Startup Saturday: Incubating ideas into business success stories

Hindustan Times, Pune | ByNamita Shibad
Dec 28, 2017 05:37 PM IST

There is no dearth of help for startups in Pune. Mentors, networking and now incubators; places where startups are given all they need to launch. Namita Shibad meets a few incubators to understand the process

Student entrepreneurs

Pune is place with people belonging to different ethnic backgrounds such as(Getty Images/iStockphoto)
Pune is place with people belonging to different ethnic backgrounds such as(Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Anurag Rathod of SOS Incubators in Pune. (RAVINDRA JOSHI/HT PHOTO)
Anurag Rathod of SOS Incubators in Pune. (RAVINDRA JOSHI/HT PHOTO)

When 21-year-old Anurag Rathod was in college he had an idea he wanted to develop into a business. Says he, “At that stage of one’s life, all you are expected to do is complete your studies. Becoming an entrepreneur is not looked upon to benevolently. However, I started out and after six months realised that my idea was not good enough.”

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However, that set Anurag out on a different track. “I thought why not help college students who want to chase their entrepreneurial dreams? So my friend Sagar Dhamani and I started SOS, an incubator that helps specifically students.”

How does SOS help student entrepreneurs? Says Anurag, “When you are still studying in college no one wants to help you with your business idea. Investors do not want to even look at your business plan, everyone feels you should be in college studying and not chasing an idea. So it’s tough.

“So we help students by first of all idea proofing what they’re planning to work on. Is the idea good enough to roll out into a business plan? We provide them with market research services, help them build their product and get investment.”

Another incubator that focuses largely on students is the Bhau Institute that is situated on the COEP campus. Says Vijay Talele, CEO, “Though we have our campus on COEP and give priority to our student community, we also accept startups from outside.”

Biotech and Agriculture

Chandrashekhar Bhosale of MITCON in Pune, India. (RAVINDRA JOSHI/HT PHOTO)
Chandrashekhar Bhosale of MITCON in Pune, India. (RAVINDRA JOSHI/HT PHOTO)

While Pune has a very vibrant startup community and there are many organisations that help startups, it is only natural that there be incubators that provide more than just mentoring services and hand hold startups to help them become successful. Like Mitcon’s Technology Business Incubation Centre better known as TBI.

Says Chandrashekhar Bhosale, senior VP TBI, “We are the oldest incubation centre, starting out in 2002. TBI is sponsored by the department of Science and Technology. Our efforts are focused on Biotech and Agriculture based startups.”

The services TBI offers are of two types. Says Chandrasekhar, “We have a physical space that our incubatees can use. We have office space as well as labs for them. The other is virtual incubating where we offer support online.” TBI helps startups with lab services and manpower, but primarily helps companies identify and ratify their innovation and helps them with patenting services. Apart from this they also assist with seed financing. Chandrashekhar adds, “Since we are backed by various government schemes we can also help startups with seed financing under the ministry of micro, medium and small enterprises, that gives grants to get innovative ideas in this sector implemented.” TBI has to date had 42 incubatees who have graduated, mostly in biotech and pharma.

Science and technology

Manisha Premnath of NCL Innovation Park in Pune (RAVINDRA JOSHI/HT PHOTO)
Manisha Premnath of NCL Innovation Park in Pune (RAVINDRA JOSHI/HT PHOTO)

Another incubator that is focused on science and technology is the Venture Park that is India’s largest science incubator since 2007. Says Dr Manisha Premnath, general manager, Venture Park, “Our services to startups can be divided into four categories. One is, we provide advisory services in different areas of business such as company structure, fund raising, planning, etc. Second, we provide support. This is in the form of office and lab spaces.

“Thirdly, since we are a science and technology incubator we have a wide range of lab equipments that often are too expensive for startups to invest in. This comes in very handy for them. And lastly we organise about 160 events a year that helps our incubate companies with networking and meeting investors.”

