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RISING STARS Millennials who are making big changes, student entrepreneurs, and other bright young things

INNOVATIONS IN EDUCATION A new breed of start-ups

is changing how (and what) students learn

COIMBATORE COOL How this southern city

is attracting—and nurturing—fresh talent

Millennials / Gen Y / Net Generation: The first generation to come of age in the 21st century; generally refers to individuals born between 1979 and 2004; their most unique characteristics are their being ‘digital native’ and culturally affected by widespread technology and social networks, as well as being adventurous and values-driven. How do millennials in India feel knowing they are the future of one of the fastest-growing nations on the planet? What does it mean to be young in the world’s second-most populous country? How do we reconcile stories of Indian companies achieving international success when we often lack basic infrastructure at home? Will a generation that has the Internet at its fingertips be able to ignore obvious inequalities and unfairness, even as competition for limited resources heats up? Does it rely on the government to fix problems or does it look within for solutions? Countless words have been devoted to understanding millennials across the world. This issue, focused on young India, is our attempt to profile some of the most dynamic and creative people in the country, and learn what drives them. Most of them are under the age of 40; others work with those who are. All of them are toiling tirelessly, with a vision of a better tomorrow, not only for themselves, but for all of us, for the nation and the world at large. One could argue that youth is a time of innocence, that young generations are always hopeful and optimistic. But the difference is that the wave of energy sweeping across India today is unlike anything we’ve experienced before. More children are being educated than ever, more young people are choosing to create their own businesses and take paths less travelled. And they’re tapped into a global network that was unthinkable even a decade ago. They’re socially and environmentally conscious, and realise that answers can come from anywhere. Yes, there will be many challenges and disappointments; the road to success is never smooth. But this is a generation daring to dream and willing to take big risks to gain big rewards. Find a way to be part of it. Divia Thani, editor


D E C E M B E R 2 0 1 6 ON THE COVER


Inspiring entrepreneurs and young leaders who are making a difference

68 INNOVATIONS IN EDUCATION Innovations that are attracting more children to school and helping them learn better



Home to a number of entrepreneurs Coimbatore is the new capital of India’s start-up culture



D E C E M B E R 2 0 1 6



Bhavesh Aggarwal talks about the importance of creating opportunity and livelihood using technology and innovation

22 39 49 53





An initiative to close the supply-demand gap of skilled workers and why it matters

Meet a breed of students who turned entrepreneurs while still on campus

The young generation is going back to its roots and cultivating varieties of ‘super exotic’ fruit and vegetables that until recently were being imported to India

Stories of baby-focussed brands that are catering to the young ones

Squash player Ritwik Bhattacharya on nurturing talent and creating future champions

Ayan Mukerji talks movies and art. Telling stories from India and for India

Ritesh Agarwal on National Skill Development Corporation’s initiative for a skilled India



Pay attention to Malini Agarwal’s tips at being an entrepreneuer


Raj Aditya Chaudhuri, Salil Deshpande, Samira Sood, Smitha Menon CONTRIBUTING WRITERS

Aarti Betigeri, Chanpreet Khurana, Kumkum Som, Meenakshi Radhakrishnan Swami, Noor Mayal Khanna, Ramnath Subbaraman, Rashmi Bansal, Roshni Bajaj, Smriti Lamech, Soity Banerjee CONTRIBUTING PHOTOGRAPHERS

Anshika Varma, Arjun Menon, Pankaj Anand SPECIAL CONTRIBUTORS




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PRESIDENT, CONDÉ NAST INTERNATIONAL LTD. Printed and published by Arjun Mehra on behalf of Condé Nast India Pvt. Ltd. Printed at Manipal Technologies Ltd., Plot No. 2/A, Shivalli Village, Industrial Area, Manipal 576 104 and published at 2nd Floor, Darabshaw House, Shoorji Vallabhdas Marg, Ballard Estate, Mumbai 400 001. Editor: Divia Thani Daswani. Distributed by Living Media Ltd. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or part without written permission is strictly prohibited. All prices are correct at the time of going to press but are subject to change. Manuscripts, drawings and other materials must be accompanied by a stamped addressed envelope. However, Condé Nast India cannot be responsible for unsolicited material.




sectors ascent, a cross in India ’s



ex c e l l e n c e an d a l l u n de r 4 0 y e ars

Inventiv e, innov ative, str iving

of a g e . P r e sen t i n g t h e ri s i n g s t a rs



Co-founder, Magnetic Fields music festival; Co-founder, Puqaar NGO


Co-founder, The Indian Type Foundry


Co-founder & MD, UpGrad

“Did you know there are 150 million Indian youth who need to be in higher education at any given time, but less than 20 percent are?” Kumar had spent close to a decade in the education space as an advisor and investor, and wanted to build an education platform that offered quality, but also scale. In 2015, he created UpGrad, along with Ronnie Screwvala, Prabhav Phalgun and Ravijot Chugh. UpGrad is a platform with a focus on learning from entrepreneurs and experts in an engaging environment. “It’s also very important for us to build the credibility of online education,” Kumar adds. “For India to continue to grow at seven percent GDP it needs to have this demographic be specialists, rather than generalists. UpGrad has been set up to make sure we do our bit to build this ecosystem.” With 130 employees, he hopes to build a 200 crore business in the next three years. An encouraging sign is that UpGrad just crossed their 1,000th customer mark recently. Kumkum Som 12

Few can claim to know 12 languages— Arabic, Bengali, Devanagari, Gujarati, Gurmukhi, Kannada, Latin, Malayalam, Odia, Sinhala, Tamil, Telugu—as intimately as Satya Rajpurohit, a graduate of National Institute of Design, who cofounded the Ahmedabad-based Indian Type Foundry (ITF) in 2009 with Slovakian designer, Peter Bilak. What started with a single font, Fedra Hindi, has turned into a quest “to give the same attention to Indian typography as Latin typography has received in the last few decades”. Considering that it’s early days yet for typography in India—which, ironically, has a wealth of languages and scripts that could use some help to thrive (or survive) in this digital age—it can’t be easy to convince clients here to pay for fonts or accord them the value they deserve. But thanks to companies like ITF that designs Unicode fonts for Amazon, Google, Apple, Discovery Channel, etc., the future of Indian fonts does look and set in bold type. Soity Banerjee

“A few years ago, I went to the Jodhpur RIFF music festival and ended up at a dinner with Mick Jagger, hosted by the Maharaja of Jodhpur, HH Gaj Singhji. After I told Mick Jagger about my family palace, Alsisar Mahal in the Shekhawati region of Rajasthan, he suggested I start a music festival, similar to RIFF. I called a friend, Smita Rathore, who introduced me to the founders of the Wild City website, and four years ago we launched Magnetic Fields, which is a festival of electronic music which runs nonstop for 72 hours. It wasn’t the first music festival the palace has hosted; we also have an annual folk music festival for the village, which brings 4,000 locals into the palace, all in colourful traditional dress. I’ve recently launched an NGO, Puqaar, which aims to conserve nature and music. Through it, we’ll be hosting another festival in January at our other family property. The Ranthambore Festival will have music, talks, films, theatre, food and jungle walks. The purpose is to raise awareness of music and nature conservation, which are my passions. They’re dying. I want my children to listen to the same music that my forefathers listened to. I want natural beauty to live on.” Aarti Betigeri



Abhimanyu Alsisar, Co-founder, Magnetic Fields music festival; Co-founder, Puqaar NGO


Co-founder & Head, Finance, SCM and IT, InPhase Power Technologies

A series of fun experiments in college led you to develop a network providing solutions to improve power quality and conversion. Where did the idea come from? It existed in our minds since 2005, and we made several attempts between then and 2014 but had difficulty overcoming typical manufacturing start-up challenges like huge capital requirements, skilled labour, etc. The initial intention was mainly creative freedom and an opportunity to express our passion. As our ideas matured, the intention of proving to the world that India can make world-class products grew. I think we have achieved that and are now taking things one step further to become world leaders in power quality. We have completed just one full business year and our turnover so far is around US$1.04 million ( 7 crore). We expect to double it this business year. Tell us about your journey as an entrepreneur. Interesting but challenging. We have had great learnings in dealing with bureaucrats, managing labourers, building processes to jugaads. For me, an entrepreneur is a parent, and the business, a child— there are hardships in bringing up your child but as your child grows, it instils enormous joy and pride. KS



Co-founder & CEO, Urban Clap


CEO, The Chocolate Spoon Co

How and when did you set up your company? I founded it in 2012. It functions as the holding company for my flagship brand of restaurants, The Sassy Spoon. We currently have three restaurants in Mumbai and a fourth coming up in Pune. We also launched a chain of patisseries and bakeries, The Sassy Teaspoon, which operates in Mumbai and Pune. What led you to this field? Sheer love and passion for food. I wanted to redefine conventional cuisine. Describe your journey as an entrepreneur. It has been challenging yet fulfilling. Some of my learnings have been in developing effective management, communication, and, most importantly, perspective. It’s about getting your point across effectively and respecting everyone in the organisation. What is your mission? To grow my brand into a serious contender and benchmark in the Indian and global restaurant industry. I would also like to set up an organisation that not only trains but also equips women from rural areas with culinary skills, so they can earn a livelihood for themselves. Giving back is important to me. Aatish Nath N

It’s been two years since Bhal, along with Raghav Chandra and Varun Khaitan, launched Urban Clap, an online network for hiring local service professionals. Today, it boasts 500 employees; 50,000 professionals that are just a couple of taps of a smartphone away; customers spread across 15 cities; and an annual turnover of US$60 million ( 400 crore). “We realised how fragmented the local service industry in India really was and how difficult it could be to find and hire the right service professional at the right price,” says Bhal, who hoped to use mobile technology to mend any broken links in what had so far been a traditional chain of services. From shoe spas to divorce lawyers, carpenters to Zumba instructors, Urban Clap appears to connect all kinds of customers to service providers without the hassle of phone calls or endless reminders. Bhal’s advice for budding entrepreneurs is to “build a market first and beat competition later. When you create or explore a new market, you become the first to milk the opportunities that come with it, making you an established competitor by the time other players begin to tap into the segment”. And with a target of one lakh customers a day within the next year, who has the time to keep looking over their shoulder? SB


Co-founder, Ola Cabs


rowing up in a middle-class family in a small town in Punjab, haggling with auto-rickshaw drivers to get around was an everyday reality. I remember waiting for hours at bus stops and barely able to move in crowded city buses. Even then, I wondered if there wasn’t an easier way. Studying engineering at IIT-Bombay, the ecosystem allowed for constant interaction with successful businessmen and mentors, allowing the seed to sprout. After a brief and enriching stint at Microsoft, I decided to roll my sleeves and get solving! Ankit, my co-founder, and I began our journey in the basement of a mall in Mumbai, which saw multiple pivots from an integrated trip planning website to an outstation and rental cab business, to a comprehensive mobility platform for India, possibly serving every need from bikes to cabs to buses. But we still think we are scratching the surface. Only five percent of Indians own a car as against 70 percent in the West, and we already see roads around us choked and congested. We have always thought about bringing mobility to every Indian, from autos to high-end cars, such that there is no need felt to own a vehicle. And with a large population, it becomes paramount to build for their unique needs, ground up. This is why we are extremely driven about our mission of building mobility for a billion Indians. Firstly, we have very few options in the existing mobility framework, which include auto-rickshaws and taxis which are far and few. These valuable parts in the ecosystem needed to be put to better use, more efficiently for a driver and offering more convenience for a user. We have created a technology platform for every single mobility service provider to bring their offerings on board. Mobility in India is a creation opportunity, and not a disruption opportunity. While the existing mobility options need a shot in the arm, the technology infrastructure and the ecosystems around us need to evolve, too. How do we expect an auto-driver to cope with mobile technology that spells out customer details in English? Building a user-friendly experience and serving up content in their local languages was our solution. Thus, we have also unlocked the potential to bring on board hundreds of thousands of young, aspiring talent into this industry. This brings us to the second important aspect of the supply ecosystem. India is home to 1.2 billion people and over 800 million are under the age of 35. There is an innate need for opportunity and livelihood creation, that can be addressed by providing solutions to our burgeoning mobility needs. Over the past six years, we have created hundreds of thousands of driverentrepreneurs by helping them with skilling, access to easy finance, deep discounts from car manufacturers, and consistent revenue. While this is a long-term endeavour that we have embarked on, we are already seeing the immense socio-economic impact it is having on the ecosystem, paving way for new opportunities in the coming years. Third, India needs technology and innovations that are built ground-up to suit its needs and constraints. Our mapping, connectivity infrastructure and urban problems like congestion and pollution need to be solved innovatively, yet sustainably, by building long-term solutions. Mobility solutions like Ola Share and Share Pass can supplement public transport infrastructure with low-cost and efficient transportation in cities. Our Outstation service connects over 500 cities and towns across the country, only second to Indian Railways in terms of network and coverage. From India’s first mobile application for booking a cab to being able to get a cab of your choice even without Internet connectivity, or building Ola Play, the world’s first connected car platform for the ride-sharing world, the clarion call is to Make for an India of the future, today.





How did Supari Studios come into being? I was freelancing as a director and editor when I was 22. Around the time, my older brother Advait quit his investment-banking job, and we started Supari Studios in September 2012 as a digital media production studio producing live action/animated films. What’s your mission? To be one of the most innovative and original content creators in the world. What is the strength of your staff? 24. Describe your journey as an entrepreneur. Initially it was much harder—we worked 15 hours a day, seven days a week. But when we expanded our team, things started to settle and I now have much better work-life balance. Tell us about a significant milestone. Not just seeing the business grow, but more so seeing the people within it grow. Your advice to budding entrepreneurs? Don’t do it for the money or the fame. Do it for what you’re truly passionate about, else chances are you won’t last. What does Make in India mean to you? The ability to be world-class and on par with your contemporaries, while working in India. And to have an atmosphere and system that fosters such ambition. AB

How did you start off in this field? I always wanted to be a creative person—I wanted to be an artist or a film-maker. When I applied to Ahmedabad’s National Institute of Design, my science background wasn’t good enough for the film discipline so I was only left with one choice—apparel design and merchandising. That’s where fashion found me, and I discovered a sweet spot of communicating my ideas through clothing. For me, fashion is about expressing my creativity and exploring new mediums with the philosophy of inclusion, where we create luxury involving people from the grass-roots level. What is your advice to budding entrepreneurs? As an entrepreneur you’re consumed with work 24/7, and 365 days a year. You need to know all aspects of the business. Above all, it’s not just about being talented; talent might get you a few rewards, but your attitude in life is what matters the most. It’s not necessarily about being positive concerning outcomes; it’s about knowing everything there is about your trade. If you’re building your dream or starting as an entrepreneur, it’s not too late to start learning anything. What is your plan? Our mission can be defined by three E’s—environment, employment and empowerment. Being empathetic towards the Earth and the natural resources we’ve been blessed with, as well as being conscious about our business and its environmental impact is vital, especially in today’s age. With India’s rich heritage of craft it’s important to preserve traditional techniques that can’t be replicated by any machine and are unique to human hands. Employing craftsmen and artisans, and providing them with a fair living wage not only supports them, but empowers them. Who is another entrepreneur that you admire? Dries van Noten, for sheer design genius and his ability to market his product in a very subtle way. Rashmi Shankar

Co-founder, Supari Studios


Founder & CEO, Isprava Luxury Homes; Founder, Themis Consult

“After working as an investment banker in New York and London, I founded Isprava in 2012. When I returned to India, I found a gaping hole in the luxury holiday home market. There were a number of problems with the standard approach to real estate development: adherence to regulations was often lax, homes lacked authenticity and exclusivity, personal comfort wasn’t a priority, and attention to the larger community was lacking. My mission became to redefine the luxury real estate industry by creating a trustworthy and world-class experience. Isprava’s high standards include achieving customer satisfaction via operational excellence, high design aesthetics, convenience, transparency and honesty. We also strive to have a long-lasting association with the home owner and the community. We have luxury villas in various locations in Goa. Before Isprava, I founded a company called Themis that works with over 450 companies—SMEs, family businesses, MNCs—in handling functions such as accounting, taxation and reporting, which frees up top management to focus on their core competencies. My advice to budding entrepreneurs? Work hard. Very hard.” AB


Fashion designer


Rahul Mishra, fashion designer


Founder & CEO, SaveLIFE Foundation

ADITI GUPTA Founder, Menstrupedia

Call them what you will—periods, chums, menstruation, the cycle, ‘that time of the month’… but keep the conversation flowing. And that is exactly what Aditi Gupta, the brains behind Menstrupedia, has been doing for over four years. Along with co-founder and life partner Tuhin Paul, she challenges the “culture of silence” that surrounds the subject and the many taboos that follow in its wake. Gupta and Paul use their skills as communication designers from National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, to educate and empower prepubescent and adolescent girls, through their website and comic book. But with three out of 10 girls in India ignorant about menstruation before they actually hit puberty, is it too little, too late? Not in this case. At last count, Menstrupedia registered 50 lakh users through their online and offline engagements. Their comic book—a colourful primer designed to increase menstrual awareness—has been translated into 11 languages, including several regional Indian tongues, Nepali, Spanish and Russian. Together with “technology juggler” and cofounder Rajat Mittal from Arizona State University, the duo continue to work towards “a future where menstruation is a welcome change in a girl’s life” and not a matter of confusion and self-loathing. SB


For Piyush Tewari, the impetus to start SaveLIFE Foundation came after he lost a cousin in a road accident in April 2007. This jolted him, and led to him doing some digging, only to realise that India had the highest number of road fatalities worldwide. This, along with the realisation that his cousin’s case was not isolated, and that not much was being done to change things, spurred him to found SaveLIFE in February 2008. Today, the organisation works with law enforcement and provides training to first responders that help those that have suffered a road accident. Two things happened to push Tewari to eventually make working with SaveLIFE his full-time career. As Tewari says, “In 2010, SaveLIFE won the Rolex Award for Enterprise. It was a pretty big deal and put a seal of authenticity around the organisation. And in 2011, we started talking to Bloomberg Philanthropies since they expressed interest in supporting the organisation. At that moment, I had to make a decision about where I wanted to give 200 percent of my time, and that’s when I decided to focus on SaveLIFE.” We should all be grateful. AN



Piyush Tewari, Founder & CEO, SaveLIFE Foundation

MOVERS & MAKERS Founder & Principal Architect, Bhumiputra Architecture


Founder & Head, Production Theobroma

“I grew up in a sweet-smelling house. My mum baked and supplied cakes and desserts from home. Theobroma (which is Latin for ‘food of the gods’) still feels like an extension of that home business. My family is obsessed with food, our lives revolved around what we made and what we ate. I’m 38; my passion for baking has been a lifetime in the making. We launched the first Theobroma outlet in October 2004 in Colaba, Mumbai, and didn’t know what to expect. We didn’t know if we would recover the costs of starting our business or whether we would be able to fill the four small tables we had ordered! We were making the things we liked to eat, we hoped to do well. We could not have predicted or dared to hope for the success that Theobroma would become. Now, we have 12 outlets across Mumbai and employ more than 500 people. Our goal is to double our turnover in five years. My mission is to make my customers happy and to look after our staff. The rest will take care of itself. My passion is the classics, done well. I like simplicity in desserts: a good balance of flavour, texture, look and taste. I like to see my family, friends and customers enjoying my creations. It brings me great joy.” AB


