In conversation with Ashwin Joshi, VP Ecosystem Development, CIIE Initiatives
CIIE completes a decade of operations in 2017. A decade of work with startup ecosystem development efforts are at the core of CIIE work. Back in 2007, CIIE was amongst the first startup incubators in India. CIIE has since then evaluated over 55,000 business ideas, mentored nearly 450 entrepreneurs, invested in 110 startups, making CIIE arguably the largest in ecosystem development by far. The Centre has achieved this by creating partnerships at many levels – with the Government, corporate organizations, domain experts and academia. These partnerships have helped CIIE design and deliver various interventions like regional pre-accelerators and accelerators, national level programs, incubator support initiatives and investment funds.
Ashwin is the Vice President at CIIE, responsible for ecosystem development. He works at developing and strengthening local ecosystems, nurturing and energizing student ecosystems, facilitating connections and providing support to other incubators. Here’s what Ashwin has to say about the various aspects of building and developing the startup ecosystem
What is CIIE’s approach to building the local startup ecosystem?
We feel that focused efforts such as PitchTowns and Regional Accelerators have worked well to identify and engage well with startups from local ecosystems. PitchTown is a day-long event where startups pitch their ideas to potential investors from the local ecosystem and this helps in roping in investors more locally based. A Regional Accelerator is a rigorous 12 week program, that supports the top 8 to 10 startups from a local ecosystem. These kinds of programs spur the local ecosystem by building strong touchpoints for the startups and stakeholders from the ecosystem. Startup Oasis, a joint venture between CIIE and RIICO, has played a very important role to catalyze the startup ecosystem in Rajasthan. Here, CIIE has experimented with a very bottom up model of supporting entrepreneurs from various cities through a combination of co-working, mentoring programs, B plan competitions, startup fests and rigorous acceleration. Likewise, efforts at motivating and guiding newbie aspiring entrepreneurs have been encouraging too. Power of Ideas, an initiative with Economic Times and Department of Science and Technology -Government of India, was a case in point; it achieved the dual objectives of giving aspiring entrepreneurs capacity to startup and creating a pipeline of investable startups. Moreover, the overwhelming response it received in terms of applications (over 19,000) just reinforces the need for and the vast potential of local ecosystem development. Efforts are underway to create enough support for startups in the local ecosystems and launch more and more platforms to identify and highlight investor interests in line with the latest trends in technology and innovation.
How has the experience been with the ecosystem development in Gujarat?
The state of Gujarat is widely acknowledged for its entrepreneurial spirit. The state has a high proliferation of educational institutions too, yet it doesn’t rank among the top states when it comes to the number and variety of startups. With a view to improving the success rate of entrepreneurs from the state, we ran a successful experiment, the Gujarat Accelerator in partnership with SAP as the sponsor. In addition, CIIE has been tinkering with several program designs to support entrepreneurs and startups at a very early stage that can build a strong funnel of entrepreneurs from several cities of Gujarat. For example, in 2016, CIIE was appointed as one of the Nodal Institutes by the Government of Gujarat to disburse prototyping grants to deserving startups. We received some very interesting applications from Surat, Rajkot in addition to Ahmedabad. Similarly, we have received a very encouraging response from very early stage entrepreneurs for the first LaunchBoard Program from cities other than Ahmedabad – almost 60% applications are from cities like Baroda, Surat and Rajkot. A clear trend is visible here. Early stage entrepreneurs from the smaller cities are now ready to take on this form of entrepreneurship. One of the key reasons for this surge is the awesome work that is being done by individuals, organizations and communities in the state that are really driven by a strong collaborative culture and a keen sense of ‘paying it forward’.
What is the CIIE experience of working with corporate partners?
Companies that create radically innovative products are very often not the ones who take it to the masses. This is because the resources and skills that are required to create innovation are very different from those that are necessary to take the innovation mainstream. If you look at the innovation-market through this lens, two very distinct players emerge: creators of innovation and promoters of innovation. Corporates, therefore, act as a very important channel for startups to build their market linkages.
Over the years CIIE has been involved in a bunch of activities and has leveraged the support of several corporates across IT, Cleantech and Social sectors to support start-ups. These activities range from evangelization to corporate venturing to CSR.
Since 2014, have been actively engaging with corporate CSRs to support CIIEs activities. With corporates such as TATA, Mahindra, SAP and others, we have been able to develop deeper partnerships over the years. Corporates such as BP ventures and Godrej Industries are contributors to CIIEs cleantech fund – INFUSE Ventures. We have also worked with Castrol and Piramal Foundation in co-creating and incubating new ventures, respectively. CIIE has partnered with Tata Communications, Verisign, Nokia for its ICT focused accelerator program iAccelerator. Again, we have partnered with BP and ADB for our clean-tech accelerator Powerstart. Along with ET, we host Power of Ideas that is one of the largest start-up focused initiatives in the country. Through program like GrowthCamps and Growth Connect, CIIE has been able to build a platform to develop deep corporate relationships between startups and domain experts from companies like VMWare, KPIT, Sunguard, etc.
What are the current gaps in startup support?
Especially for ecosystems like Gujarat and Rajasthan, we need a system of building a consistent channel to offer prototyping grants and funds for pre-seed and early stage entrepreneurs.
Another gap is that regional ecosystems need concerted efforts to develop and support local level entrepreneurs. In Gujarat and Rajasthan, incubation efforts have improved but still the response from investors remains weak. Smaller cities have an even lesser support. An issue often observed in smaller towns is that investors prefer to invest in ideas coming from the larger cities, as quality ideas are not available locally.
Though there are several activities planned to benefit local ecosystems, we still have a long way to go! Armed with the learnings from previous editions, events and experiences, CIIE is widening its outreach in terms of efforts geared towards the growth of local ecosystems.