the door, thanks to CIIE being an investee entity of the government, many of our clients were government departments. But, CIIE was still nascent, so clients did not know about it. However, being in the ecosystem definitely helped us,” says Gaur.
Co-Founder, AllEvents.in, Incubated at MICA from 2011-2014
A software engineer, Amit Panchal with his friends started dabbling in offering business solutions when he was in college. Co-founded by his friend Ruchit Patel, Panchal’s start-up AllEvents.in is today one of the largest event discovery and promotion platforms operating out of Udaipur, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Odisha, Sydney and even Egypt.
The start-up went from generating one million events when it first went live to 50 million events in 30,000 cities globally, with 4 million people using it per month. “After working for a while, I started a firm in offering business solutions and AllEvents.in was one among the products. Later, looking at the traction, we decided to focus on it full-time. We joined MICA in 2011-2014,” says Panchal. “At that point, we were looking for space to operate from and MICA provided us with that. So, we did not have to spend time on creating the culture, looking for mentoring, logistical support and the administration as those were already in place at MICA’s incubating facility.”
Kranthi Kiran Vistakula
Founder, Dhama Innovations Pvt Ltd, Incubated at NDBI, NID, from 2008-2010
Developing a temperature-controlled jacket weighing five kg that could keep him warm in winter and cool in summer while at MIT, landed Kranthi Vistukula a grant for techpreneurs, given by the Department of Science and Technology (DST), and an opportunity to incubate his technology at an institution. Having started with funds from friends, family and the DST grants of around Rs 2-3 crore, the Hyderabad-headquartered company today employs 50 people. With over $ 2 million turnover, the firm is looking to double its revenues this year, thanks to a joint venture with a US-based team.
From initial forays into defence space, Dhama Innovations moved to being retail-focused firm with its temperature-based wearable electronics products being sold at e-commerce platforms and stores in the US. “NDBI gave me access to talent pool from NID campus and I hired five NID designers as a result. There we realised the importance of design and refined the design of many of our products. The result was that we won many design awards. We moved to Hyderabad after two years of incubation,” says Vistakula
These entrepreneurs decided to go it alone and despite limitations, they succeeded:
Founder and Managing Director, G-Auto
A bitter experience of an autorickshaw driver overcharging him at the IIM-A gates when he was an MBA student set the stage for Nirmal Kumar’s business venture. Eight years on, his brainchild G-Auto – an autorickshaw aggregator — has a network of 21,000 autorickshaws in Ahmedabad, Gandhinagar, Rajkot, Surat and Delhi. Formally launched by the then Gujarat CM Narendra Modi, Nirmal’s business model provides financial security to autorickshaw drivers as vehicle owners. The model has been recommended by the Centre to all states.“In its early days, CIIE was not much active, so I decided to start this venture on my own in 2008. Initial years were tough as there was no one to guide. However, as a vehicle aggregator providing last mile connectivity, G-Auto was the first. We started with tools made handy by technology like GPS and bulk SMSes to reach out to customers. Now, smartphones have changed the dynamics. G Auto is looking to scale up services to 25 cities in six months,” said Nirmal.
Co-Founder & CEO at EkStep
Junking a job with an MNC after completing MBA from IIM-A, Shankar Maruwada pursued a dotcom venture in 2000 to start a marketing analytic services in 2002 with two co-founders. Starting-up at a time when entrepreneurship had little hand-holding, Maruwada recalls the time when CEOs of start-ups had a lonely path to tread.
Having sold his previous 250-employee-strong venture for $65 million in 2007, he worked with Nandan Nilekani on the UIDAI project and started an e-learning platform “EkStep” with the Nilekanis in 2015.
“From getting the initial team in place to bagging the first client, it was a struggle as we were handling American companies and we had to convince them to let an Indian firm handle high-end business analytics,” says Maruwada. “Back then, there were not too many people one could take advice from. There was nothing one could read up — no ecosystem and angel networks for source funding. Today, entrepreneurship is celebrated and glamourised, and the cost of failure is quite low. Failed entrepreneurs now command a premium among startups and can get another job easily,” he says, citing his experience of running his previous firm Marketics — one of India’s largest providers of marketing analytic services.
Founder and Creative Chairman of INDI Design
Sudhir Sharma passed out from NID-Ahmedabad in 1989 having a few worries – if there were enough design jobs out there. Now, he runs a small Q&A website to help other startups, a design magazine, Pool, currently in its 65th issue, and has run an international brand and design consultancy.
“At NID, we had a course called ‘professional procedures’, which I took seriously and later, founded a company – Elephant Design — with five batchmates. Of course, we would seek mentors, but then there was no one who had done something similar. I feel studying in institutes like IIM-A, NID and CEPT prepares you to start something on your own, because it is part of our education to figure out things ourselves. The ecosystem has improved a lot,” says Sharma.