“Bhumiputra is an attempt to take everything I’ve studied and learned over the years, and to continue to learn, and apply it towards improving the quality of life in various communities, societies and demographics through architecture and design. We do this by working on projects that truly add value to their neighbourhoods and communities, whether they are in healthcare, hospitality, sports infrastructure, low-cost housing, slum housing, or education. That is our vision. It’s not directly related to architecture, but through our pro bono foundation we work on the issue of allotment of land to slum dwellers. Investment in their general infrastructure is severely lacking, and policy change in this area would significantly improve their quality of life. When it comes to advice for budding entrepreneurs, I’d say to be prepared to put in the work for a long time before expecting to see tangible results. Approach praise and criticism in the same way, that is, don’t take it personally. Too much praise can easily go to your head and too much criticism can de-motivate you. It’s important to have a vision and to work hard towards it.” AB



Founder, Bombay Shirt Company

In 2012, with a seed capital of US$11,050 ( 7.5 lakh), Narvekar launched Bombay Shirt Company, stemming from his own appreciation for a well-tailored, immaculately constructed shirt. While India has always had a thriving bespoke apparel market, the company focused on creating shirts, each of which is unique and made using quality fabric from the brand’s curated portfolio. The tailoring of every shirt as well as reasonable pricing is achieved by marrying technological efficiencies and haberdashery skills. Narvekar’s experience with BCBG Max Azria in Los Angeles and in private equity has come in handy too. Today, the company has three manufacturing units in Mumbai and employs almost 100 people. Narvekar has set himself the target of doubling his current annual turnover of US$1.5 million ( 10 crore) every year. “Entrepreneurship has been the most gruelling yet rewarding journey I’ve ever been on. The highs are very high, the lows even lower,” he says. “I’ve learned that if you stay true to yourself and do what’s right, there is a solution for everything.” Narvekar prides himself on offering a world-class product and service that is entirely Indian but his ambitions are not restricted to this country. “Our ultimate goal is to make Bombay Shirt Company a globally recognised label,” he says. A global Make in India apparel brand—we are all looking forward to that. Raj Aditya Chaudhuri




CEO, Impresario Entertainment and Hospitality President, National Restaurant Association of India




here are multiple mini revolutions happening right now within the restaurant industry in India. Across the board, there is innovation, experimentation and variety. The system is currently in a state of churn, which makes us excited and anxious at the same time. The restaurant business in India employs over eight million people, which is more than the population of Switzerland—the country that people go to, to learn about the hospitality business. The average Indian dines out about five times a month, as opposed to the average Singaporean who does the same thing 55 times a month. The industry currently generates US$48 billion and there is a chance to create about US$25 million worth of revenue in ancillary businesses. Still, the potential to grow is limitless. The sheer demographics of the growing middle class and their spending power is mind-boggling and perhaps the restaurant industry’s biggest advantage for the future. Of course, there are challenges that must be addressed quickly—over regulation of the licensing process, archaic rules that date back to pre-independent India, a lack of a uniform law across the country for all restaurants, leakages in taxation and food safety. Given the current state of affairs, many quality restaurants struggle to survive and make ends meet. Commercial rentals for restaurants in India are one of the highest in the world. How do you remain innovative and exciting to consumers while trying to get 30 different kinds of licenses to just sell one sandwich? The restaurant sector in India doesn’t fall under one ministry’s jurisdiction, but several, making the process to start up an extremely laborious one. For this system to change efficiently, partnerships with the government are essential to harness the cumulative power of the sector. To drive growth, generate employment, increase revenue, create tourism hubs and increase city safety, restaurant owners and officials must work hand-inhand to create environments that allow cities to unwind, relax and enjoy their downtime. The notion of a 24 x 7 district is not something that should be looked upon with suspicion. If implemented correctly, they can be best-case practices in urban development and management. The challenge to create public spaces that allow people to breathe in a country like India is one that we must address in order to move forward—culturally, financially and socially. Some years ago, European food was the fastest-growing segment in the sector, but right now, we are seeing a resurgence of ethnic and regional cuisines, which personally makes me very happy. Going forward, I see us delving more into India’s culinary depth and heritage and adapting modern techniques to interpret it for future generations. We will see local foods from areas such as Goa, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and the Northeast come to the fore. Homegrown recipes, family kitchen secrets and age-old traditions will meet new learnings to create an exciting culinary landscape. We have spent the longest time looking outwards for inspiration, but now the time has come to look within.


Squash Champion




t is very clear to me that we have a lot of squash talent in India. Our players have really good hand-skills because of the bouncy condition of the grounds that we usually grow up playing in. More importantly, the players are very motivated and individual brilliance has produced some really good results. Players such as Joshna Chinappa, Dipika Pallikal Karthik, Saurav Ghosal are doing superbly in world rankings and we’ve never been this good. We currently top the Asian rankings, we’ve recently won gold in the Asian and Commonwealth Games. So the spotlight is on the sport right now. We need to use this momentum to build a bigger base for our sport and sustain this success, like what football is doing now, what cricket has already managed to do. We need a platform to help players jump from an amateur to professional level. In the cities, players have access to good facilities, but our next champion may come from smaller towns or rural areas so we need to provide this future generation the tools to succeed. My squash academy, just outside Mumbai, is almost complete. The plan is to support players from rural areas and train them alongside the most promising talent from across the country. This will be a small facility, with two courts and around eight players and they will undergo a 10-day training programme. During this period we will provide all the training and support they need—for running, swimming, fitness training, squash training, sleeping and eating well. Most of these players will be at a crucial stage of their career where they need the guidance to help them reach their potential. Having more professional tournaments is the other part of this equation. I have worked with the Professional Squash Association (PSA) World Tour and represented them in Asia, and the idea is to grow the Indian circuit to include around ten events in different regions in the country. This way young players can progress through these levels and get some experience playing in front of their home crowd. When they start, they might not be ready to win the World Open but they will have incremental goals to play towards. This will provide them the stepping stones to success on a larger platform. When I was growing up we had no tournaments and it was a big challenge to always play abroad. You never had the home turf advantage. And when you did play in front of a home crowd, you got so nervous you almost blew your chances of winning. We’re doing camps around the country, getting young players to experience tournaments. We are shaking up the sport—right from coaching to the squash circuit, and really mentoring this next generation of players. And India, being a developing country should not be an excuse for not performing well on a global level. We need to stop thinking of sports as a frivolous waste of time. Instead we should use squash to raise our international profile just as countries like South Africa and Malaysia have done. Ever since I started playing as a 12 year-old at the Rashtriya Indian Military College in Dehradun, the sport has taken me all around the world. I have had the opportunity to train with the best, learning from legendary players and coaches such as Neil Harvey in the UK. And with this kind of dedicated platform geared towards producing and supporting squash talent, we can produce a world champion right here in India.


Founder & Creative Director, Cocoon Fine Rugs


Co-founder & CEO, Delhivery

A succesful pivot is what has led Delhivery to carve a niche for itself in the ever-expanding logistics space. Says Barua: “We started Delhivery in 2011 in Gurgaon, with the idea of delivering food and medicines within 30 minutes of ordering. But after realising the size of the online retail market, we decided to focus on servicing it. We foresaw that it was only a matter of time before online retail exploded, bringing with it the need for more sophisticated logistics solutions, as that would be the common, crucial challenge facing every online retailer. Given our backgrounds in engineering and technology, we felt we would be able to build a unique value proposition.” Now, the company employs over 15,500 people across over 500 cities, and expects a turnover of upto US$130 million ( 870 crore) in 2017 with year-on-year growth of upto 80 percent. The country’s innovation eco-system has changed since the company was started, but the growing bet on e-commerce and need for services like Delhivery means that Barua is able to see a bright future. “There were fewer start-ups when we started in 2011. Since then, we’ve travelled all over the country, setting up operations and interacting with tens of thousands of people.” AB 24

“My family had been exporting rugs since 1981. So from an early age, I would visit carpet weavers and finishing centres in Gujarat and Rajasthan with my father, which honed my eye for detail and design,” says Ayush Choudhary of Cocoon Fine Rugs, which he founded in 2009. That the family export business has given rise to a Made in India for domestic consumers brand is what’s exciting. Choudhary looks forward to the burgeoning growth in products made locally, saying, “As a country, we have always been fascinated with imported goods. What we are slowly realising is the potential India has and all the beautiful things we have the skill and capability to produce.” He elaborates, “At Cocoon Fine Rugs, every day is about waking up and taking small steps towards being a home-grown Indian luxury brand of the highest international standards.”AB


Founder, Honawar Hospitality; Co-founder, Director & Culinary Head, Neighbourhood Hospitality; Co-founder & Partner, INDAY When did you establish your companies? Neighbourhood Hospitality was founded in 2007. There are four properties in Mumbai— three Woodside Inn outlets and The Pantry—under its umbrella. In 2015, Honawar Hospitality came about, which currently manages and operates 28 Kothi, a boutique guest house in Jaipur. While INDAY is a healthy, India-inspired café in New York. What led you to the hospitality industry? It gave me great joy watching people enjoy experiences, which were thoughtfully created for them. How many people do you employ? Around 225, across all three companies. Tell us about a significant milestone. Opening my first restaurant in Mumbai, Woodside Inn in Colaba. Your mentor? My father Nandan Honawar, has always been a great listener and guided me to make the best decisions. Your advice to budding entrepreneurs? Follow your heart, learn about your opportunity and give it your best shot. An entrepreneur you admire? New York-based restaurateur Danny Meyer, whose restaurants include Union Square Cafe, Gramercy Tavern and Shake Shack, for his positive attitude and dedication. What does Make in India mean to you? It is about creating growth and awareness about this beautiful country. AB



Vice Chairman, Times Internet




The New Indian Consumer. ’ve been building Indian digital products for the last 10 years, and I can confidently say that there’s never been a better time to build, write, shoot, or create for the Indian consumer. India is an open canvas, and it’s waiting for creators, creatives, and ideators to fill it up. Traditionally, there have been gates that limited how a business reached a consumer. There are only so many newspapers, TV channels, radio stations, or magazines that can be produced, and therefore, only so many viewpoints and perspectives that could be heard or seen. But the digital landscape has changed all that. It’s a platform for any voice to be expressed, any product to be experimented, any idea to be shared. Open eco-systems spur innovation. Compare how much the digital industry has evolved in the last 15 years, with search, social, mobile, and more, and compare it to low competition industries, like steel, or any business that requires significant capital to enter and that inevitably favours established players. The digital ecosystem is far more meritocratic. It doesn’t favour incumbents, large companies, those with stature or establishment. If anything, it’s harder for those businesses to compete, because they rely on their legacy, and they often end up offering a subpar product or experience because of it. It’s also more transparent and honest. Data is the lifeblood of the ecosystem, and with uniform, consistent access to data, ideas that stick and have real consumer traction are easier to spot. Being easier to spot means they are easier to fund, and inevitably, create a more level playing field, between the haves and the have-nots. And the most beautiful analogy of it all, is that these very changes in the ecosystem are actually the same fundamental changes in the Indian consumer. The youth of India are more creative and innovative, they demand more meritocratic experiences, and they expect transparency and less formality in every facet of their lives. In entertainment, the traditional gatekeepers of content were the big TV channels and movie studios, all of which have seen consistently incremental innovation in terms of what they believe the Indian consumer wants—different forms of Khans, Kapoors, and Chopras. But thanks to online platforms, the new producers of online-only content have opened up a segment that resonates with an online audience that doesn’t want to watch the same stars in similar roles, and wants more authentic, relatable video experiences. The online platform has unlocked the creative potential of India’s youth to build for their peers, and break from traditional moulds of what Indians are expected to like. Workplaces are fundamentally changing. Every company wants to be more entrepreneurial, and most of their HR pitches will say so! But at its heart, how many traditional, structured, mature, 'respected' businesses can embrace the sense of chaos, autonomy, flatness, and sense of ownership that a start-up can provide? If you are ambitious and talented today, your options to operate in a company with scale and impact, while still having an open and enabling work culture are limited. So what’s the result? The fastest growing startup ecosystem in the world, spurring new companies that can define their own rules. And last, the younger consumer is informal, casual, and unabashed. Whereas the older generation feared offense, respected hierarchy, and readily assumed roles, India’s youth has a voice that’s unique and strong. It values authenticity over tradition, it ignores what feels contrived, and resonates with what feels raw and real. All of this means it’s an exciting time to build. There is a new Indian consumer with new needs, within a new consumer landscape. Together, it means that there is enormous untapped opportunity to unlock for those passionate enough to build!





ver since we can remember we wanted to have a company of our own. At the age of 10 and 12 years we launched our first app, we didn’t know the seriousness of the term 'entrepreneur'. All we knew was that we had ideas that we wanted to work on. We wanted to develop products, which would solve real-life issues. Our dream of having our own company became a reality in January 2012 with the release of our first mobile game 'Catch Me Cop'. It was a big achievement for us as the game was released on iOS within a week of submission and was downloaded more than 2,000 times in the first seven days. [It has now been downloaded over 100,000 times across 50 countries.] Right now, we are in the process of developing prototypes for IOT applications and devices for day-to-day activities—users will be able to cook rice, get their coffee machine started and even open the main doors using smart phones. The best news is that we will have these available at a much lower price than what is currently available in the market. We are looking forward to finding the right distribution chanel and support for hardware development. The Make in India initiative is truly a great one as it helps promote start-ups, which really need incubation and inspiration. An entrepreneur as a title is really cool; it’s so motivating when someone addresses us as 'CEO' but it requires a lot of hard work. Our company right now has only two people—the two of us. Although we have received a lot of mails from various people to join us, we don’t have that kind of funding and we want to focus on our education. There is a long path ahead but we know the three most important stages to being great entrepreneurs: Find your inspiration: You should have an idol that motivates you to be better and achieve more. Steve Jobs inspired us for the way he believed that UX and UI play a key role in any product, Bill Gates with his marketing strategies and Mark Zuckerberg for starting really young and changing the world as we know it today. Move from the idea to opportunity: You must be able to identify a problem, then find a solution and finally check to see if that solution is feasible. If the idea is feasible go ahead, else you should go back and work on another idea. Finally, secure your funds: A reliable source of funding is the key to a great start-up. We both believe that technology is the future of the world and that change is the only constant. So if any of you have any ideas, don't hesitate to work on it—with hard work and determination anything can be done.


CEO & Founder, Paperman


How and when did you start your company? Back in 2010, as a 21-yearold, my passion for the environment had me interested in understanding the kabadiwala system. I worked with a non-profit in waste management and gained insight, and decided that I wanted to help find solutions in this field. Today, Paperman helps people connect with scrap dealers and assures that waste paper will be recycled. What is the strength of your team and your network? Five in the office and a network of 270

kabadiwalas. What’s your mission? To live in a world with no landfills. We are planning to scale up and hope to be in 20 metros in five years. The kind of entrepreneurs you admire… I like seeing people involved in solving actual problems, like poverty. I admire people with big bold plans, who say they can change things in a major way. What does Make In India mean to you? It stands for India moving from its risk-averse nature to a new, more open problem-solving space. AB



Founder & Managing Director, Matrix Partners India


e have just emerged from the ‘Perfect Storm’—not just unscathed, but into a space that holds the storm’s ecosystem, without its accompanying drama. I’m referring to the venture investing and startup environment in India, which has three unique, crucial strengths: a rapidly growing mobile Internet market; an outstanding pool of the best entrepreneurs this country has ever seen; and a maturing and deepening funding ecosystem. It seems as if we were adolescents in 2015, when we saw similar signs. As that bubble burst, we went through a kind of depression. Even now, there’s much doom and gloom in terms of the current outlook. But I believe there is a dislocation between the sentiment and the fundamentals. Few people realise that now is when Warren Buffet’s “greedy when others are fearful” adage comes strongly into play. Indian 3G users using 500 MB data per month currently number around 80100 million. Three years ago, that number was 20 million. Five years from now, it will be 500 million. This is the time to invest, to start new companies. So who are we—as investors—looking at? First and foremost, we are ‘Founders First’ and always looking for a disruptive entrepreneur! Who doesn’t only show promise, but also promises change, in business, in profit, and in consumer habits? An entrepreneur isn’t just born under a correct alignment of stars. He or she is a product of nurture and environment. I firmly believe the adage that the best entrepreneurs are defined more by their first 18 years of life, than anything they might have experienced or done in the past seven years. An entrepreneur’s childhood can truly determine his or her motivations going forward in life. Generally speaking, today’s breed of young entrepreneurs—those under 35—is fearless. They’re children of the post-liberalisation era, true-blue capitalists. They have been exposed to multiple forms of stimuli, and absorbed it all like a sponge. They walk into meetings armed with information. They are the alpha of the business. Of course, their greatest strength—an incredible sense of confidence—can also be a weakness, as it can manifest itself as a reluctance to listening to others or accepting guidance. There is a lot of psychology involved when we decide whether or not to work with an entrepreneur. We spend a great deal of time with him or her, interacting with them over 30–100 hours in person, as well as via email and Skype. This is, after all, a courtship of sorts, but in a highly compressed period of time. We have to be convinced that this is a person we are confident of and excited to be with in a five- or six-year-long close relationship. We ask ourselves, ‘Will he or she be successful?’ but also, ‘What will our journey together be like?’ As mentioned above, at Matrix we have developed the ‘Founders First’ value system, a very simple principle that allows us as venture capitalists to put the interests of the founder first, and keep our role as service providers. In our minds, the best way to maximise commercial returns for our ultimate stakeholders (our investors aka limited partners) is to invest in the best founders, and extend our talent to help them achieve their potential. It’s the ultimate alignment of interests. We will invest in great founders pursuing seemingly unattractive markets, but we will not invest in average founders pursuing great markets. Of course, great founders create great businesses, which can create markets. However, at the same time, we also believe that an average founder may lose in a great market since a great founder will ultimately show up to pursue it. We have occasionally broken this rule only to return to it with an increased conviction and resolution to stick to it. I also believe that by investing in the best, we are getting into a contract with partners with similar interests. Which means we prioritize a founder’s needs. They are the experts. To create an atmosphere and market where entrepreneurs are welcome, we have extended the principle of ‘Founders First’ beyond the Matrix portfolio. We strive to be responsive, respectful and helpful to all founders since we have tremendous respect for entrepreneurship and the sacrifices and path it entails. We also often spend time helping founders we do not work with—and we are especially proud of the inbound new deal references we get from founders with whom we haven’t worked as investors. As I go on my daily hunt—especially for utilitarian products like Ola for auto rickshaws—I would like to remind entrepreneurs and founders stepping into the arena: don’t be unconventional for the sake of it, think unconventionally only where it matters to win.





