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India’s techie rockstars jam to create companies, ring in change

business Updated: Nov 16, 2013 01:38 IST
N Madhavan

Wielding a palm-sized device that he plugs into an ordinary digital TV, Vinay Katwe, 32, declares that he has made smart TVs affordable for millions of Indians.

The gizmo costs only Rs 9,999 and comes bundled with a camera and the Skype app, which enables video conferencing over the Internet, and video content tailored for Indian tastes. The device costs less than a fourth of the cheap smart TVs in the market.

“We want to revolutionise the TV experience in India,” he declared in a “Pitch” session at India’s first TechCrunch conference in Bangalore on Friday, as he sought venture capital from an assembled panel of venture financiers.

Getting feedback, raising the profile and seeking funds is part of the event hosted by the respected US website owned by media giant America On Line. They call it speed-dating for entrepreneurs.

Overnight on Thursday, groups of techies huddled at the suburban Bangalore hotel, often tripping over power cables as they raced against time to build software products or “apps” to win prizes and recognition as geek rockstars in a “hackathon” that features students, employees of high-tech companies and sundry programmers.

One product made by a team called Decipher turned a digital keypad into a Braille instrument that converts content from the Internet into the language that the visually-impaired can read.

The TechCrunch event, which will also move to other Indian cities, joins initiatives such as industry association Nasscom’s product conclave in taking the nation’s software industry from low-cost programming into a zone that involves patents, higher profit margins and pride — like the Silicon Valley.

Some 350 geeks were present at the hackathon, shortlisted from 1,500, while an estimated 100 venture capitalists came for the event. Entrepreneurs are inspired by the success of Indian companies like online retailer Flipkart and restaurant recommendation site Zomato. TechCrunch India officials say they expect at least 100 companies to get funded in the next three years because of their event, which in the US has given birth to companies such as Internet-based storage firm DropBox and private social network firm Yammer.

TechCrunch’s chief operating officer Ned Desmond, who was Time magazine’s India bureau chief in the late 1980s, said India has come a long way from the days when the word entrepreneurship was not in currency. “There will now be milestones involving heroes and exits (profitable sale of VC shares),” he said.

Companies like Let’s Venture have sprung up to connect startups with financiers.

“I’ve seen a young kid just out of college doing 50,000-dollar revenues in three months,” Let’s Venture founder Shanti Mohan said. “He is smart but needs support on what will work and what will not.”