Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi unveiled his “Startup India, Stand Up India” initiative on January 16. Ahead of that, the Wharton School held its India Startup Competition in Mumbai on January 5. The 20th Wharton India Economic Forum (WIEF) hosted the Startup Competition for the third year in a row to promote entrepreneurship in the country.
“The WIEF Startup Competition identifies India’s next set of up-and-coming companies. It allows startups in India to gain exposure to investors, customers, mentors and the media,” says Vikram Arumilli, one of the co-chairs of WIEF 2016 and a second-year MBA student at Wharton.
“The visibility, credibility and networking that come with being associated with such an event is a huge win for startups,” agrees Ravi Gururaj, chairman of the National Association of Software and Services Companies (NASSCOM) product council. The event also “gives an insight into what’s happening” in Indian entrepreneurship, he notes. Gururaj, who is the co-founder and chairman of Frictionless Ventures, a Bangalore-based startup incubator, was part of the jury that selected the winners of the WIEF competition.
The competition was open to anyone with a startup who has a product or service for the Indian market. It received over 750 applications from a wide range of industries—both for-profit and social ventures. Of these, 20 semifinalists were shortlisted, and from those, 10 finalists pitched at the meet in Mumbai.
The winner of the grand prize of $30,000 was Ketto, a crowdfunding platform for “social and creative” projects. It has so far raised Rs. 10 crore ($1.5 million) for 4,000-plus projects. Its founders include Varun Sheth, who left his job at multinational financial services firm ICAP to start Ketto; actor Kunal Kapoor; and Zaheer Adenwala, who earlier worked with Directi, Affinity and Media.net. “We are now looking forward to going to Philadelphia. It will give us a great platform to reach out to investors in America,” says Adenwala.
The second prize was won by Pratilipi – a self-publishing and reading platform in multiple Indian languages. The third prize went to Trebene, an ethical luxury label of Cashmere scarfs. They got prizes of $25,000 and $15,000, respectively.
Others in the fray included Kheyti, a social enterprise trying to help small farmers become smart farmers. Kheyti won in the “People’s Choice” category. The rest of the shortlist consisted of Acuity (a visual web analytics startup); Art & Found (a marketplace for artists where they can sell their art for free); Greensole (a startup that refurbishes discarded sports shoes and provides them to the poor); iFreedom v2 (an app that saves users’ Internet data); LoanMeet (a peer-to-peer lending marketplace); and FRS Labs (that helps organizations cut down on fraud losses).
The winners of earlier contests have been making their mark. They include Zostel (India’s first chain of backpackers’ hostels); Postergully (which sells posters online); Flintobox (a provider of educational subscription activity boxes for kids); and BabyChakra (a platform that connects parents to services and products). In December last year, BabyChakra introduced an android app which promises to make childcare less stressful for young parents. BabyChakra has raised $600,000 from Mumbai Angels, the Patni family office and the Singapore Angel Network. As an additional frill, BabyChakra has a list of child-friendly restaurants and a selection of “Momstars.”
For Naiyya Saggi, co-founder of BabyChakra, apart from the exposure and funding that the competition helped garner, an important win was “connecting with peer startups.” Says Saggi: “We continue to be in touch and reach out to each other for advice very often. Entrepreneurship can be a lonely journey, and these relationships bring in healthy competition.”
Editor’s note: A longer version of this post appeared on Knowledge@Wharton.