Co-founders, Jayalaxmi Agro Tech

Since India lives in its villages, it would do well to acquaint itself with Jayalaxmi Agro Tech. In less than three years, the venture’s crop-specific apps have provided 90,000 farmers with detailed information on 15 major crops cultivated in Karnataka, including areca nut, sugar cane, banana and rice. On average, a new farmer uses one of the company’s apps every five minutes, and the co-founders hope to reduce this time frame to three minutes by mid-2017. Although this is a recent venture, the duo, having grown up in lower middle-class farming families in Karnataka, were well aware of the ground realities of agriculture in India. Having witnessed their parents’ daily struggles and the impact of low-profitability in agriculture, at first, the two of them eschewed a life at the farm, working at MNCs in big cities instead. Years later, they turned around and established Jayalaxmi Agro Tech, hoping to address the growing need for information and communication technology solutions in farming. Today, not only do they provide easy-touse vernacular apps but also bridge communication gaps in remote villages by installing Agri Pole, a device they developed to make app downloads possible in Internet-starved zones. SB


All of 22, Nishanth Chopra wants to change the perception of fashion, using eco-friendly dyes and cutting edge silhouettes to create a brand that is both directional yet enviromentally friendly. Says Chopra, “My family’s textile business, based in Erode, Tamil Nadu, gave me the first opportunity to engage in textiles, after I graduated. I soon realised that the mechanised and chemically-induced manufacturing style was not a good fit for me. I was inclined towards nature and crafts and traditional techniques.” A graduate from the UK’s Lancaster University, Chopra launched Oshadi in March 2016. Already, the womenswear label has shown capsule collections in Paris and Milan. Says Chopra, “[I want to] integrate traditional craftsmanship with simple, functional and architectural styles that relate to modern lifestyles. I love the fact that I’m working on a brand which is as connected with traditional and sustainable aspects as it is with beauty and modernity. I would love to see it grow and connect India’s diverse traditional crafts to meet the lifestyle of a global, contemporary audience.”AB


Founder & CEO, Epoch Elder Care

When was the company founded? Epoch began in 2012 in Delhi as a home healthcare company, and pivoted to assisted living in 2013. I was inspired by my maternal grandmother. I saw that, especially in India, the quality of care for seniors was poor, and doubly so for those with hard-to-manage conditions like dementia. Describe your journey as a social entrepreneur. Being an entrepreneur is tough—it makes you confront your own shortcomings. I realised quickly what my limitations were, and moved to hire people who have care-giving in their DNA; in fact, that’s really our magic potion. Now, we have a team of 50 really wonderfully talented people. Tell us about a significant milestone. The opening of our first dementia-focused home in Pune in 2014. Your growth plans? We hope to provide high-quality assisted living care to 1,000 seniors by 2020. And your vision? Around 10 million Indians are estimated to be living with dementia. It’s a national issue. Our mission is to care for our senior residents as if they were our own parents—with love, care and integrity. AB



Founder & CEO, InMobi


he onus on ‘young’ India, to transform us into a developed nation. “Why do your ads want me to buy things I don’t want to when I’m playing Angry birds? You already know I want the new Barbie, why can’t you show me ads of new Barbies instead?” my seven-year-old daughter remarked after an advertisement interrupted her game. Being an ad man when your own daughter questions some of the work you do, it really begins to sink in. Two years after that quip, (and many followed) we ramped up our investments in commerce. But I can’t help but go back to the day and wonder how the new India thinks. The young Indians are tech-savvy, restless, eager to learn and don’t take no for an answer. My friend’s two-year old daughter can’t string two words together, but she knows how to unlock a mobile device and play her favourite song. India’s demographic dividend is uniquely positioned when compared to the rest of the world. More than half the country is below the 35-year-old mark. Let that sink in for a moment. In 3-4 years, the average age of an Indian will be around 29 years and India will have the youngest population in an otherwise ageing world. There is a transformation underway and we’re at the very midst of witnessing something magical. The next wave of Indians is going to disrupt everything as we know it. And if you talk to as many start-up entrepreneurs and tech enthusiasts as I do, you’ll realise how many of them are brimming with potential and raring to go. A recent NASSCOM study ranked India in the third spot among global start-up ecosystems. In India alone there are more than 4,200 start-ups, which employ close to 85,000 people. The industry is creating jobs, solving important problems and adding to the digital economy. Not surprisingly, India has the youngest start-up ecosystem in the world, with the average founder’s age at 28.5 years. Half of the founders launch their business three years after completing their formal education. And trust me when I tell you that when you’re fresh out of the pan, things are not easy. There are so many levers and doors you need to knock on to get things going. And yet, many do it with an unflinching quest to do better, be better. I was around that age when we started InMobi. I left no stone unturned in building a world-class company. This is a matter of pride because the youth of today are far better than I was at that age. Now, there’s a platform that celebrates entrepreneurship and the power of the Internet. There’s far more appreciation for quality work and less criticism for failure. A lot more appreciate the fact that failure is a part of building something from scratch. The government is playing its part in pushing young Indians to ‘Make in India’. Various incubators at educational institutes have been born with the goal of transforming an innovative idea into a viable business. For example, IIT-M has so far churned out around seven start-ups that have been founded by students and supported by the faculty. The ecosystem is thriving and people are receptive to fresh ideas. I remember a colleague telling me about a Deloitte survey which stated that millennials in India ranked “opportunities to progress and take on leadership roles” far higher than salary. We see this in our hiring process as well. New students want to be challenged. They decide on companies to join. The pyramid has inverted. Companies don’t dictate terms these days. I often find myself keeping up pace these youngsters bring to the table. They think fast and act faster. It’s no more about what our employees can offer us, it’s about what we can do to keep them engaged. I’m reminded of Steve Jobs’ quote—“ lt doesn't make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.” The young India is inspiring. This is a nation filled with innate leaders and we’re at the very cusp of fulfilling the promise of an inclusive developed nation.




Arunabh Kumar, Founder & Group CEO, The Viral Fever & TVF Media Labs



Founder & Group CEO, The Viral Fever & TVF Media Labs

How did you go from an IIT degree to creating an online entertainment network? After trying to juggle 10-15 career options, in the third year of IIT, as the head of the institute’s drama and theatre club, I fell for the world of storytelling. That’s when I felt I might enjoy film-making. I started working towards it slowly but I still took a research consultant’s job in the US Air Force after college. After just five months, I went into film-making full-time. It’s been 10 years now, and somehow it still doesn’t feel like a job. Tell us about your journey as an entrepreneur. I’m an accidental entrepreneur. I was always trying to do what I wanted to do, and always trying to figure out the ways I could do it best. I started The Viral Fever when I realised that the only way I could do my kind of writing would be by starting something of my own. Tell us about a significant milestone. I was recently at MIPCOM, an annual trade show for entertainment content in Cannes, France, and realised that in this space, smaller countries like Turkey and Israel are 50 times larger than [India]. TVF was showcased as being part of the next generation of storytellers globally, and I was proud of the fact that TVF could put India on the world map in its own way. I would love to earn a reputation for India as a content creator. What’s your mission? To make a truly respected Indian media company, and to make the media and entertainment industry bigger and much more ethical and professional. To create India’s answer to Disney. Your advice to budding entrepreneurs? Be processoriented and never goal-oriented. Jump into a business, which you truly enjoy doing! KS


Founder & CEO, Indus Vox Media

Tell us about how your company started. In March 2015 with the first recording of Cyrus Says. I’ve always been interested in talk radio. The growth in mobile Internet made me realise we can start giving people talk radio online. I expect the market for audio talk shows to grow dramatically in India. Most content being consumed right now is internationally produced and we want to change that.We are working towards creating content for the Indian audience. We employ 15 people and our turnover is US$ 178,000 ( 1.2 crore).What’s the potential game changer in your industry? We need a breakout podcasting host to emerge: the person who everyone wants to listen to every morning, someone who sets the conversation in the national zeitgeist. Your advice to budding entrepreneurs? Take advice from as many people as you can but don’t substitute other’s judgment for your own. What does Make in India mean to you? It is a tremendous initiative and I’m optimistic that it will unleash the pent-up creativity that exists in this country. AB



Founder & CEO, MyChild App

At the age of nine, Harsh Songra’s teacher suggested to his parents that they send him to a school for the disabled. By the time he was 19, he had learnt Android coding and had developed the MyChild app, which aims to help people screen children for a range of mental and developmental issues in a matter of seconds. Songra was motivated by the possibility of sparing others the same difficulties his family faced. After all, one out of six children suffer from developmental disorders, and there’s still great stigma around mental health issues. MyChild helps diagnose a range of disorders in children (ages 11-24 months) though AI and human interactivity. Growing up in Bhopal, Songra often wandered near the Bhopal Lake, one of the biggest manmade lakes in the country. “It made me realise the capabilities of a human mind,” he says. With a mission to make technology “strong enough to screen any disease and disorder”, Songra has managed to help more than 2,000 parents screen their child’s possible problems and hopes to reach 50,000 in early 2017. The app boasts 13,000 downloads across more than 140 countries. “Connecting parents of specially abled children, so they can share their stories and clear their doubts or confusions, that’s been a massive milestone for me,” he adds. KS 33



An actor, director and entrepreneur , Palat, 37, is incredibly active despite living with Multiple Sclerosis (MS). How did you start your companies? Balancing Act Productions was started in 2003 with my husband, Aditya Hitkari, as we wanted to promote theatre and make it accessible. We’ve worked with more than 1,000 stage shows, short films and events. Then, in January 2016, Balancing Act Films was launched to produce video content for brands. What is your mission? To make theatre, TV, digital and film content that has a voice. I also have a non-profit, Balancing Act Trust, which supports numerous NGOs, using funds collected through theatre and film, it’s art helping bring about social change. We have 15 working full-time and 37 on contract basis. What’s your advice to entrepreneurs? Never rest on work that’s been done. Always remember that it’s about what you’re doing now that counts. A new idea isn’t worth anything unless it’s sold. Every day, keep selling. AB

Tell us how Prayas Innovations came about. I founded this social venture in August 2014. I’d visited my old school in Udaipur and saw that students were still sitting on the floor—just as it had been when I was studying there—for lack of furniture. I remembered how uncomfortable it was to sit on the floor for so many hours and how it is something that affects 80 percent of our students. I started thinking about how to solve this, and found a solution after eight months: Yelo, a schoolbag that can also be used as a tilted desk. It also comes with a solar kit and light, to help rural students study at night. Describe your journey as an entrepreneur. It’s tougher as a social entrepreneur. I began with a problem but no solution in mind, so no one was interested in putting money into it. I started with a very small budget and borrowed from friends and family. My friends helped me a lot while I worked on the design; many times, we would work non-stop for 50 hours straight. In February, our first batch of samples were produced and distributed. What is your annual turnover, and growth predictions? Currently, around US$29,500 ( 20 lakh). The response is amazing. Next year, we are aiming for US$ 1.4 million ( 10 crore). AB

MD, Balancing Act Films; Founding Partner, Balancing Act Productions



Co-founder & MD, Prayas Innovations


Co-founders & CEO; COO, Urban Ladder

As co-founders of a company that practically created a new market for online furniture in India, Goel and Srivatsa believe one must stick to the principle of customer first. Your journey so far? We launched in 2012 with a vision of making a million beautiful homes. Today, we are a 600-plus strong team, working in an open, transparent and meritocratic organisation. This helps us focus on offering customers well-designed products and great service. We learnt and unlearnt [a lot], but we asked ourselves two questions: what is the right ‘customer answer’ and what is the right long-term answer? This defines most of what we do. Today, we have a Net Promoter Score of 0.80, higher than giants such as Amazon and Apple.What does Make in India mean to you? The biggest challenge is ease of doing business; multiple regulations dissuade companies from starting up. The clarity in norms for young enterprises has helped the start-up ecosystem. Today, there is visible momentum and optimism with investment avenues being opened for business. MII’s goal is to transform India into a global manufacturing hub. There is a need for high-quality design schools to instill basic principles, to ensure the standardisation of products. We look forward to continued support from government to foster growth. SB

The office of Urban Ladder


Directors, Origo Commodities


Fashion Designer

How and when did you establish your studio? My grandfather was a cloth merchant, so we’ve been in the textile industry for three generations. But it took me five years trying various stints to discover that my calling lies in my heritage. In 2010, I finally started making samples, cutting the fabric myself and working with some quality tailors. Then a friend set up a meeting with the Good Earth team and they got really excited about my collection and design aesthetic. It was a natural match and that’s how we launched. Describe your journey. As an entrepreneur, you need to either have funding or be amazingly resourceful. I was the latter. I convinced a few fabric wholesalers back then to sell me small quantities at good prices and have created a professional company with traditional karigars. These are not things I learnt at NIFT; this was in my blood. What is your mission? I’m no activist, I just make products. At this point, the world needs as much beauty as we can give it, so it’s about delivering that and investing in my product. I don’t follow any movement. When these intangibles are done right, you can see the change in tangible form. I want us to be available across the globe doing exactly this—delivering beautiful products. Jasreen Mayal Khanna


In India, it is estimated that 10 percent of produce goes to waste due to the lack of proper storage facilities. This is a serious national problem, especially since millions in our country are not getting enough to eat. As a result, cold storage, warehouse management and logistics is what entrepreneurs like Origo Commodities are focused on. Launched in 2010 by former IIT Delhi classmates Kaul and Dhanuka, Origo Commodities provides postharvest and warehousing solutions. It aims to eliminate inefficiencies in the agriculture chain, particularly when it comes to middlemen who severely eat away at the profit margin that farmers receive. Origo now operates more than 500 warehouses in 15 states and manages assets worth US$1.4 billion ( 9,380 crore). It has a storage capacity of more than 3.5 million metric tonnes for a wide range of commodities such as grains, sugar, rice, lentils, fertilisers and cement. It also trains farmers in a bid to help them gain bargaining power. AB


Jewellery designers, Outhouse

When they started Outhouse in 2012, bridge jewellery (a cross between fine and costume jewellery) was hardly even a concept. But today, Ludhiana girls Kaabia and Sasha’s edgy earrings, bold necklaces and tribal-esque head pieces have found fans including Tyra Banks and Deepika Padukone. “Being one of the first Indian brands to explore this field, it was hard to anticipate the response of customers,” says Kaabia. But the ability to analyse the trend shift and hold their own in Delhi, a new city, along with “a strong team and concrete planning” got the sisters into Forbes India’s prestigious 2016 list of 30 Under 30—an honour they say is one of their journey’s biggest milestones. Every Outhouse product is carefully handcrafted in their own facility, and the brand has a loyal clientele that loves their edgy style. And now, according to Kaabia, they’re “looking at increasing our sales points, exploring new market avenues and even expanding the business globally”. Their mission is to position Outhouse as the world’s best bridge jewellery house. And there’s good reason the sisters will realise it, because as they say “a goal, if set properly, is half the battle won”. RS



Kaabia & Sasha Grewal, Jewellery designers, Outhouse


Founder, CEO & Director, MobiKwik

Joint MD, Vasuli Recovery Ltd


It’s been four years since Jai Singh and Vikramaditya Barkana started Polofactory. “It was frustrating that quality polo equipment and gear were not available in India and buying imported products was the only option. This frustration became the seed for the formation of Polofactory,” says Singh. Polofactory designs and manufactures polo equipment and polo-inspired fashion wear and accessories. The brand also organises bespoke polo holidays in India and destinations such as United Kingdom, Argentina and New Zealand. The Mayo College, Ajmer, classmates discovered their love for horses while in school, after which Barkana spent six years training under Ross Ainsley in New Zealand, while Singh was working as an investment banker. Since the brand was started in 2012, Polofactory has oufitted teams from all over the world. Says Singh, “Today, major polo teams in India, Europe, Africa, Australia, the Middle East and the US use our equipment and expertise. We’ve supplied equipment for over 300 horses and to over 100 players and professionals. Eventually, we want to reach out to a wider audience and take polo and horses to everyone.” Future plans include franchises in strategic locations in Europe, UK and Africa by the end of financial year 2017-18. JMK 38

What led you to set up your company? Vasuli is an all-women organisation engaged in the recovery of bad loans of nationalised banks. I was driven to create a niche in a male-dominated industry and launched in 2003. How many people do you employ? What are the numbers you’re dealing with? We employ 200 people. We handle a portfolio of US$746.27 million ( 5,000 crore) of bad debts and non-performing assets of nationalised banks. With the rise in defaults and growing non-performing assets of the banking industry, I predict the growth shall be considerable. What is a potential game changer for your industry? If the criteria of assignment of bad loans to recovery agents by the bank is changed, it shall bring a revolution in the resolution of bad debts. What does Make in India mean to you? The government needs to be friendly with the business industry in order to achieve Make in India and make it a success on a wider scale. AB




The push for a digital India is sure to benefit MobiKwik, an online wallet that was founded by Bipin Preet Singh. “MobiKwik was founded in 2009 with a vision to digitize and simplify payments for mobile recharges. Even then, for a charge of ten rupees, one still had to visit a shop to make the payment. MobiKwik changed this by introducing online recharges and bill payments. We officially received the license from the RBI to lauch our wallet in 2013 and there has been no looking back since. We have been growing at 250 percent each year, and MobiKwik is accepted by over 100,000 merchants and has 35 million users. Along with my co-founder, Upasana Taku, we have a vision to make MobiKwik payments ubiquious in India, and this will soon become a reality as we are launching virtual credit cards, which will make MobiKwik an accepted payment method wherever a credit card is accepted. Entrepreneurship has not been easy. It is gruelling but this also means only the tough survive it. If you are taking the plunge, don’t stop till you acheive your dream. The only secret is unconditional commitment to one’s own dreams.” AB


Film Director



’ve made two films so far, Wake Up Sid and Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani. And while most people in the urban world liked the first, the second touched many more lives. I’m not just talking about the money—it was just a more universal film. And that learning is one that will definitely shape my film-making. I want to tell stories that are more accessible to more of India. There are so many Indias within India that it is hard to create content that will resonate with people from different places and classes. Film—art in general—can be a great unifier and I’m excited, as a young director, to be able to contribute to that, to tell stories made by us, for us. To me, making in India is also about making for India and, in a way, making India. As a moviegoing market, we haven’t grown the way I believe we could have. Every year, out of the hundreds of films made in Bollywood, only a handful touch India universally. And yes, there are issues and constraints to making a film here —infrastructure, licences and clearances for shooting, censorship. Very often, my team will tell me it’s easier and cheaper to shoot in Thailand or Romania just because things get done quicker. But India is a difficult, complicated country and that’s part of the beauty of it. There are a lot of people here, a lot of problems. We’re a touchy lot and we’re easily offended, so censorship is a problem. But this is the reality of it, so you deal with it and do your best. All these issues are definitely things for which government support is needed. But frankly, none of these, to me, is the primary issue. The primary focus for me right now is to create content that speaks to our people across the board and touches upon themes that affect us universally. If the Skyfall crew wasn’t allowed to shoot a particular sequence in India, my immediate question is “Why aren’t we making our own Skyfall?” We need to raise the bar, be it in terms of visual effects, equipment, writing, cinematography—and in order to accomplish this, we need to make films that give us enough returns to put money back into the industry, to train people in different aspects of film-making. I see some of this creativity, this inventiveness in Marathi and South Indian movies—they’re doing some great concept films and seeing a huge surge. But in the Hindi film industry, I see a gap between those who make movies and those who watch them. And if we don’t fix that, we will lose the love and respect of the audience. Yes, we’re a complicated country, but we need to work within those realities to make films for India, by India, of India.