Manisha feels that Venture Centre has the added advantage of being in close proximity to NCL and IISER that helps incubatees benefit from interactions with employees there, who often guide them.


Ridhi Kapal, CEO of Edugild in Pune. (RAVINDRA JOSHI/HT PHOTO)
Ridhi Kapal, CEO of Edugild in Pune. (RAVINDRA JOSHI/HT PHOTO)

While it may seem like Pune is focused strongly on science and technology, Edugild helps startups in the education sector.

Says Rishi Kapal, CEO, “We are more of an accelerator than an incubator as we pick companies that have already developed a minimum viable product. Edugild has a 16 to 18 week programme that readies you for the market. “We run two batches in a year and pick five startups in the education field. It begins with putting these companies through a diagnostic tool that we have developed in house. This is like doing a SWOT analysis. Once we understand where they are lacking, we attach them to domain experts who guide them through the entire programme.” This helps startups not just in improving their technologies, but also the Edugild team later connects them to markets and potential clients.

Connected mobility

Praisson Segal, head, communication and partnerships, Auto Nebula (HT PHOTO)
Praisson Segal, head, communication and partnerships, Auto Nebula (HT PHOTO)

Auto Nebula is perhaps the only incubator focused on the connected mobility space. Says Praisson Segal, head, communication and partnerships, “We believe that the future of transport is in connected mobility. We have our centres on Pune, Chennai and Detroit. We only take in companies that work in the space of connected mobility”

Auto Nebula has a set of companies they partner with, the likes of Tata, Ford, M&M and Volvo, among others. They understand their pain points and then look our for startups in that space. Says Praisson, “We help them with the proof of concept, registration, patenting, and even fund them if required. Such solutions are then shared with our partners to see if these fit in with their needs.”

And the price is...

All such services are not free. While some incubators like Venture Centre and TBI charge a nominal fee focusing their premises and services, Edugild and SOS take equity in the business. Auto Nebula takes a five per cent to 20 per cent equity in their incubatee companies. Edugild takes a 3.5 per cent to four per cent share in the business that is developed via them. SOS is different. Says Anurag, “You don’t pay us till you make money.”

Success rate

How many such incubated companies turn out successful? Says Manisha, “That’s hard to say, but so far we have incubated 300-plus entrepreneurs in the last 10 years.” As bright shining examples of their services, Venture Park cites the case of JeevTronics that is a defibrillator that gets charged with a hand crank. Says Manisha, “Defibrillators are used in cardiac events where doctors have to give a high voltage shock to the heart. Often in rural areas, charging such defibrillators is a problem. JeevTronics have successfully managed to do this with a hand crank, doing away with the need for power. It is already in use in rural India.”

Edugild that has helped 21 companies so far says, “Not all 21 companies that we helped are successful, but among those we have what we call our jewels. Among these is a company called Ahhaa. Ahhaa is a meditation app that helps people even in an office settings to calm down via meditation. Another such jewel is Simulanis a company that helps the medical and fire industry train its staff. They simulate a medical or fire situation that helps workers learn how to react.”

Bhau Institute started its incubator service quite recently, however, they have been mentoring startups for over six years. Says Vijay, “Our focus areas have been and is IoT, healthcare tech,cyber security and grassroot innovations. In that line one of the startups started by our student, Robo Lab, has now become successful and is on its own. They offer lab services as well as training in robotics.”

Interesting to Punekars is an Auto Nebula incubatee, Streak Helmet who has developed a platform for the health and safety of the driver. “What this helmet does is give an indication if the rider is executing a turn. While this is rudimentary they are now working on how the bike will not start if the rider is not wearing a helmet. Or if he is drunk the bike will send out a message to a family member and call a cab so that the driver is safe.” Says Praisson.

Since SOS started operations about four months back they do not have anything to show as yet. With so much help coming in from so many quarters, it would seem that all one needs is an idea to become an entrepreneur.

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