Small-town start-up

Written by Geeta Nair | Updated: Feb 17 2013, 06:12am hrs
Amit Kumar VernekarAmit Kumar Vernekar and Sarah Pearl D?Souza are confident they have a winner on their hands
Geeta Nair discovers some brilliant start-ups germinating in small towns across the country, which raise a toast to the spirit of entrepreneurship

The start-up bug is biting youngsters across the country and promising to change the entrepreneurship landscape. And be it Shimoga, Cuttack, Indore or Coimbatore, the shoots of entrepreneurship are springing up in small-town India vigorously.

Take the case of the recently held Tata First Dot student start-ups competition, which saw 193 entries of 407 come from places such as Hubli-Dharwad, Indore, Coimbatore, Kharagpur, Shimoga, Cuttack, Mysore/Mandya, Durgapur, Pilani, Bhopal and Goa, among others. Many of these companies emerged as winners ahead of their counterparts in Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, Chennai and Hyderabad.

Organised by the Tata Group, along with the National Entrepreneurship Network (NEN), a platform for recognising and mentoring student entrepreneurship to support entrepreneurial talent in the country, a total of 29 entries were picked as promising ventures, while 11 were declared winners by a special jury, as well as peoples choice. The jury comprised entrepreneurs, angel investors and senior Tata leaders. The entries were evaluated on criteria like investment obtained, track record, business model, innovative quotient, competence, passion and growth potential.

In the top six judges choice winners, three were from Hubli-Dharwad (Biosyl Technologies), Indore (Dreamscraft) and Kharagpur (CrowdBeans). The other three winners were from Bangalore, Chennai and KolkataBotrio Design Labs, Mukunda Foods and BuyHatke, respectively. The top five peoples choice winners had one company, CREW (Creation of Eternal Wings) from Shimoga and two from CoimbatorePosh and Dreamtrips. The other two winners were Videowala from New Delhi and Enchanter Corporation from Chennai. These winning student entrepreneurs will receive professional mentoring from various entrepreneurs, angel investors, mentors, experts and other student start-ups through the NEN mentoring platform.

Among the top five peoples choice winners, Posh from Coimbatore was started by S Priyadarshini. Posh works on glass and pot paintings, embroidery, stitching and jewellery making, and offers fresh and creative models, as well as customised services. Anish Kumar and Boopesh Kumars Dreamtrips in Coimbatore helps book air/train/bus tickets, taxi services and tour packages online.

Drip and Dry was another finalist amongst the top 29 promising ventures. Founded by Sagar Agarwal, Prashant Shekhar, Sonali Priya and Nikita Agarwal, it provides washing machine facility to hostelers at nominal charges. Other entries included ventures into experiential learning tools for educational institutions, a mobile app testing platform, a search engine for e-commerce, automated food equipment and online courses.

K Srikrishna, executive director, NEN, says, Raw talent exists across the spectrum. In many instances, the placement of a tier-I institute outside of a metro, such as the Birla Institute of Technology and Science in Pilani or an IIM in Raipur or an IIT in Guwahati helps create a kernel around which skill-building and talent-development can be done.

Atul Agrawal, VP, corporate affairs, Tata Services, says the passion of the student start-ups showcased at the contest was very encouraging.

But their journey has just begun. Without the right sort of consistent knowledge and skill-building supported by a strong ecosystem, it is unlikely that the raw talent present in smaller cities can reach their full potential, says Srikrishna. Four critical areas need to be addressed to sustain them, he adds, listing inspiration (constant exposure to entrepreneurs and their learnings in terms of both successes and business failures); hands-on education around entrepreneurial concepts (including problem identification, idea generation and validation, basic finance, team building and processes); an opportunity to practice basic entrepreneurial skills through internships, student start-ups and campus companies; and continual support for mentoring and networking.