TANUJ JHUNJHUNWALA Co-founder & CEO, Planys Technologies Tell us about starting Planys Technologies. The seeds of Planys were sown in 2012, when three students represented IIT Madras at an international underwater robotics competition held annually in San Diego. I was inspired by them and began working on a Master’s thesis on underwater robotic inspection. After a year of research, we demonstrated a way to inspect underwater pipelines remotely. The industry, particularly oil and gas, was very excited and we were asked to develop specific solutions. This led to planning, designing and manufacturing customised underwater robots, or Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs). Three years after the San Diego competition, Planys officially launched in June 2015. What is a potential game changer for your business?


The tender system in India needs to be slightly modified for start-ups. Take, for instance, the fact that we are a hardware services company that can benefit oil and gas, shipping and port sectors. Our solutions are innovative and cost-effective. But as we are only a year old, we do not have the experience or financials required to qualify in the tender system (even if companies want to give us their projects). A tweak in this system would be a huge boost for us and other start-ups in India. [There are relaxed norms for startups and micro and small enterprises under Relaxation of Norms for Startups and Micro & Small Enterprises Order 2012 in Public Procurement on Prior Experience–Prior Turnover criteria.] AB

R E S H A P I N G A G R I - F O O D S Y ST E M S FOR IMPROVING NUTRITION Shenggen Fan, Director General, International Food Policy Research Institute December 2016


or the past several decades, the world has made tremendous progress in reducing hunger and undernutrition. The percentage of hungry people were reduced from 23.3% in 1990/92 to 12.9% in 2015 in the developing world. In India, the percentage declined from 23.7% to 15.2% during the same period. Between 1990 and 2015, child stunting prevalence globally was reduced from 39.6% to 23.2%, and the number of children affected fell from 255 million to 156 million. In India, within just 8 years, the prevalence was reduced from 48% in 2005-06 to 39% in 2013-14. However, challenges remain grave. The current agri-food systems have not succeeded in providing a nutritious diet for all our people. Worldwide, an estimated 2 billion people suffer micronutrient deficiencies and 795 million people are undernourished. Although undernutrition is slowly declining, 162 million children still suffer from stunted growth, most of them in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. We must reshape our agri-food systems for improving nutrition. The 2016 Global Food Policy Report, a flagship publication of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) proposes key policy options to achieve sustainable development goals (SDGs) through new food systems. The key components of the new food systems are nutrition led or nutritionally driven and the ways forward include the following: Developing countries must re-prioritise agricultural R&D investments to produce more nutritious and diverse

food crops such as fruit, vegetables, beans and dairy products. Evidence has shown that when farmers diversify their production to these crops, the nutrition status of family members, particularly children and women, improves significantly. Moreover, increased production of these crops has also reduced price levels, leading to improved access of consumers to more nutritious foods. R&D investment in bio-fortification, which boosts nutrient levels in varieties of staple food crops, must also be increased. We have seen significant improvements in the Vitamin A intake from communities that have adopted bio-fortified Vitamin A sweet potato. Current subsidy policies must be reformed. Globally, US$500 billion are used to subsidise cereal crop production every year through water, energy, fertilizer and output price supports. These subsidies are not economically efficient nor are they environmentally sustainable. Worse, they do not even promote nutritious food production. They should be reformed to support the production of nutritious food like fruit, vegetables, beans, and dairy products. Social protection should also be linked to improvements of diets, nutrition and health of vulnerable families. IFPRI studies show that if these programs are linked to asset building, access to agricultural technology and extension, the impact on reduction in hunger and undernutrition can easily double. Gender plays an important role in building nutrition-driven agri-food

systems, given women’s important roles in agricultural production and as consumers and caregivers. IFPRI’s gender-related research shows, for instance, that empowering women in agriculture can help improve their households’ dietary diversity and reduce child stunting. In conclusion, IFPRI is committed to using its Compact2025 initiative to support national governments, global initiatives and various other stakeholders to reshape food systems for nutrition using its data, evidence, knowledge and research.



In India, the percentage of hungry people has decreased from

Child stunting in India has dropped from












Co-founder & CEO, Culture Machine

Co-founder & CEO; Co-founder & CTO, Ather Energy

As the world moves away from petrol and diesel, Ather Energy is poised to pick up some of the demand with its first electric scooter, which will be launched shortly. The S340, which has been put together by a team of 150 people, is the company’s flagship product that the company’s co-founders hope to build an ecosystem around. Says Mehta, co-founder of the company, “It’s inevitable, we believe, that all vehicles will be electric. The government is helping through various programmes but factors such as an extensive public charging infrastructure is vital. We have taken it upon ourselves to set up an ubiquitous network of charging stations across every market that we operate in.” This long-term thinking is necessary for a product category that the company is looking to invent, and take mainstream. Says Mehta, “[We] are hoping to sell 10,000 units of the scooter, the S340, in the first year.” For the IIT Madras graduates, who have received support from their professors and the educational institute’s Incubation Centre, this is what the future of personal mobility looks like. AB





Culture Machine’s cofounders aren’t letting their spectacular growth and reach get to their heads. When Sameer Pitalwalla and Venkat Prasad started the company in 2013, they “envisioned it as a digital video company, creating entertainment for the Internet generation,” says Pitalwalla. The company now has 219 employees across offices in Mumbai, Delhi, Pune, Chennai, Singapore, California and Delaware. If you’d like some more numbers, Pitalwalla reels them off, “Our annual turnover in USD is in double-digit millions and we forecast this will grow threefold.” When it comes to the company vision at Culture Machine, Pitalwalla says, “Our vision was to build an end-to-end digital media company and to change the way we look at content and entertainment.” With a range of web channels, and the support of investors like Times Internet and Tiger Global, you could say those goals have been achieved. Now, “for us, our two priorities are technology and content, which are intertwined. Our technology platforms help us understand what content to create and our software helps us create it at scale. When it comes to content, it is imperative that we help our studio properties, brands and creators go multi-platform.” AB


NUTRITIOUS FOOD— THE CORNERSTONE OF A HEALTHIER INDIA The lush rural stretches of India don’t just make fantastic backdrops for epic Bollywood love stories. This is where the elements of nature conspire with the people of the land to nourish the rest of the country. Nutrition is the science of food and its relationship to your health. To live a healthy life, one needs to consciously eat foods that provide essential nutrients needed to energise and fortify the body. Thanks to advancements in technology, infrastructure and communication that came with the turn of the century, India, which was once known for only producing food grains, has diversified into the cultivation of high-

value nutritious crops like fruit and vegetables. Today, the country’s growth is driven by high-value segments such as dairy, horticulture and inland fisheries, which ensure that farmers have year-round income. 60 per cent of India’s agricultural GDP comes from them. In 2014-15, the production of fruit and vegetables overtook India’s food-grain production by 31 million tonnes. One of the many reasons for the growth in Indian horticulture is awareness about the impact of food on one’s health, which has led to an increase in demand. So, it’s safe to say that India is well on its way to becoming a healthier nation.


of India’s agricultural GDP comes from high-value segments such as dairy, horticulture and inland fisheries



THE IMPACT OF NUTRITION ON THE ECONOMY Aptly put by the World Factbook (2006), “better nutrition equals less poverty.” It is no secret that poor nutrition during pregnancy and early childhood lead to a failure of complete development, both physical and mental. And there is enough evidence to show how this stunts economic growth. To begin with, it reduces competitiveness and productivity due to impaired cognitive functions. Education and schooling gets disrupted due to bad health. It increases medical costs and worse, raises the rate of mortality, all resulting in losses when


it comes to investing in human capital (Global Nutrition Report 2014). The loss per individual due to undernutrition is estimated at 10 per cent of a person’s lifetime earnings, while the deficit to national productivity can be as high as two to three per cent of the annual output (World Factbook 2006). Agriculture therefore plays a pivotal role in improving the health and wealth of a country. That’s perhaps why the United Nations General Assembly recently passed a resolution proclaiming the period between 2016 and 2025 as


UN Decade of Action on Nutrition. The aim of this resolution is to improve income and ensure universal access to healthier, more sustainable diets and plans. This resolution will involve governments to set national nutrition targets based on internationally agreed indicators. Thankfully, along with attempts to develop our social and economic conditions, several processes have been put in place to improve health through better nutrition, so that the India Shining story becomes a strong reality.


of a person’s lifetime earnings is the loss incurred per individual due to under nutrition



Founded by Rajnikant D Shroff in 1962, UPL is a global plant health and seed company headquartered in Mumbai, India. It recognises the need to bring farmers high quality, modern and ecologically compatible solutions. It is the third largest post-patent agrochemical company in the world. The vision? To ensure sustainable, conscientious agricultural growth and rural prosperity to meet the demands of an ever-increasing


UPL is the third largest post-patent agrochemical company in the world


population. UPL’s offerings range from pre-planting to post-harvest requirements. Its portfolio comprises 1,344 products, some of which include herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, miticides, soil and plant health products, rodenticides, grain fumigants, fruit coatings, cleaners, sanitizers and storage treatments. With a presence in 124 countries, the company has 13 manufacturing units across India, many of which have won awards


for efficient water usage and Green Manufacturing Excellence. UPL’s quality control approach is based on the clear target of ‘zero defect’. Each stage of production, from raw material sourcing and manufacturing to post-production, is closely monitored. Better still, the organisation has committed substantial investments to maintain and improve its high standards of environmental care and consciousness.

Rajnikant D Shroff founded United Phosphorus

ZERO DEFECT A clear target when it comes to quality control





A farmer’s work is only half done at harvest time; transportation and storage are equally important in determining the final crop quality. As mentioned earlier, better food quality leads to a healthier nation, which eventually results in economic growth. That’s why it is not only important to protect crops from post-harvest pests, but it is also essential that they do not lose their nutritional value. DECCO, which is short for Decay Control, is a post-harvest services company of the UPL Group that brings you three ways to preserve the nutrients in food crops and increase their shelf life. Allow us to elaborate.


DECCO produces high quality FDA, EU and PFA approved surface protection solutions to preserve fruit and vegetables. In major fruit growing and exporting regions like USA, Spain, Italy, South Africa and Asia, significant volumes of fresh fruit like citrus and apple are preserved with DECCO’s technology. It is also used on Kinnows from Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan, oranges from Maharashtra and lemons from Gujarat. While it prevents fungal infection, it also controls shrinkage

and dehydration, thereby making transportation for a longer period of time easier. Better still, it gives fruit and vegetables a healthy shine so that they look as good as they taste.


While we are constantly talking about pre-harvest grain yield, post-harvest preservation often takes a backseat. The total value of post-harvest losses in India every year is estimated at `58,000 crore (approx. $ 10 Billion). To prevent this wastage, UPL introduced QuickPhos (phosphine and its application technologies), which has been globally acknowledged as the safest, most effective way of preserving grains and other perishable commodities. With its principal ingredient aluminium phosphide, it keeps storage pests at bay on all food grains without any compromise on grain quality for consumption.


A potato sprout suppressant, Oorja ensures that you get fresh and nutrientrich potatoes all year round. 95 per cent of potatoes are harvested in the IndoGangetic plains, between February and March. To ensure a steady supply

of potatoes through the year, they are preserved in cold storages at minus two degrees centigrade for nine months at a stretch. During this time, a significant portion of starch in the potatoes turns to sugar. Due to the increase in the sugar content, the potatoes begin sprouting within four days of being taken out of cold storage. Not only does the shelf life reduce, but it can also lead to poor quality and a supply shortage. Oorja goes a long way to prevent this situation and ensures that the crop stays fresh during its journey from the farm to your table. Currently UPL is the leading company to provide services to protect potatoes after they’ve been harvested and an important partner to the potato value chain.

Global Headquarters: UPL House, 610 B/2 Bandra Village, Off Western Express Highway, Bandra (East), Mumbai 400 051, India Tel: +91 22 7152 8000 (Board) Email: info@uniphos.com www.uplonline.com


Founder & blogger-in-chief, MissMalini Entertainment

Five things I’ve learnt as a woman entrepreneur. I’m especially excited to be contributing to the Young India issue of the Make in India magazine, because it not only reaffirms the notion that 40 is the new 20, but also because India is becoming a supernova of entrepreneurship. When I started my blog, I had no idea I was on my way to becoming an entrepreneur. I simply found my passion and pursued it with all my heart, which is, I believe, the secret to success. Here are five more lessons I have learnt on my journey: Sex doesn’t (always) matter. There is a great deal of debate about the role gender plays in building a business. My experience has been entirely pleasant and encouraging. I have never felt at a disadvantage being a woman in my line of work. If anything, it has often made it easier for me to network, to nudge my way to the front of the class and interact with celebrities or fellow entrepreneurs with relative ease. Perhaps this is an anomaly, but the only advice I can offer is to conduct yourself with dignity and maturity, and don’t allow anyone to patronise you. Poise and grace go a long way in any enterprise. Charming is good, flirtatious can be dangerous. Eventually it shouldn’t matter to anyone what your gender is if you’re doing your job well. So why should it matter to you? Listen. More often than not, in most conversations, people are just waiting for their turn to speak. As a result, they forget to listen. Great leaders are even better listeners because they know that knowledge and wisdom are gained not by talking but by listening. Listen to your customers, your competition, your team and your peers. Ask people how you can become a better leader, use social media to get feedback. Don’t be that person who goes to a party, only talks about themselves, and then leaves. Get to know someone else. Be their witness. Find the new you. Writer/director Roshan Abbas told me that, as a leader, your job is to find and train your own replacement, so that you can go on to do new things. This is simple and yet strategically brilliant for any enterprise. It is both motivating and rewarding for people across the organisation, and at all levels. #Genius Learn to let go. This is easier said than done. An incessant need to micromanage things to perfection can result in your (and my) running out of time to focus on bigger, more important tasks at hand. It is important to spend enough time training your team so they function like a well-oiled machine, and to then let go of the controls personally. Sometimes, setting standards of perfection can be counter-productive. Striving for excellence is a better choice. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Unpopular as a suggestion it may be, I sincerely believe that we were never put on this planet to amass money and slog ourselves to death. The purpose of life is to interact with other life. And being an entrepreneur is one very interesting way to do that. Be present. You are here. Live in the now. It’s important to find that crucial perspective between working hard to leave a legacy and forgetting to live your life in the process. We’re all here starring in our own little movies, just remember it’s a comedy and everything will be alright. ILLUSTRATION: PADDY MILLS





Co-founder & CEO; Co-founder & CSO; Co-founder & CFO, Inshorts

For the trio behind Inshorts, the response to the app has been nothing short of great. Google ranked it among its 50 Best Apps in India for 2015, and it now works with over 30 content publishers to put out stories. Says Iqubal, on the origins of the app and how the co-founders got started on Inshorts, “The idea of Inshorts came from the need to keep the younger generation connected to the habit of reading news. We found the increasing disconnect rather alarming and also observed that most newspaper readers would just browse through the snapshots of news items and read only the ones they were truly interested in. During our fourth year in IIT Delhi, we played on this observation and launched a Facebook page offering quick synopsis of the daily news in an easy-to-read format. It was an instant hit.” So, in September 2013, they recreated a unique made-for-mobile experience that curated the most significant news items of the day and served them up as 60-word summaries along with a link to the original source for those that want to dig deeper. Says Iqubal, “Our goal was to make consumption of news crisp, quick and simple.” You could say they succeeded: by February 2015, they became India’s highestrated news app. AB


Tell us about turning entrepreneur. I founded my first company Wegilant, during my days at IIT Bombay. The venture was an IT security provider, and is now known as Appvigil. Then, in August 2016, I founded Contfeed, which helps brands utilise social posts made by users to promote their brand. Describe your journey as an entrepreneur. Very tough. I did everything single-handedly while studying. I led the company through multiple investment rounds and to win awards. Tell us about a significant milestone. Starting alone as a student and surviving the first five years of my journey, and getting to be on Forbes India’s 2016 list of 30 Under 30. Who are your mentors? Ravi Gururaj, Chairman, NASSCOM Product Council, helped us in taking strategic decisions, by sharing his experiences. Indranil Deb, my financial advisor, who taught me everything about start-ups. Gaurav Sharma, Director, Yahoo!, who helped us with technology as well as with looking beyond India. An entrepreneur you admire? Vijay Shekhar Sharma, the founder of Paytm. He tried for a long time to get it going and now even paanwalas use Paytm to accept mobile payments. That’s not easy to achieve in India. AB


Co-founder & CEO, Contfeed


Co-founder, Micromax and YU Televentures Tell us about starting out in this industry. We started out as an IT company in 2000. While on a business trip for Airtel, I visited a village in rural West Bengal that had power for just a few hours a day, and the idea of a long-life battery phone struck. [I set up Micromax, and] in 2008, we introduced 10,000 units of the 30-day-battery phone in the market. We sold out. Today it makes us proud to say that Micromax is the only Indian brand in the list of top 10 handset makers in the world. How many people do Micromax and YU Televentures employ, and what is your annual revenue? We have 1,054 employees and annual revenue

of about US$2 billion ( 13,400 crore). And your growth? Year-on-year, 30 percent. What’s your mission? To go global with Micromax and be in the top five international mobile brands. What’s a potential game changer for your business? Mobile is becoming the remote control of our lives and in a good way. Users are now demanding a powerful computing experience, packaged well—they want smartphones with advanced functionality and personalisation. Have you had a mentor? My father, PL Sharma, who instilled in me a strong sense of work ethic and sincerity and, most importantly, believed in me. AB




Founder & CEO, Wingify


His father runs one of India’s largest telecom companies, but Kavin Bharti Mittal has set up and powered Hike on his own steam. Hike, a messaging app, which allows offline chats and more, aims to bring the Internet’s benefits to first-time smartphone users in India, and ultimately in other countries where a large number of users are coming online for the first time. By creating a one-stop shop for such users, Mittal hopes Hike will become the app of choice. His vision has already won many backers. Valued at US$1.4 billion ( 9,380 billion), it has joined the unicorn club and raised US$175 million ( 1,050 crore) from China’s Tencent and Taiwan’s Foxconn along the way. The recent Series D funding round also featured existing investors Bharti and SoftBank. Hike boasts a user base that’s 95 percent Indian, and is still in its growth phase, with monetisation coming later. Mittal is focused on building the app in India, before expanding to emerging markets such as Bangladesh and Africa. Like Bharti Airtel’s acquisition of Zain Telecom in 2010, the younger Mittal is on the hunt for the right audience, no matter where in the world that may be. AN



How did Wingify come into being? My previous ventures failed, so I learned about marketing and decided to plan a start-up around it. Wingify builds web analytics and optimisation technology. Since 2010, we have developed intelligent, affordable and easy-to-use tools that help people make more money from their websites and e-commerce stores. Describe your journey as an entrepreneur. Multiple failures didn’t keep me from trying and Wingify ultimately worked. What is the strength of your team, and your annual turnover? Our team comprises of 150 employees, and we’re at US$15 million ( 102 crore) run rate. And your mission? To build a top five global tech brand from India. What’s the potential game changer for your business? Not checking emails or having meetings until lunch. Morning time is for thinking and reading. An entrepreneur you admire? Pallav Nadhani, co-founder and CEO of FusionCharts; Kunal Shah, founder of FreeCharge; and Sridhar Vembu, founder & CEO of Zoho Corporation. Your advice to budding entrepreneurs? Don’t go to start-up events or read start-up news. Build what the world wants and always keep talking to customers! What does Make in India mean to you? High quality, if we Indians are willing to do it. AB


Founder & CEO, OYO Rooms




s the world we live in transforms through technology and new business models, what will differentiate us as an economy is our workforce. At nearly 650 million, India boasts of the largest youth population in the world. More than 65 percent of our country’s population is under 35. A supportive environment and carefully crafted learning and skilling interventions will enable delivery of high-quality skilled manpower not just to our country, but to others across the world. The stage for this has been set by the National Skill Development Corporation and it’s now up to us to work alongside the government to realise the dream of Skilled India. We have taken baby steps towards this giant vision by launching the OYO Skills Institute. The Institute came into being after we signed an MoU last year with the Tourism and Hospitality Skill Council (THSC), Government of India. As an official training partner (Hospitality sector) under the aegis of National Skill and Development Council, we have a mandate to train three lakh workers across more than 150 cities in the next three years. This is undoubtedly a huge responsibility but at OYO we get inspired by big challenges. This also segues well with the tremendous market opportunity in the hospitality and travel sectors, which are growing at a higher-than-industry pace in India and Asia. According to the Ministry of Tourism, formally trained managerial staff accounts for only 16 percent of the total hospitality sector and 21 percent of the total travel and trade sector workforce. The hospitality industry witnessed a shortage of 0.5 million employees during 2011-12. This is expected to rise to 0.8 million by 2017 and 1.1 million by 2022 as per the target growth levels. On the other hand, tourism in India is increasing at a pace of 16.3 percent per annum from 577 million tourists in 2008 to 1,057 million tourists in 2012 as per World Economic Forum’s Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report. The growth of the industry will be stifled if these gaps are not filled. The government has undertaken multiple initiatives to ensure that people employed in the unorganised sectors can access growth opportunities through up-skilling, re-skilling and recognition of prior learning. Job creation and the betterment of the industry’s service standards is a shared goal for the hospitality industry as a whole. We have just started and I am certain that a few years from now, we will see a changed industry, a changed country, and that we will be more than proud of our contribution.


Founder & MD, Axio Biosolutions


Founder, Thelabellife.com

With an aim to marry content and commerce, and give users a personalised shopping experience, Sukhtankar set up thelabellife.com in 2013 to build India’s first editorial-led e-commerce brand. “We do not want celebrities to endorse our brand. We are a tastemaker-led e-commerce store and I hope we break conventional ways of doing e-commerce. We want to inspire urban Indian women to make the right shopping decisions.” Armed with a Bachelor in English Literature and Economics, and a background in fashion and marketing, Sukhtankar took on the entrepreneurship role, taking hardships in her stride. “People say it’s a man’s world out there, but I beg to differ. Entrepreneurship is the great leveller. It’s equally hard for either sex,” says Sukhtankar. She believes that dedication, curiosity and hardwork are all essential ingredients for a robust, healthy business. “One of the most challenging moments of this journey was when a confirmed investor term sheet fell through and we still had to go about our day like nothing happened.” The few things Sukhtankar swears by? “Celebrate the small wins and, of course, the bigger ones too, work hard, aim high and adapt. Passion always supercedes skills.” Smitha Menon


Mavely was on his way to college in Delhi, when he saw an accident victim lying in a pool of blood by the road. While Mavely took him to a hospital two kilometres away, he could not stop the bleeding. He reached the emergency room in time but the incident triggered something in him. Why wasn’t a solution to stop highpressure bleeding easily available in India? Soon after finishing college, in 2008, Mavely founded Axio Biosolutions, “to provide life-saving technologies that are still alien to developing countries”. Today, his venture has shipped more than one lakh units to military units as well as hospitals the world over. With a mission to save lives, his venture provides other novel and affordable medical products for the Indian market. Supplying to the Indian armed forces has been one of his major milestones, as is hearing stories of how his company’s product, Axiostat, has saved numerous lives. KS


Co-founder, Akaar

Tell us about Akaar and how you got started in this field. Being an industrial engineer, I was drawn to manufacturing. The custom manufacturing market is on the rise and I saw a missing link between customers and manufacturers. In October 2015, I launched Akaar, an online platform delivering custom manufacturing—3D printing, laser cutting and more. What is your employee strength and annual turnover? We have seven people on staff, and in the last financial year, our sales were about US$74,100 ( 50 lakh). We are hoping to double that this year. What is a potential game changer for your business? More investment in R&D by the private sector. Have you had a mentor? During our ideation stage, we had help and mentoring from Pallav Nadhani, co-founder & CEO, FusionCharts and Ritesh Dwivedy, co-founder, Petoo. What does Make in India mean to you? It’s about empowering India’s next generation and contributing to the growth of the country’s economy and development. Make in India is all about the ingenuity of Indian products and the capability of Indians to produce world-class products and services. AB




Writer & Director It’s rare for a film to be praised both at home and abroad. Yes, Thithi won the Golden Leopard in the ‘Filmmakers of the Present’ category as well as the ‘First Feature’ award at the Locarno Film Festival 2015, before going on to win the National Film Award for ‘Best Feature Film in Kannada’. What’s been a significant milestone in your career? There were two defining moments. The first was when Film Bazaar selected our film as the ‘Best Work in Progress project’. Before that, we were a project in complete isolation—it was just my friends and I in a village—and then it became internationally important within that forum. And the second defining moment came when Thithi won at Locarno. We

brought Locarno home after 40 years. Plus, we brought back two Golden Leopards, which has never happened in Indian history. My life changed. It propelled the project onto the world stage changed the way we were able to position the film, globally, nationally and locally. Do you have a mentor in the industry? No, I’ve never interacted too much with my idols in the international industry. I think I’ve learned more about cinema by watching world cinema than any other way. What’s the one potential game changer for your business? I think there’s one important thing—an encouragement of subtitled films within exhibition platforms. Instead of having films dubbed, exhibitors need to encourage subtitled films. AN


Founder & CEO, Fork Media


Founder & MD, Chototel

A hotel room for just US$2 ( 135)? Might sound like something from the 1940s but it is a reality here and now. Chototel, founded by this Londonbased entrepreneur, will soon launch in Nagothane (70km from Mumbai) as the first of a worldwide chain of low-cost hotel rooms. To meet this requirement, Chototel is harnessing innovative technology across construction, management and operations, to keep prices low. The first hotel will have 240 rooms across 1.5 acres, and each room will be 280sq ft. The tariff includes 24hour electricity, gas, water and social infrastructure including day care, sick rooms, a community kitchen and gardens. Self-help groups will be set up to help run amenities, thereby creating jobs. Silva, with a background in building and managing affordable housing and hotels, raised a reported US$3 million ( 20.5 crore) for the first project, and has more in the works—in Goa and Gujarat in India, and in Nigeria, the UK and UAE. The end goal? To help eradicate housing poverty and homelessness. AB


“Fork Media is an ad tech company with a focus on native advertising. We’ve been very passionate about our work and putting together great products that both our advertisers and publishers love.” The company works within a brand’s goals to optimise audience, visibility and engagement. Fork Media was launched by Rishi Khiani’s start-up incubator, AntFarm, and has offices in Mumbai and Delhi. Clients include Omega and Singapore Airlines. “Defining a vision and purpose has been a key instrument for our company’s growth,” says Verma. “A good company is driven by great people, which creates a thriving environment. I have always been hands-on in all aspects of the business from ground-up, including building a team, developing a go-tomarket strategy, building trust with clients, creating products, technology stack and accounting for evolving business realities. I see Fork Media evolving innovatively, at the very edge of media and advertising, by providing unique brand solutions.” AB


Co-founder & CEO, FusionCharts

“I was an accidental entrepreneur,” says Pallav Nadhani. “When I was 16 and in school, I was looking to make pocket money. Since I was interested in computer science and was learning programming on my own, I cooked up some code for a charting library to create nice-looking charts on the web and wrote some articles about it.” The product’s features and ease of use ensured that word spread quickly, and he soon had people contacting him for custom solutions. This led to FusionCharts transforming into a service. Now, it employs 85 people across three Indian cities and has a turnover of US$7.5 million ( 50.5 crore). Says Nandhani, “We’re aiming for US$9 million ( 61 crore) next year.” The company’s library features 90 customisable charts and more than 1,000 maps. “We have 26,000 customers around the world, and 600,000 users,” Nandhani says. “Some highs of my journey include seeing a photo of Barack Obama using our product. We have seen US government websites using our features as well. Most people find data scary. My mission is to turn that around and make people see how easy and useful it actually is. I’d like to see people making decisions based on data: based on logic and reason, rather than gut instinct or emotion.” AB



Co-creator & CEO, Innov8 Coworking

What led to the establishment of Innov8 Coworking? I started my entrepreneurial journey in 2012 and sold my first venture, Alive, to the Times Group. With the profits from the sale, I eventually invested in 26 startups, mostly hardware. I was working with the Government of India and a lot of entrepreneurs. During that time I realised that India needs a lot of collaborative ecosystems. This led to the idea of Innov8 Coworking, a designoriented workspace for the millennial Indian. What led you to this field? A passion for real estate, design and technology. Aside from my real estate and technology background, I also understand the basics of how to build a community—these form the three pillars of what we do at Innov8. What’s your mission? To foster entrepreneurship by creating workspaces for SMEs and freelancers in the country. Your advice to budding entrepreneurs? Skill is important and passion moves mountains. Skill can be acquired, but passion cannot. Focus on building a great product. Everything else will fall into place, provided you have a great product and customer loyalty. Secondly, never ever quit, whatever the circumstances are, you’re in the game of entrepreneurship, and the one who stays in it the longest, wins. AN



CEO, Jaypore


Co-founder & “Explorer”, Maker’s Asylum Tell us about Maker’s Asylum. In 2013, I was working for a start-up making eye diagnostic devices. Maker’s Asylum started as a weekend meet-up in the back room of the office to share tools and ideas, and meet new people. Over time it grew and I left my job to take Maker’s Asylum forward. Now, it is a collaborative ‘maker’s space’ that brings together engineers, architects, designers, artists, etc, to work on interdisciplinary projects through exploration and learning. Although we’ve had teething troubles, it has grown organically and beautifully over the past three years. How many people do you employ and what is your annual turnover? We have six employees and we’re breaking even. What’s a potential game changer for your business? If corporates, philanthropists and the government work together to encourage the maker culture, India can rise in the innovation space. Your advice to budding entrepreneurs? Build or do things that matter to you. If you feel scared before a big move, ask yourself ‘What do I have to lose?’ AB

“Historically, India has had trade relations with the world’s most flourishing empires. We made and exported everything from spices to metal works and dyes to cotton fabric. Before the British invaded India, our share of the world economy was more than 20 percent and by the time they left it was less than four percent!” says Puneet Chawla, the CEO of Jaypore, an e-commerce store that uses the Internet to bring together India’s rural artisans, with buyers that are both from within India and abroad. The company’s offerings include textiles, home furnishings, artefacts and more, all made in India. Says Chawla, “To me, the Make in India initiative is about reclaiming that lost glory, our skills, our offerings to the world that we were admired for. We endeavour to work towards mitigating India’s reputation for cheap and tacky handicrafts and showcase authentic, craft-based products that celebrate traditional techniques. We are creating a brand that embodies everything we love about India—from classic to contemporary.” The company has been successful in bringing together traditional processes with contemporary designs for objects that are beautiful and useful in today’s day and age. AB


Founder & CEO, Lybrate


Co-founder, IndiaLends

A clear vision is what guides Mayank Kachhwaha and IndiaLends’ cofounder Gaurav Chopra. With their company, they’re keen to bring to India, the lending approach that Kachhwaha saw in action while working in London. Says Kachhwaha, “After graduating with a BTech from IIT Madras, I worked in London at Capital One, regarded as the pioneer in data-based lending across the world. Gaurav and I often discussed, over table tennis matches, how Capital One’s approach could potentially be a game changer in India.” Three years later, the company was launched. “Our vision is simple: we want to help financial institutions in the country lend to the masses by building technology and data science capabilities.” The company’s ability to scale is not only disrupting the unorganised lending market in India, but also helping more consumers repay highinterest debt, invest in home improvement, and build businesses. In the coming years, as data collection gets more organised, IndiaLends will have even greater impact. KS


“Lybrate has democratised healthcare delivery in India. We aim to make quality healthcare accessible to a billion-plus Indians; make delivery smooth and convenient; and encourage users to stay healthy and fit. For this to happen, Lybrate has built a platform that multiplies the presence of doctors by bringing them online, thus addressing the core issue of Indian healthcare (which is a shortage of doctors). Now, medical consultations can take place from anywhere, anytime. The platform facilitates consultation about sexual and mental health issues in anonymity. Some patients would leave treatments mid-way because of time-consuming and cumbersome lab tests. So, we introduced Lybrate Lab+, which enables users to get a sample picked up for testing and have their reports automatically shared with doctors. The third pillar of our mission—encouraging users to be healthy and fit—is achieved with our Health Feed, which consisting of health tips from doctors themselves.” Aatish Nath


Founder & CEO, Practo

In its Series C round of funding, Practo, the company that Shashank ND and Abhinav Lal co-founded, raised over US$90 million ( 615 crore). The company, which marries India’s digital revolution with the healthcare industry offers an array of services to both doctors and patients. “While working on Practo, we had to build a full stack solution. So, we first focused on building software for doctors and clinics. That turned into Practo Ray, a system that simplifies scheduling and billing for doctors as well as manages healthcare records and prescriptions. Next, we started on the consumer end of it. We launched Practo Search, which connects consumers to doctors and labs and helps them order medicines. We also have an online consultation platform for patients and doctors to converse online easily,” says Shashank. For the two National Institute of Technology (NIT), Surathkal graduates, the response has been overwhelming, and Practo is now, “present across 15 countries and 50 cities around the world. We are one of the few Indian companies that have created a new product and model and gone global with it. We serve 40 million appointments and manage 60 million consumers on our platform.” AB




Shashank ND, Founder & CEO, Practo


Co-founder & CEO, Tracxn Technologies


CEO, Simulanis

Talwar’s Simulanis develops immersive and interactive products and platforms that push the potential of learning and education in India. Imagine textbooks being replaced by interactive games, apps, walkthroughs, and e-learning courses. As a result, students get more involved and the process promotes a work culture where the emphasis is given to smart work as opposed to syllabus based rote learning. Simulanis basically fills in the gap experienced by students when they need to visualise or contextualise complex concepts— facilitating learning for students of technical universities. “I believe the culture in India makes an entrepreneur truly resilient,” says Talwar. “It may sound clichéd but you really have to be super-passionate, and possess a never-say-never attitude, to crack the opportunities the Indian market presents. I admit settling down after spending time abroad, was tough for starters, but I am now happy to have made the decision, and to have become a part of the India Shining story. Over the years, I have realised that it is okay to fail,” says Talwar, about his vision for such a niche but integral segment, “but the key really is to fail fast, and learn from the mistakes quickly enough so that the learnings are validated against the assumptions which led to the mistakes.” KS



Founder & CEO, GOQii

Gondol’s list of achievements was long before he set up GOQii (pronounced Go-Key) in 2014. As the founder and CEO of IndiaGames, he sold the gaming pioneer to Walt Disney and was appointed Managing Director of the company’s digital division. For the last two years though, he’s been working on GOQii, a company that is headquartered in California, but that has offices in Mumbai and Shenzhen. It uses wearable technology and ample personnel to ensure a fitness regime that’s sustainable, personalised and data driven. The ambitious vision is aided by consumer’s acceptance of wristbands, that log everything from steps taken to heart rate, and by the belief that big data can serve as a force for personal good—not just a way for companies to wring out efficiencies for their bottom line. So exercise, eating right and a holistic approach to wellness, allows the company’s nutritionists and coaches to nudge users to a healthier lifestyle, saving in hospital stays and more. GOQii’s vision seems to have struck a chord, as its managed to raise two rounds of funding this year, bringing on investors like Ratan Tata and Dr Shriram Nene among others. AN

Singh’s company Tracxn is a startup research firm that tracks more than 230 sectors within enterprise infrastructure, enterprise applications, technology, consumer, mobile, digital marketing, health, education. “While working at Sequoia Capital I discovered that private market data is very inefficient,” she says. “Most of my time at was spent sourcing and discovering interesting companies. I then started coding to discover companies and that is what lead to the formation of Tracxn.” Singh started Tracxn with partner Abhishek Goyal when she noticed the lack of information on potential investees. In early 2016, Fortune magazine listed Tracxn as one of five ecosystem builders that support startups in India, along with Amazon web services and Microsoft Ventures. Today Tracxn has received angel funding from Sahil Barua of Delhivery, Mohandas Pai, Sachin and Binny Bansal of Flipkart, Nandan Nilekani and Ratan Tata. Singh’s vision has plans of Tracxn expanding beyond India, including China, North America and Southeast Asia. Headquartered in Bengaluru, Tracxn is poised to define the entrepreneurial landscape in India and the future is open to whatever plans they have for it. “It’s time India asserts itself in building global enterprise products. From enterprise services, we should move faster towards creating enterprise products,” she says. KS


Innovation in th e education sector is attracting more ch ildren to school and hel ping them learn bette r. By Meenakshi Radhakrishnan -Swami



Byju Raveendran, founder of India’s largest edu-tech company


emember how school used to be for most of us? Reluctantly rolling out of bed too early in the morning, dragging a heavy bag of books, worrying about incomplete homework and strict teachers and trying not to sneeze when the chalk dust swirled after an overenthusiastic wiping of the blackboard? Now, imagine this scenario: You wake up, see the monsoon rain out of the window and wonder whether snakes are more prolific in the hot, wet months. There, your lesson plan for the day is settled—today, you and your classmates will learn to distinguish between venomous and non-venomous snakes, a valuable life skill given the surroundings. Later, you’ll spend some time practising skills such as eco-construction, agriculture, animal husbandry, carpentry or even computer applications. At the University of Life in Dhamapur, a village in Maharashtra’s Sindhudurg district, there’s no fixed curriculum, no classrooms and no exams. The emphasis is on education in a real-life context and learning by solving problems. It’s easy to see why students would be enthusiastic about something as offbeat as this so-called “school without walls” but even children at some government-run schools in rural Karnataka are in friendly competition with each other for better attendance and class participation records. They are completing their assignments, engaging in classroom discussions, participating in sports and extracurricular activities, and exceeding national and state averages on foundational reading and maths skills. Their incentive to perform better: star-shaped badges they can pin on their uniforms. The catalyst here is Sikshana Foundation, a Bengaluru-based social enterprise that partners actively with teachers and the government to improve learning outcomes and student engagement in state-run schools. And it’s succeeding. Granted, for the most part, heavy bags, chalk dust and way too much homework are still the norm across schools in India but there’s no denying that the education sector is being transformed. There’s growing acknowledgement that merely adding more schools and hiring more teachers— although these remain crucial measures—will neither get more children to school nor make them learn once they’re in the classroom. “Perhaps the greatest positive change in the education sphere over the past few years is the recognition that learning outcomes are important, that it is important to focus on and measure quality,” agrees Ashish Dhawan, Founder and Chairman, Central Square Foundation (CSF), an education-focused philanthropic fund. So, what the country needs are intelligent and innovative solutions, which ensure students come to school and reap the benefits of a wellrounded education that helps them learn fast, learn well and learn what is most relevant to their future development. It so happens that several organisations are working overtime to help achieve just that. 70


An October 2016 report by India Brand Equity Foundation (IBEF) pegs the Indian education industry at US$97.8 billion ( 6,73,780 crores), estimated to reach US$144 billion ( 9,65,400 crores) by 2020. It also points to a huge demandsupply gap with an additional requirement of two lakh schools, 35,000 colleges, 700 universities and four crore seats in vocational training centres—this despite India already having one of the world’s largest education systems. The core education segment—school from kindergarten to grade 12— is considered largely the preserve of the government. That’s understandable: with 29 percent of the population under 14 years, this is a sector too vast for the private sector to tackle alone (although private schools are increasingly popular, even in rural and lower income areas). Add to this the rule that educational institutions in India have to be non-profit organisations, and it explains the growing interest, instead, in parallel education, such as preschools, test preparation and coaching classes, as well as ancillary education, which includes products and services that support core and parallel education. Those are sectors where business is booming and where technology can be used to bring in revolutionary change. What is worrying, though, is that children who are already in the system just aren’t learning well enough. As per the 2014 Annual Status of Education Report (ASER), released in January 2015 by NGO Pratham, a heartening 96.7 percent of children in the six- to 14-year age group are enrolled in school in rural India. But of all children enrolled in the fifth grade, about half cannot read at second-grade level. Nearly a third of children in the second grade cannot even recognise letters. Half of all children in the fifth grade cannot solve second-grade maths sums; and 56 percent of students in the eighth grade cannot solve division problems, which is a primary level maths skill. This is where technology can play a role—by making education affordable and accessible, and by improving learning outcomes. “The big disruption in education is edu-tech, where companies can reach the learner directly or through the school as intermediary. It is not the one thing that will solve everything but it will certainly have a significant impact,” says CSF’s Dhawan. First generation edu-tech innovations focused on classroom technologies—smart classrooms to make the education experience more immersive, interactive and, hopefully, interesting. For the past several years, digital classrooms— equipped with interactive multimedia devices that supplement traditional teaching tools such as the blackboard and textbooks—have been the buzzword in schools across the country and the poster child of this revolution was Educomp, which continues to be India’s largest education services company. Now there are several big local players in this segment, including Tata ClassEdge, NIIT and HCL Learning, apart from global giants such as Pearson, Dell and Intel. But that’s at the classroom level and currently, innovation in edu-tech is all about reaching students directly, at their homes or through their smartphones.


Inside Byju’s Bengaluru office Sidebar (from top): Vedantu’s offices in Bengaluru; Byju’s office includes a sound recording studio; animators that work to explain concepts to students




Karishma Menon, Simran Mulchandani and Priyanka Seth Pandit (left to right), co-founders of Project Rangeet

Personalised education is exactly what Vedantu is all about. The organisation offers regular tuitions as well as exam preparation courses in various subjects to students in grades four to 12. What sets Vedantu apart is that it is a live online tutoring platform. Students have the flexibility of choosing from various tutors and studying at home, using two-way audio, video and whiteboarding tools, so that both teacher and student can see, hear and write in real-time. “Our sole mission is to create a world of learning that is personalised and democratised,” explains Vamsi Krishna, Co-founder & CEO, Vedantu. “Personalised in terms of [a] better experience than group classes and democratised in terms of choice of teacher, time, schedule and level of study,” he elaborates. Started in 2014, Vedantu is the second education enterprise by Krishna and his co-founders, Saurabh Saxena, Pulkit Jain and Anand Prakash. The four IIT graduates had earlier started Lakshya, a brick-and-mortar exam prep institute, which they sold in 2012 to MT Educare. The decision to offer a technology-driven education solution was deliberate, based on insights gleaned from the Lakshya experience. With technology, not only could Vedantu reach out to students in the most remote parts of the country (its in-house developed offering is optimised for low bandwidth conditions) but also excellent teachers who may have dropped out of the mainstream for various reasons. Now, with a mobile app in addition to its PC presence, Vedantu is ensuring it is accessible to a larger base of students. When it comes to accessibility and using technology for education, though, BYJU is in a class of its own. It is India’s largest edu-tech company and the creator of India’s largest school-level learning app that offers programmes for students in grades four to 12 as well as competitive exam preparation. The app, which was launched in 2015, has over 55 lakh downloads, 2.5 lakh annual paid users and sees an addition of 30,000 users every month. Founder and CEO Byju Raveendran started off in 2008 with coaching students for MBA entrance exams and was an early adopter of technology, launching online video-based learning through VSAT for MBA aspirants the following year. When BYJU’s expanded into the K-12 segment in 2011, it continued the technology push, with pre-recorded video lessons generously loaded with animations and graphics to make understanding easy and fun. “While India has been big on traditional schooling and learning techniques, use of technology can truly bring in phenomenal changes in the education landscape. The beauty of this segment is that you get a chance to empower millions by helping them learn better, irrespective of their proficiency levels or geographic locations,” says Byju. Like the users of BYJU’s app, its revenue has grown exponentially, from about US$5,90,000 in FY12 (about 4 crore today) to over US$18 million in FY16 (about 125 crore today). Not surprisingly, the company has investors queueing up to fund its future plans. It has already raised over US$150 million (over 1,022 crore) in four rounds of funding from investors such as the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative, Sequoia Capital, Sofina and Lightspeed Ventures. “I never planned to start this as a business. I just pursued my passion and capitalised on my strengths, which later turned out to be a business. Once investment started coming in, we used it to increase the number of products,” says Byju.



With the spotlight fixed firmly on edu-tech, it would be easy to imagine that brick-and-mortar schools aren’t really trying anything new to shake up the system. But that isn’t the case at all. Especially in rural India, organisations are working on new ways to encourage children to learn new skills, improve at conventional ones and even get schools and instructors to perform better. A backbencher who moved from the hospitality industry to educational software, Sachin Desai had never dreamed he would have anything to do with schools and teaching. But a meeting with scientist-turned-educationist Srinath Kalbag, who set up rural technology training institute Vigyan Ashram, turned Desai’s thoughts to education in rural India, learning and teaching relevant skills to locals rather than blindly adopting a one-size-fits-all pedagogy. He began volunteering with tribal communities in Madhya Pradesh but it was the birth of his daughter that clinched matters. In 2007, the family moved back to Desai’s family village, converting their 80-yearold ancestral house into a sustainable living and open learning centre that “would educate, not through lectures delivered in closed classrooms but by helping people of all ages learn through observation and experiencing responsibility,” says Desai. The first students at Syamantak Foundation’s University of Life were Desai’s young daughter, two children from a nearby village and two students who accompanied Desai from Madhya Pradesh. In the past eight years, University of Life has had over 40 resident students and more than 200 interns—including many from places such as France, Brazil, Germany and the US— who have stayed anywhere from a week to two years. They pay no fees—apart from about US$30,000 ( 20 lakh) invested by Desai, the school runs on voluntary contributions—and decide for themselves how long their internship will be and what they will learn while at this “contemporary ashram”— many of them also teach the resident students during their stay. Resident students can get certified in courses offered by Indira Gandhi National Open University or The National Institute of Open Schooling (Desai’s daughter, for instance, does not attend formal school and has just passed the eighth grade equivalent through the open schooling programme). “This is not vocational education. This is education through the medium of real-life activities,” says Desai. Where University of Life provides an innovative approach to education in a rural setting, Sikshana Foundation is working on improving formal education in rural areas. Started in 2005 as a non-profit initiative to improve primary education facilities, the organisation now supports nearly three lakh students in over 2,000 government schools in Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra. The idea behind Sikshana is deceptively simple: keep students motivated so they learn better. And there’s no rocket science behind its methods. Sikshana workers (called “mentors”) offer non-financial rewards (such as the star badges) and encourage peer-teaching so students motivate and support each other in learning, in 74

addition to being incentivised to perform better themselves. Government schools are typically resource-starved, so mentors also hand out practice booklets where students are expected to complete four pages of writing and two pages of maths every day. Students build “learning trees” with stickers that track their progress as they acquire competencies. “We want students to have an interest in learning more, to understand how they learn and to experience the confidence that comes from learning something they found difficult before,” explains Chalam Plachikkat, COO, Sikshana Foundation. Of course, it is often difficult to measure and communicate the results of such “soft concepts” but Sikshana’s impact can be quantified through a powerful metric. The ASER report points out that 71 percent of seventh-grade students in rural Karnataka schools (both private and public) cannot perform basic third-grade arithmetic. In stark contrast, Sikhshana Foundation reported that in 2015-16, at Sikshana-supported schools, 71 percent of students were at par for their grade, an over-40 percentage point improvement in performance. The organisation has now signed a three-year agreement with the Karnataka government to further develop and deploy student motivation programmes in two districts of the state. “This has created the opportunity for our programmes to reach over 10 lakh students in more than 50,000 schools in Karnataka, and to go beyond,” says Plachikkat. If Sikshana is managing learning outcomes by motivating students, another organisation is approaching the same goal from the other end of the equation. Since its inception in 2008, Kaivalya Education Foundation (KEF) has been working with principals and headmasters of government schools, helping them develop the mindset, leadership skills and relevant knowledge required to improve quality and inclusiveness in their schools. “Managing a school is like managing a small business. But principals are typically not trained for that— they are only trained to teach science or maths or other subjects. Our aim is to give them the additional skills needed to manage teachers, the administration, the community and parents; learn budgeting and planning, etc,” says Aditya Natraj, Founder & CEO, KEF. Kicking off with 100 rural school principals in Rajasthan’s Jhunjhunu district, KEF is now involved with over 1,500 schools across six states, impacting more than three lakh students. Along with its flagship Principal Leadership Program, the organisation also runs the Gandhi Fellowship Program, which assigns selected graduate and postgraduate fellows to support five government schools and their principals for a two-year period. The result of these interventions? Among students in the third, fifth and seventh grade in Rajasthan, Gujarat and Maharashtra (where KEF has been working the longest), student learning outcomes improved between two and 22 percent in language and between seven and 18 percent in maths. “Demonstrating measurable improvement in student learning has helped in finding donors,” adds Natraj. It has also helped in getting pedagogy partners such as Harvard Graduate School of Education and New York University on board, he adds.


Priyanka Seth Pandit at a workshop in Dharavi. Side bar (from top): scenes from a Project Rangeet classroom in Dharavi, in Mumbai



Education isn’t only about maths, sciences and languages. It is equally important to expose young, impressionable minds to the right values as well as socially important messages of cleanliness, equality, conservation, etc. Fortunately, innovation in education in India hasn’t confined itself to only the three Rs—reading, writing and arithmetic. In Mumbai, Project Rangeet uses art and music to make school children aware of socially relevant issues. Since 2014, founders Priyanka Seth Pandit, Karishma Menon and Simran Mulchandani have created nine lesson plans focusing on issues such as antibullying, the importance of forests, girl power and the Swachh Bharat Mission, among others. These were then rolled out across municipal and government schools in Mumbai, Delhi, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat, in association with NGOs and corporate sponsors. Created as a combination of music, storytelling and artwork, each lesson encouraged participation from the students as well as a deeper understanding of the issues, many of which were new to them, points out Mulchandani. In phase two, Project Rangeet will leverage technology to reach out to teachers across the country to disseminate this content, which will help it reach its goal of impacting 10 lakh children by end-2017. The organisation has developed an Android app capable of carrying multi-language lesson plans, music and art activities, and which requires only infrequent net connectivity, making it suitable for use even in rural areas. “Fresh content can be downloaded whenever the teacher has net connectivity, making it possible to keep the programme alive with new training, motivation and topics,” says Mulchandani. Going forward, Project Rangeet wants to make the interaction two-way, letting teachers share their experiences and learning so that “the training isn’t just from us to them but is a constantly evolving dialogue”. In fact, Dhakabased BRAC, the world’s largest development organisation helping people living in poverty in 11 countries, is exploring ways to use Project Rangeet’s content to bolster the ongoing extra-curricular activities of 21,000 BRAC schools and learning centres. Another organisation that believes in the power of stories to transform lives is Going to School. The Delhi-based NGO works with 3,000 government schools in Bihar and Jharkhand, reaching over three lakh students in the ninth grade every week, with stories and projects that deal with entrepreneurial skills and identifying opportunities. Every year, each student is given 10 attractively designed and illustrated story books/ graphic novels written in Hindi, printed by Going to School, featuring different heroes and different settings. New stories are designed every year but the theme remains the same: “We want to teach children 21st-century skills, to identify a problem, take initiative and make a plan,” says its founder, Lisa Heydlauff. Going to School also creates board games that are played in school and devises skill challenges that students tackle over the weekend; typically, these involve the household and community and could range from making a budget for the home to interviewing local entrepreneurs.


This year, Going to School has also started the Scrappy News Service in 20 communities in eastern Bihar, where student reporter teams of 50-100 children each, build and run newsrooms in their villages. This includes finding and researching stories on local problems and learning to use cameras, write a script, etc. The newsrooms are made of scrap material, built by the students themselves with adult volunteers. Fifteen such newsrooms are already up and are broadcasting their shows on YouTube and the NGO’s website. There are plans to launch an app to showcase the work of these news teams. “Stories can change the way children see their lives and opportunities,” says Heydlauff.


For the children impacted by these organisations and their innovative approach to education, perhaps that is the biggest change—becoming aware of the possibilities and gaining the confidence to seize opportunities. And the organisations’ visible pride in their students is moving. At BYJU’s, the founder makes it a point to mention that the key management and core team is formed by his students, some of whom went on to join the IIMs but found their calling in education and returned to work with him after graduating. Quiz Sikshana Foundation’s Plachikkat on stand-out students and he speaks of Yeshwanth Chari, a grade-seven student of Government Higher Primary School in Mudigere, Karnataka. Chari, who is president of the Sikshana Student Club (which hones leadership and communication skills) in his school, wanted all the students in the school to have sweaters, ties and ID cards, like their counterparts in private institutions. He approached the village panchayat, made a persuasive case and succeeded in getting the panchayat along with members of a local Youth Club to donate 89 sweaters, neckties and identity cards for the pupils. “We were rather impressed with Yeshwanth’s leadership, considering that even adults in middle-class households are often hesitant to approach their elected leaders,” adds Plachikkat. University of Life’s Desai’s star pupil is Mohammad Shaikh, who was one of the first students at the school. Shaikh joined after completing grade-10 in a local village, and discovered a flair for innovation—he created a low-cost water pumping device that is still used at the school. The young man left Syamantak in 2010 to start a computer institute in suburban Mumbai but returned a couple of years later. “I realised I was going with the flow and not doing what I should be,” says the now 25-year-old. Speaking about returning to University of Life he says, “For me, there is now something new to learn and do every day and I am very happy.” Life has come full circle for Shaikh: he now mentors new interns at University of Life and is the managing trustee of the Syamantak Foundation. “He may even become the head of the institution some day,” says Desai. Back in the 1990s, an ad campaign for an airline stated a universal truth: “Children walk to school; they run back home”.Across India, thanks to the efforts of organisations like these, some are also running to school.


Saurabh Saxena (standing), co-founder and head of academics at the Vedantu offices




Seeing that India adds almost 27 million to its working age population every single year, it’s urgent and crucial to emphasise skills development in the country. Chanpreet Khurana sheds light on the skilled workers’ supply-demand gap and the social changes needed to address the aspiration problem Photographs by Pankaj Anand



lthough skill development programmes have been running in India for decades, it wasn’t until November 2014 that India had a dedicated ministry to helm this effort. That skilling is both urgent and crucial in the country’s economic story is obvious. Economists and policy wonks have weighed in on the demographic dividend (or demographic burden) debate. On one hand, the country adds 26.4 million people to its working age population of 15-59 years each year. Unless they are skilled, India will have a huge unemployment challenge on its hands. On the other hand, the shortfall of skilled workers across 24 sectors by 2022 is estimated to be 109 million, as per a skill gap study conducted by the National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC) from 2010-14. If this demand for skilled workers is not met, both industries and the economy at large will lose out. “Skill India horizontally cuts across every other government programme; without skills, there is no Make in India, no Digital India programme,” says D Peter Immanuel, CEO of Aerospace and Aviation Sector Skill Council (AASSC), one of 40 industry-led councils in India’s skilling ecosystem. The job of Sector Skill Councils is to keep an eye out for relevant skills in their sector and lay down standards for training. A look at the supply and demand of skilling leads to the inference that some problems in the skilling landscape can only be solved through large-scale social change.


The skilling ecosystem in India, under the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship, comprises 13,105 Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs), including 2,293 run by the government, offering 126 courses. Aside from ITIs, there are Regional Vocational Training Institutes, Advanced Training Institutes and Foremen Training Institutes. The NSDC also has 267 approved private training partners who run 5,093 centres including 662 mobile centres for training. The Finance Bill 2016 proposed to increase the skilling outreach last year through massive open online courses at 2,200 colleges, 300 schools, 500 government ITIs and 50 vocational training centres. In addition, funds are being set aside to establish 1,500 Multi Skill Training Centres and 100 Model Training Centres. Of course, not all skills-training institutes are on par in terms of quality and infrastructure. Over the last three years alone, affiliations with 180 ITIs (of them, 85 were in Odisha) have been dissolved, according to the response of Rajiv Pratap Rudy, Union Minister of State, Skill Development and Entrepreneurship, to a question in Parliament, in August 2016. The government has also been trying to upgrade facilities through Public-Private Partnerships for 1,396 ITIs since 200708 and World Bank-funded Vocational Training Improvement Project for 400 ITIs, which will end in 2018. At the top of the pyramid of training providers is the 80

THE SKILLING ECOSYSTEM IN INDIA COMPRISES 13,105 INDUSTRIAL TRAINING INSTITUTES, INCLUDING 2,293 RUN BY THE GOVERNMENT, OFFERING 126 COURSES Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Kendra (PMKK). Last November, I visited one of the 14 operational PMKKs—the IL&FS Skill Development Corporation (ISDC) in Delhi—on the recommendation of three stakeholders in the skilling ecosystem: a joint secretary in the skills ministry, a director of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and a private training partner affiliated with the NSDC. Kavita Sah, Skills Head, Delhi NCR and National Community Engagement Head, IL&FS Education & Technology Service Ltd (the parent company of ISDC), gives me a tour of the 16,000sq ft centre, spread across three levels. “We take punctuality very seriously,” she says. “In a factory or office, an employee would be given half-day’s pay if they are even a few minutes late; we send students back home.” Sah begins the tour from the counselling rooms on the ground level, where applicants appear for an aptitude test.

Bosch Vocational Training Centre in Bengaluru. Opposite page: OP Goel, GM, Corporate Social Responsibility, Bosch. Previous page: view of the Bosch centre

“IN A FACTORY OR OFFICE, AN EMPLOYEE WOULD BE GIVEN HALFDAY’S PAY IF THEY ARE EVEN A FEW MINUTES LATE; WE SEND STUDENTS BACK HOME”—Kavita Sah, Skills Head, Delhi NCR & National Community Engagement Head, IL&FS Education & Technology Service Ltd

This is also where, after the test, counsellors speak with the applicants and work towards setting realistic expectations of the kind of jobs and salaries they could choose from after the course is completed. In the basement, a new batch of students is being inducted in the electrical course. Sah points to an electrical circuit created by Schneider Electric, IL&FS’s knowledge partner for this course. For every course it teaches, IL&FS partners with industry on at least two levels: as knowledge partner to stay updated on the skills relevant to industry today, and as placement partner. IL&FS Education has a 1,500-member strong placement network. Next to the electrical classroom-cum-lab, on Juki sewing machines, a batch of students is making sleeves in a set-up that mirrors a garment factory floor. There is a computer numerical code class for designing auto parts in one corner and a welding simulator designed by Tata Consultancy Services that students can practise on unassisted. On the floors above, classes are underway for courses in hospitality, retail, beauty and wellness, fitness and patient care (ideal for hospitals and other medical facilities). At any point, this centre in Okhla 82

Tata Consultancy Services’ welding simulator at IL&FS Skill Development Corporation (ISDC) in Okhla, Delhi. Opposite page: Sreeraman Vaidyanathan, Co-founder & MD, iStar Skill Development



A training session in progress at ISDC. Opposite page: Electric circuit created by Schneider Electric for ISDC


offers 10-11 courses. The centre also keeps track of every student’s career path for a year after they graduate. There is an unwavering focus on training for jobs—sewing students are also taught how to conduct a quality check on a garment, while food-andbeverage students are taught housekeeping to increase their chances of landing a job at the end of training. There’s an overall focus on employability in the skills ministry as well. Back on the ground floor, Sah shows me the ‘skill card’ that trainees get on successfully completing a programme. As of November 2016, around 19.8 lakh students across the country have received skill certificates under the skills ministry’s flagship Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana (PMKVY). Of them, 18 lakh were fresh candidates and 1.8 lakh received ‘recognition of prior learning’. I ask Sah what it means to have a skill certificate today, and whether it translates into a better pay or job opportunities. She thinks for a moment and says, “Some companies can pay a marginally higher salary at the time of joining but usually, trained workers grow quickly in the job and get promoted faster.” In 2015, the skills ministry released a revised National Policy Framework for Skill Development and Entrepreneurship. The document envisaged higher pay for skilled workers, among other steps to make skilling attractive and effective. The initiative, though robust on paper, seems to have run into some problems on-ground. “We are talking to industries to pay skilled workers better,” says Sougata Roy Choudhury, Director, Skill Development, CII. He adds that only a few companies are willing to get on-board because there is still no proof that skilled workers can hit the ground running. Most companies also have systems to train fresh entrants, and may prefer training recruits themselves in their own proprietary equipment and systems. This may not be the best news in the context of building aspiration around skilled work. In fact, such trainings run contrary to best global practices. In countries like Germany, considered exemplary in the skilling ecosystem by both the Indian government and private players, workers like plumbers and electricians can’t practice their trade without a skill certificate, says OP Goel, GM, CSR, Bosch, from the Bosch Vocational Training in Bengaluru. “Social and financial status also come with skilled work in Germany,” he adds.


“Who wants to be a carpenter or taxi driver or plumber or security guard?” asks Sreeraman Vaidyanathan, co-founder and MD of iStar Skill Development, which uses tools like gamification to train students in Bengaluru, Pune, Ahmedabad and Coimbatore. He and I have been speaking about the responsibilities of private training partners—mobilisation and placement of skills students. Private partners are required to organise skill melas and other outdoor campaigns to raise awareness about their programmes. Both IL&FS and iStar run these fairs periodically. But mobilising people is the starting point—the 86

IN 2015, THE REVISED NATIONAL POLICY FRAMEWORK FOR SKILL DEVELOPMENT AND ENTREPRENEURSHIP ENVISAGED HIGHER PAY FOR SKILLED WORKERS problem of skilling runs deeper than just signing up students. Compared with 14 years in secondary school, skill courses can be as short as one week. In terms of investment of time and money per person, skills training again gets a minuscule proportion of average spends on formal education. Then there is the question of who actually pays for the training. At the sprawling Foremen Training Institute in Bengaluru, most trainees are currently training to teach at ITIs themselves. There are some who are being sponsored by their employers; some have signed up for bridge programmes, while for some others, it’s an induction for new jobs. For most, either the government or their employers have paid their fees. Among the students paying for themselves is 30-yearold Naganna from Tumakuru, 70km from Bengaluru. “I am paying 2,000 for a two-week training in electrical,” he says. “I am going to the Gulf after this. My visa application is already being processed.” Naganna adds that he chose the FTI-B because of its training infrastructure and fees, which he thinks


Sougata Roy Choudhury, Director, Skill Development, Confederation of Indian Industry (CII). Opposite page: A practical class at FTI


reasonably priced. Where it makes economic sense to students like Naganna, hurdles like low aspiration to skills training and who should bear the cost of training are easier to overcome. But, of course, skills training has traditionally found few takers in India. Only 4.69 percent of Indian workers have formal skills training, according to data extrapolated by the skills ministry from the 68th round of the National Sample Survey Organisation. Compare this with Germany, where the proportion of workers with formal skills training is 75 percent, and South Korea, where the number is at 96 percent. Between 2013 and 2014 and the first quarter of 2017, only 3.78 million people have been skilled and fewer still have received skill certificates against a target of 500 million youth to be skilled by 2022 set by the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship. “Every year so many candidates sit for the Common Admission Test for business schools. Do they need to be mobilised?” asks Vaidyanathan, a 2005 IIM-A graduate. Creating a similar pull for skills training will need concrete steps to cement the desirability of skilled work as aspirational.


An aspiration problem with multiple components exists. There are both intangible impediments like the prestige associated with higher education compared with lower esteem linked to skills training; and tangible disadvantages such as poorer pay for labour vis-à-vis a white-collar desk job. Asheesh Sharma, joint secretary, Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship, and joint secretary, Directorate General of Training, says, “There is an overreliance on academic achievement in the country… That [lack of aspiration to skilled trades] has been a problem.” The skills ministry is now chipping away at the demand problem by addressing the social perception about skills training and integrating it with formal learning, according to Sharma. One of the ways in which the ministry hopes to address this aspiration gap towards trades, like plumbing, is by offering a chance for ‘academic equivalence’ through the National Institute of Open Schooling. For instance: starting this academic year (2016-17), students who take up a two-year ITI course after eighth grade can enrol for a bridge course and get academic equivalence to a class-10 qualification. And a class-10 student in a two-year vocational training at an ITI can get equivalence to a class-12 certificate after completing a bridge course. There is also an attempt to reach out to students and parents at the school level to raise awareness and aspiration towards vocational training. The National Policy on Skill Development and Entrepreneurship 2015 framework has prescribed that such a network be set up in at least 25 percent of schools by 2020. Sharma says there is also a move to grow the current role of Advanced Training Institutes from simply training people to prepare them in their role as instructors. “True to their name, they will be centres of advanced learning,” says Sharma. “Suppose somebody wants to do an advanced course 88

STARTING 2016-17, STUDENTS WHO COMPLETE A TWO-YEAR ITI COURSE WILL GET ‘ACADEMIC EQUIVALENCE’ in plumbing or in welding, these type of centres are there internationally. In India, ATIs will be offering these courses [learners can become instructors or even practise the skills].” In April, cricketer Sachin Tendulkar appeared in a Skill India 2016 television commercial to support skilling and the dignity of work. Created by Ogilvy India, the advertisement is a conversation between Tendulkar and a carpenter, and it makes three points in just less than 70 seconds. Essentially: it doesn’t matter that the carpenter has only a class-10 qualification; the fact that the carpenter has that in common with Tendulkar; and that they are both good at something. “Carpenter ho ya cricketer, hunar hona zaroori hai (Whether you are a carpenter or a cricketer, it’s important to have skill),” Tendulkar says in the advertisement. However, the commercial fails in one important way: Tendulkar, the cricketer, is still in the role of the benefactor and not as an equal. But it does attempt something quite difficult—challenging perceptions about the desirability of working with one’s hands. In an ideal scenario, children as young as middle-schoolers will be able to enrol for skill programmes; skill certificates will become mandatory and be linked to good pay and social acceptance; and there will be seamless linkages between industry and skill-training institutes. Failure or partial success at addressing the skill question today is unthinkable.

The welding workshop space at FTI. Opposite page: the award-winning alumni of Bosch training centre




… but since this is India, we are still going to get our degrees. Rashmi Bansal meets this breed of students who turned entrepreneurs while still on campus




Top: Mukunda Foods’ has sold over 500 Dosamatic machines, at last count. Opposite page: Eshwar Vikas and Sudeep Sabat, co-founders of Mukunda Foods; the Dosamatic machine at work Previous page: Siddharth Munot, Co-founder, Bewakoof.com

Unlike many of their American counterparts, however, Gupta and Agarwal did not drop out of college. In fact, they ran their venture even as they maintained respectable grades. In their final year, Innovese was selected for the iAccelerator programme (designed to provide start-ups with mentoring, funding and infrastructure support) at IIM Ahmedabad. The company pivoted its business model and was acquired by German publisher Gruner+ Jahr in September 2013. This kind of trajectory is quite common for student entrepreneurs. The younger you start, the more time you have to learn and unlearn. Shashank ND and Abhinav Lal from NIT Surathkal came up with a number of ideas—from a stock market website to software for marriage halls—before they hit upon the one that actually worked: an SMS-based programme to schedule appointments with doctors. By the end of their stint at NIT, the duo had about 10 paying clients. But they also had handsome job offers. It was a leap of faith to tread the path less taken and continue with the business. Practo, their company, eventually received funding from Sequoia Capital and went from strength to strength. In 2014-15, Practo reported over 15 lakh monthly users and about US$4.4 million ( 29.73 crore) in revenues. A majority of start-ups that germinate on engineering campuses are Internet-related. This is because of students’ coding skills and the fact that such ventures need little to no capital. But there are surprising exceptions to this rule. In February 2010,as a third-year student at IIT Bombay,Prabhkiran



n 1983, Michael Dell joined the University of Texas. He discovered that he could take computers apart and put them back together, and make money doing so. Dell realised that an IBM PC costing US$3,000 (now about 2 lakh) contained just US$600 (now about 41,000) worth of parts. The rest was the mark-up. “What if I assemble computer parts and sell directly to the customer?” wondered the then-19-year-old. With US$1,000 (now about 69,000) borrowed from his parents, Dell went into business—which became renowned as Dell Inc—from Room 2713 of the Dobie Center residential building on campus. Word spread and folks were lining up at his doorstep to add internal memory or a disk drive. In a few short months, Dell was earning US$25,000 (now over 17 lakh) per month. The rest, as they say, is history. Dell isn’t a unique example: Facebook, Wordpress, Google, Snapchat and Dropbox are all companies that were conceived and launched by college students from their dorm rooms. But hey—such things happen only in the US, right? Wrong. In the last decade, the trend of students turning entrepreneurs has caught on in India, and more so on residential campuses. Every 17- and 18-year-old in the IITs, NITs and even the remotest engineering colleges knows the ‘E’ word. Entrepreneurship cells organise talks, while incubation centres beckon those with ‘ideas’. These days, all it really takes is a computer and an Internet connection. In his second year at BITS Pilani, Ankit Gupta teamed up with batchmate Neeraj Agarwal to create websites. The duo spent the almost-US$500 ( 35,000) they earned from their first client to lease some servers and began providing web-hosting services. Although they were doing well, there was the itch to do more. So the duo came up with a virtual ‘Slambook’ in February 2010, which garnered 85,000 users in just four months. Later that year, their venture Innovese became one of the first student-run companies to work from the Technology Business (TB) Incubator at their institute. “We used to pull all-nighters for days in a row and frequently went to class directly from TB,” recalls Gupta.











Singh started a business, Khadke gLASSI, selling flavoured lassi from a small counter opposite the college gate with nothing more than some utensils, glasses and a cheap mixer. The campus was abuzz. A month later, The Times of India carried a story titled ‘IITian scores with lassi bar’. The news reached Singh’s parents in Ludhiana—who were not pleased. Over time, the lassi business petered out but Singh teamed up with batchmate Siddharth Munot and launched Bewakoof. com to sell quirky merchandise. Defying conventional wisdom, the duo used a small seed funding to set up their own printing unit. “Outsourcing is more convenient but with our own unit, we can offer better quality and experiment with designs,” says Singh. The brand was built entirely on social media and now boasts sales of over about US$1.4 million (over 10 crore). The founders are confident of touching US$14.5 million ( 100 crore) by 2017. In 2015, Bewakoof.com received angel funding from the founders of Snapdeal but have no plans to raise money from venture capitalists to avoid having to work towards unrealistic, short-term goals. Premier institutes like the IITs, NITs and BITS Pilani are hotbeds for startups but lesser-known colleges are slowly catching up. Eshwar Vikas got his first taste of entrepreneurship, when he set up a food stall at Milan, an annual cultural and sports festival of SRM University, Tamil Nadu. He earned his very first profit here—almost US$440 ( 30,000). Vikas spent a year assisting the CEO of a local SME before the idea of creating a machine to make dosas stayed with him. His classmate Sudeep Sabat joined him at Mukunda Foods. After months of failed experiments, the duo managed to get their contraption to work, the tabletop machine makes dosas automatically at the touch of a button in less than a minute per dosa. The Dosamatic machine won the inventors the top prize at Ventura 2012—the business model competition at NIT Trichy. They also received a grant from their engineering college of about US$2,200 ( 1.5 lakh) as recognition of their efforts, followed by angel funding. After they graduated, Dosamatic operations were moved to Bengaluru, and at last count, the company had sold over 500 machines.

Top: Aruj Garg started Bhukkad as a late-night food joint at National Law School in Bengaluru; food on display at Bhukkad Opposite page: The joint’s hummus beans salad

B-schools are also seeing a surge in start-up activity. For many, the two years spent on campus serve as a time to refine and test ideas. Entering various business plan competitions is one way to get validation and even earn some capital. While at Indian School of Business (ISB), Subramani Ramachandrappa entered his business plan at numerous competitions and won nearly all of them. The prize money covered the cost of his course at ISB (around US$17,500 or 12 lakh, in 2004). Ramachandrappa’s company Richcore Lifesciences, a private equity-funded venture developing animal origin-free protein and enzymes for the biotech industry, now boasts a global customer base. More recently, Zostel, the chain of backpacker hostels, was conceived by seven young entrepreneurs, including four from IIM Calcutta. In 2013-14, the team participated in 11 business plan competitions in India and abroad, winning all of them. Attending (and winning) the Ivey Business Plan Competition in Ontario, Canada, was in itself a lesson in entrepreneurship for them. IIM-C’s Paavan Nanda and Akhil Malik had to raise money for flights, food and lodging in Ontario. They went on to become the first team from outside North America to participate and the first Indian team to win, returning CAD$20,000 (about 10 lakh) richer. Zostel expanded across India, eventually selling out to OYO Rooms in 2016. Everyone is looking for a ‘big idea’ but good ideas are everywhere, and many are based simply on one’s own 95

experience. Take for instance, Anurag Arora, who, when he joined ICFAI Business School in Pune, paid almost US$700 ( 48,000) to join a private hostel. But it was so badly maintained that he moved out after just three days and lost the entire amount. The next year, when the college shifted to a new campus in Hadapsar, Pune, Arora told college authorities that he could help provide accommodation to the student body. He used his own rented apartment to showcase what the ‘hostel’ would look like. With an advance of about US$785 ( 54,000), he rented and furnished several flats for the 75 students who signed up. During his second year, Arora managed his studies and, under Ganpati Facilities, the hostel as well. That year, he had 150 students who signed up. The business looked so promising that he opted out of placement after his MBA and in the next year, earned over US$36,000 ( 25 lakh), a figure that’s five times the average salary a fresh graduate from his college earns! Clearly, one’s batchmates can become customers, if you solve a common pain point. Something that’s also true for Aruj Garg. He started Bhukkad, a late-night food joint on the campus of National Law School, Bengaluru. Learning the ropes of the food business in this manner, he gave up the idea of a law career, and is now taking the venture out into the city. Student entrepreneurs also have the advantage of mentorship by professors. Take, for instance, Professor Sunil Handa, who has been teaching LEM (Laboratory in Entrepreneurial Motivation) at IIM-A since 1992 as visiting faculty. Over 300 of his students have founded their own companies—among them is Narendra Murkumbi of Shree Renuka Sugars, who was named The Economic Times’ ‘Entrepreneur of the Year’ 2010. In the case of technical institutes, some student startups are emerging from research patented by professors. One such successful incubatee at IIT Madras is InnoNano Research. Its water purifier, Amrit (Arsenic and Metal Removal by Indian Technology), has been installed in 750 locations in West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Karnataka. The nanotechnology-based Amrit provides drinking water at a cost of less than five paise per litre to nearly five lakh people. InnoNano, founded by Professor 96

Top: Samay Kohli and Akash Gupta, the brains behind GreyOrange Robotics. Opposite page: Singaporebased GreyOrange Robotics is India’s only warehouse automation solutions provider

T Pradeep from IIT Madras’ Department of Chemistry and his BTech students Anshup, Udhaya Sankar and Amrita Chaudhary, recently secured US$18 million (about 120 crore) in funding from US-based Nanoholdings. Student-led research is also being taken seriously. Santhosh Ravichandran, an MS student in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at IIT Madras, developed a first-of-its kind, turtle-shaped Robotic Underwater Vehicle. The project was supervised by IIT Madras’s Professor Prabhu Rajagopal and has caught the attention of the Indian government’s DRDO (Defence Research Development Organisation). Even just ‘tinkering around’ and doing fun stuff can have a far-reaching impact. Samay Kohli created a humanoid robot called AcYut back in 2007, when he was a student at BITS Pilani. Along with Akash Gupta, a junior at the institute, he represented India in robotics competitions across 13 countries and won the gold medal at the RoboGames (formerly ROBOlympics) in San Francisco in 2009. The duo now runs GreyOrange Robotics, which provides automated solutions to manage warehouses for e-commerce and logistics companies. It was founded in 2011, and is now headquartered in Singapore. The company has been funded by Tiger Global and Blume Ventures and is the only player in the warehouse automation market in India. Its clients include Flipkart, Jabong, GoJavas, Delhivery, Aramex, Mahindra and DTDC. Things were very different a decade ago, when Sanjay Vijayakumar and his classmate Vivek Francis started a venture selling recharge coupons on their campus. Later, they teamed up with three other classmates from the College




Top: Anurag Arora of Ganpati Facilities. Opposite page: The printing and manufacturing unit of Bewakoof.com, the quirky merchandise brand run by Prabhkiran Singh and Siddharth Munot

FreeCharge, Freshdesk, Citrus Pay and Tally Solutions. An interesting story is that of Varghese George, Sidharth Nair, Renjith Warrier and Rakhul Prakash from Sree Chitra Thirunal College of Engineering in Thiruvananthapuram. The team built Z-Pay, a mobile-based payment solution for small merchants, during their six-month stint at Startup Village. They were acqui-hired [when a larger company acquires a start-up team that has a good idea but is unable to raise funding or take it to the market] and now work for Clustr, a company incubated by Tally. Clustr can also be called a ‘student startup’, as its idea was born in a Northwestern University college dormitory. Nupur Goenka (whose father Bharat Goenka is the founder of Tally Solutions) and Sushant Goel wanted to make insights from big data available to small businesses. But instead of taking the easy path, she decided to seek out a new challenge with Clustr. A student enterprise is a quest to learn, to grow, to push the boundaries. As students, you might do it because your girlfriend ditched you, because you want to change the world, because you just want to earn pocket money, or because you want to work towards paying off your university loan. But once you’ve created something from nothing, it will never be the same. You are now a seeker, a doer, a problem-solver; a powerful being, a gift to the world.


of Engineering, Trivandrum to launch Torque, one of the first campus start-ups in India incubated by the Department of Science and Technology in 2005. Torque went on to become MobME Wireless Solutions, received funding from Kris Gopalakrishnan of Infosys and became the youngest of the NASSCOM 100 IT Innovators in 2007. This was possible only with the supportive attitude of the principal, HOD and professors, who allowed leeway in implementing certain rules and regulations. “In my final year, I had zero attendance,” recalls Vijayakumar. “But I was granted ‘90 percent attendance’ and allowed to write the university exams.” Inspired by former president Dr Abdul Kalam, the MobME team partnered with the Kerala Government and Technopark, Trivandrum to launch Startup Village in Kochi. It was conceived as a publicprivate partnership to recreate the culture of Silicon Valley. Set up in April 2012, Startup Village has physically and virtually incubated more than 500 start-ups in Kerala. Interestingly, the state is also the first to formulate a ‘student entrepreneur policy’, which allows for relaxation in attendance rules as well as training, mentoring and setting up of incubators. With a surge in campus start-ups across the country, Startup Village decided to scale up as SV.CO, a digital learning platform backed by organisations such as Gujarat University and JNTU, Andhra Pradesh. It has received an overwhelming response. “Over 10,000 students from 26 states applied for the January 2017 batch,” says Vijayakumar, who also serves as chairman. “The entire ecosystem—from students, leading companies both large and small, and government frameworks— are coming together to support student entrepreneurship and make it mainstream in India.” While Facebook is the official host for the top 50 student teams of the #StartinCollege campaign at Silicon Valley, Paytm has set up 30 scholarships for students. What’s more, the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) is working on a ‘Start-up Policy’ to lend support to student-led companies, in the larger context of Startup India. The pilot batch of SV.CO in September 2015 saw three students building their own start-ups, while 12 students went to work with leading start-ups such as Ola,








A young generation of new-age farmers are cultivating varieties of super exotic vegetables and fruit that until recently were being imported into India. By Roshni Bajaj Sanghvi


colour. Also available: mizuna, mibuna, komatsuna (mustardy, peppery Japanese leafy greens), tatsoi (a Chinese leafy green from the cabbage family), baby pak choi, red pak choi, purple carrots, yellow carrots, purple corn, cherry radish, 10 varieties of microgreens and petites. Naveen said the idea of zero-pesticide food is what convinced him to venture into the farming sector, and a visit to Delhi’s wholesale Azadpur Mandi made him realise that people are ignorant of what’s going into their produce. First Agro is one of a growing clutch of India’s agricultural businesses cultivating crops that are foreign to India’s fields—what farmers call “super exotics,” food plant varieties that aren’t native to India and have never been grown here before—at least not with much success. And they’re building viable, fast-growing businesses in the process. Samar Gupta of Trikaya Agriculture, one of the first farms to grow broccoli in India, has farms in the Konkan, Pune and Ooty. Trikaya’s farms now harvest 40 little-known varieties such as rainbow and Swiss chard, celeriac, romanesco, galangal, Thai eggplant, five kinds of mint, oval kumquat nagami and round kumquat meiwa, perilla, sapote and a whole bunch of edible flowers. In Patan Kala, Rajasthan, at the 40-acre Organic Acres, owner Ayesha Grewal harvests three kinds of kale (dinosaur,



hat’s in growing bhaji? Let’s do something in IT or analytics.” That’s what Californiabased Naveen MV said to his brother Nameet Modekurti in 2009, when the latter spoke about starting a vegetable farm in India. For 27 years until then, Naveen had been in the Americas and the APAC region as vice president and business unit head of Hewlett-Packard and iGATE Global Solutions. “To be honest, I was a high-flying guy,” he admits. As was Nameet, in fact, as a Vancouver-based pilot. One of his colleagues had greenhouses, and Nameet’s visits to them planted the seed of an entrepreneurial idea that would bring the brothers back home to India. Today, their company First Agro Tech Produce grows over 147 varieties of vegetables, herbs, lettuces and exotic vegetables on a zero-pesticide farm in the Cauvery Cluster, three hours from Bengaluru. Their catalogue features 30 varieties of chilli peppers including Peruvian ones such as aji rocoto, aji amarillo, and aji panca as well as other Central and South American varieties such as ancho, poblano and habanero. One of their bestselling products, the Italian San Marzano tomato is among 32 varieties of the fruit grown by them—most of which have never been cultivated in India before—including one variety called Midnight Blue for its

Co-founders of First Agro Tech Produce, brothers Naveen MV and Nameet Modekurti. Opposite page: First Agro Tech Produce’s farm in Karnataka; the farm produces 147 varieties of vegetables, herbs and more. Previous pages: exotic vegetables; Another view of First Agro Tech Produce’s farm


geography, ecology and microclimates through an innovative lens. They grow this produce for local consumption, selling both to large hotels and through their own stores to educate customers and create a retail market. At First Agro, an integrated pest-and-disease management system uses insects, bio-derived neem oil and garlic along with pheromone insect traps. Horse, cow and poultry compost manure maintain the soil’s microenvironment and fertility. Through their online store Sakura Fresh (www.sakurafresh.com), First Agro delivers their produce to households across Bengaluru. “In a conventional farm, a kilo of cucumber takes 15-20 litres of water to grow,” says Naveen. “At First Agro, [owing to 100-percent drip irrigation practices], it takes just five-six litres.” (Drip irrigation is the practise of letting water drip into the roots of plants through a network of pipes and emitters instead of flooding the fields where vegetables are grown). He shares more numbers to emphasize the importance and urgency of developments in agriculture: as per Euromonitor, India is expected to have a population of 1.5 billion by 2030. Although there’s no reliable estimate of the number of farmers in India (a 2011 census report put the figure at 118 million), reports indicate that 1,000-2,000 are leaving the


red- and white-stemmed); 13 varieties of lettuce; golden, white and Chioggia beetroot; yellow, watermelon and black radish; choy sum and chrysanthemum greens; artichokes; edible and oil-yielding olives; and fennel, among many other vegetables, commonly referred to as ‘super exotics’. ‘Super exotics’ are so called to distinguish them from mere ‘exotics’—broccoli, zucchini, iceberg, pak choi, red and yellow capsicum and a dozen others—that have now become indigenised and mainstream, grown across the country and available at every mandi and bhajiwala as ‘English vegetables’. With this new vintage, the varieties available are exponentially larger and astonishing in the breadth and depth of their diversity. Fasiam Agro Farms in Srinagar, owned and run by Dr Gazalla Amin, grows lavender. Farms in Sikkim are growing Hass and Fuerte avocados. In Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Kerala, Pinkerton, Pollock, Trapp and other varieties of avocados are being harvested. Farmers in Ladakh have found success with capers. Across the country, in Shekhawati, Jaisalmer, Pokhran, Uttarakhand and Andhra Pradesh, quinoa is enriching Indian farmers’ profits. In many cases, these are first-generation farmers— like Nameet and Naveen—and they bring a professional perspective to a high-risk business, looking at India’s diverse

First Agro’s farm is tended to by locals. Opposite page: sowing and planting at First Agro’s farm; varieties of maize

sector every day. “You can’t go wrong with this business,” says Naveen, “people have to eat!” The company has about 1,000 acres across four locations in Karnataka and plans to expand to 4,000 acres. Before Grewal became a farmer with Organic Acres, she worked in a consulting firm and then started her own NGO, which provided finance to sustainable, renewable rural development. “Smaller rural farmers are risk averse,” she says. “If a crop fails, it means their family won’t be eating that season.” She worked with these farmers to grow ‘super exotics’ and ‘exotics’, providing them with seedlings and promising to buy every last gram of the crops that they yield. “Farmers in villages may start growing broccoli with the help of an NGO, but when they want to sell it themselves, it’s looked at as a freak vegetable, ‘hara gobhi’.” With Organic Acres, Grewal studies market trends and viability. “I look at what’s lacking in the market and I grow it,” she says. When produce doesn’t take off, like the rainbow carrots she tried one year, she takes it back, reduces the size of the crop and makes it available at The Altitude Store, her farm’s retail outlet on Lodhi Road in New Delhi. “The idea is to educate the customer and create demand,” says Grewal. “In that way, the farm and the store are perfectly symbiotic.”

Trikaya Agriculture’s Gupta is a second-generation farmer; his father Ravi Gupta, founder of Trikaya Advertising (now Grey India), was a weekend farmer who started growing lesser-known veggies on his family farm in the 1990s. The senior Gupta bought land in Talegaon, where the current farm is, to ensure irrigation and to expand the business. In the beginning, even sourcing seeds was a task. Gupta’s father would bring back seed catalogues in his suitcase when he travelled abroad for work, which gave Trikaya Agriculture an advantage. Gupta points out that simply having an Internet connection can give anyone with an inclination access to seed websites. For years no Indian farmers were seen at Bangkok’s Chatuchak Market, when Samar went shopping for exotic seeds. On his tenth visit, he recalls, there was a pancha-wearing farmer from Andhra Pradesh negotiating with sellers. In fact, the Maharashtra Nurserymen Association recently sent 96 of its members on a sourcing trip to the market in Thailand. Members paid about US$1,470 ( 1 lakh) each for the excursion. “I meet more nursery friends there than I meet in India,” says Gupta. “In this business, if you are not running really fast, you’ll get run over. There is a massive market pull. It’s very different from how things used to be even three years ago.” 105






grape growers have, in recent decades, identified Nashik, and parts of Karnataka as viable growing regions, comparable to California.) “When people in Mumbai say that their berries are coming from very far—all the way from Ooty—I remind them that not long ago, they came from Europe,” he says. Like any other entrepreneur, good farmers need to be adaptable, and learn via a challenging process of trial and error. Here’s one case study: Trikaya Agriculture has had a 26-year tryst with avocados. Gupta points out that the fruit arrived in India with the British. Because they germinate easily and since Ooty and Coonoor provided a fertile home, avocado trees of a common, wild, low-fat (eight percent) variety grew in abundance in the region. Harvesters would simply pluck them off the trees, toss them into gunny sacks, toss those into a truck and let it trundle along to the city, where they were scattered onto the ground in a heap, amidst lots of other fruit. It’s anyone’s guess how those avocado looked and tasted. Gupta had the idea to grow and harvest avocados in an organised and respectful manner. In 1990, he made an “amateur attempt to plant seedlings with no Internet or information, no hobbyists’ group, and before the US was as sophisticated”. It failed. In 2000, with the Internet boom and resulting access to information, Gupta wondered if people


Much of what was earlier considered ‘exotic’ in vegetables and imported is now homegrown. Indian farmers have achieved this simply by browsing seed catalogues online and purchasing the quantities they need, both from banks and collectors here and abroad (with licences and imported via the customs department). Then, they tend to and nurture them here until those yield the first-generation of locally grown seeds. These may be hybridised to specifically help them adapt to local conditions, using them for future planting cycles and to build in-house seed banks. Fortunately, local conditions—in terms of specific geography and resulting microclimates—are vastly varied across India and ready to be tapped. This is why farmers in India are able to grow tropical fruit through Konkan winters, where there are no cold nights, and grow basil in Pune’s summers at 2,000ft above sea level, moving production to the sea-level balminess of the Konkan as temperatures dip. Blueberries and raspberries rail against Pune’s conditions but thrive in Ooty. Thanks to infrastructure improvements like longer cold chains and better irrigation and drainage systems, farmers like Gupta are able to identify unique locations for their farms across the country, locations that would draw parallels to the native growing regions of these exotics. (Much like wine

A number of herbs at Trikaya Agriculture’s nursery. Opposite page: another view of Trikaya’s nursery. Previous pages: A view of Trikaya Agriculture’s farm in Pune

would begin to appreciate avocados, now a wildly popular ‘superfood’ that global hipsters were enjoying. So he visited some farmers in the US, bought a stick from an avocado plant for a dollar and grafted it onto one of his trees. It turned out he had planted the tree in the wrong kind of plot, something he realised when he shared photos on farmer forums online. Avocados need soil with excellent drainage. In 2001, when Gupta found the right kind of plot, he planted two trees each of 20-25 cultivars (a plant variant produced by selective breeding). An avocado tree takes three to four years to fruit, so it was only by 2005 that he was able to identify six cultivars that responded well. In that year, he planted 150 trees of each of those six cultivars. Among them is the celebrated Haas variety, with a fat content of 23-26 percent. “It’s like drinking super skimmed milk versus full-fat milk,” says Gupta about Haas compared to the wild variety. In 2013, Trikaya Agriculture had its first proper harvest and sold 700kg of the fruit. This year, the same trees are expected to produce 4.5 tonnes of fruit and still sell out, with each fruit at a third of the price of the imported variety. Gupta says this should not deter aspiring farmers—fruit orchards need tending like babies, becoming productive as they mature. For leafy vegetables, a farmer needs only two-four months to introduce a new variety.

As of now, Trikaya Agriculture grows 150-plus varieties of vegetables, flowers, and fruit, and employs one person per acre. The set up is efficient because labour is relatively affordable in India, more affordable than mechanisation at least. Eventually the earning potential and know-how of these professional, urban, exotic-growing farmers trickles down to the common farmer, as the supply and demand for such produce grows. “Now, red cabbage is grown [no longer by us but] by the common lungi-wearing farmer,” says Gupta. “These farmers figure out that growing these varieties is not too hard; the learning curve has already been achieved by urban, professional farmers.” More medium and small farmers attempt to grow them, and succeed. Trikaya, First Agro and Organic Acres, aren’t only making working on farms cool again for their employees, they’re first-movers—early adopters even, to use a tech term—setting an example for subsequent entrepreneurial farmers, providing them with experience and ideas. Eventually, with these farmers’ persistent efforts, India gets international produce that is in fact locally grown. It travels shorter distances, is fresher, more responsibly and efficiently grown, closer to the source, and therefore more traceable and less likely to spoil, tied into the philosophy of ‘farm to fork’. It 109





volumes are coming mainly from home deliveries. “In the West, if you spoke about figures like that, they’d fall off their chairs,” says Gupta. Institutional buyers, such as hotels, are the keenest lot, because their customer, the well-travelled, food-television watching young Indian with disposable income is a more adventurous and demanding diner than ever before. This produce is stuff that the diner recognises, has probably sampled, and wants available at Indian restaurants and in the produce aisle. “It’s a green revolution we’re speaking about here,” says Anupam Banerjee, executive chef at The Ritz-Carlton, Bangalore. “As a farmer, you have to be persistent with your passion because there are bound to be failures. You are dependent on the seasons—if it rains unexpectedly one night or if the sun is a bit too strong on one day, your crop could be ruined.” Banerjee has previously worked, and earned Michelin stars, at Mandarin Oriental’s properties in London and Geneva. Since he moved to India three years ago, his purchases of exotics for the hotel have grown by 50 percent. About the super exotic produce he buys locally, he says, “It tastes as good as the produce I have tasted abroad, if not even better.” If ever there was a testament required, then this is it.


reduces food wastage, and it has a smaller carbon footprint. It’s a win-win-win-win for everyone—from farmer to foodie. In the last year, First Agro sold 1.8 tonnes of garlic chives. And in the last season alone, 15 tons of San Marzano tomatoes grown on their farms have made it to hotels, restaurants and our dining tables. While there is no official industry data available yet, perhaps because this sub-sector is so nascent, Nameet is able to approximate a growth trend using the example of San Marzano tomato, the finest saucing variety, and its puree, for pastas and pizzas. Of the 140-plus luxury hotel properties in India—his primary customers—about 50 have Italian restaurants. Each of which needs 15-20 litres of tomato puree each week i.e. 1,000 litres weekly for 50 restaurants, which equals 4,000 litres per month. The imported variety is canned, ordered in bulk, stored for months in supplier warehouses. In the last three years, First Agro’s production of San Marzanos has grown enough to regularly provide 1,000 litres of fresh puree on a monthly basis, made on their farm, a steady supply and ready to use immediately. Gupta predicts that this market will grow 30 to 40 percent year on year. And the market seems to agree. A large national supermarket chain selling exotics disclosed to Gupta that they are growing at the rate of 40 percent year on year, and their

On-ground activities to move fresh produce at Trikaya. Opposite page: packaging of berries and vegetables begins at the farm to avoid delays. Previous pages: sowing of plants in progress; blackberries grown at Trikaya’s Pune farm



Over the last decade, mothers-to-be, mothers and infants have become a focused target for a host of enterprises. Smriti Lamech chews on some numbers, teething issues and ďŹ rst steps that baby-focused brands experience in India 115


n October 15 last year, FirstCry, a predominantly one of the most crucial periods for being product intensive. baby products e-retailer, bought maternity This is due to the short lifespan of each period, which results and childcare retail business BabyOye from in a limited use of certain products. Plus, hand-me-downs and Mahindra & Mahindra (M&M) for approximately age-old advices are almost completely ignored, as modern US$54 million ( 362.1 crore) in a primarily stock- lifestyles have made some products crucial and irreplaceable. plus-cash deal. In February 2015, M&M had bought Maternity wear, breast pumps, diapers, nursing pillows, baby BabyOye and subsequently, rebranded its Mom&Me retail wraps, bathtubs (that evolve with age), front-and-back facing stores to BabyOye. Prior to this, in April 2013, BabyOye had car seats, strollers, bouncy chairs, educational toys, sippers, acquired Hoopos.com in an all-stock deal for an undisclosed packaged food, mommy and baby classes... The list is endless. amount. All this consolidation highlights the fact that such Technopak Advisors, a market research and consultancy businesses are no longer ‘baby’ businesses; they are growing firm, estimated the branded children’s clothing market at up and growing fast. US$5.57 billion (about 37,300 crore) in 2011. According to If there is anything a country with a population The Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India of 1.3 billion knows, it is how to make babies. It wouldn’t (ASSOCHAM), in a paper titled Growing Market for Branded be far from the truth to say that it is what we make Kids-wear in India, the market stood at US$10.75 billion ( 72,000 crore) in December 2014 and is estimated fastest. And this is what businesses and marketeers to grow at a compound annual growth rate are milking for all that it’s worth. The spurt (CAGR) of 20 percent to US$14.18 billion of enterprises that have mushroomed ( 95,000 crore) in 2016. in the last decade offering products A fact that Mohita and Manu and services (children’s apparel, Indrayan, founders of 612 League, accessories, footwear, sporting were made aware of years ago. goods, sports coaching, food The couple were shopping and publishing) is indicative for their own children and of a huge potential market opportunity. found the Indian market A June 2016 Goldman lacking in smart, affordable Sachs report, India kidswear. They decided to Consumer Close Up: bridge the industry gap and Tapping the spending together, with her NIFT power of a young, education and his IIM connected Urban Mass degree, set up their apparel points out that the sheer size brand, which is “imagined of India’s youth comprises in India, international in 440 million millennials and outlook”. The Indrayans had Slurrp Farm Cookies Previous pages: 390 million Gen Z teens and to develop their model from Shumee by Meeta Sharma Gupta, children who will “pave the way scratch. Their challenges included makes eco-friendly, non-toxic, wooden for India’s consumer story to be a poor distribution network, localised toys like this Rainbow Snail Puzzle one of the world’s most compelling markets, and the fact that children in the next 20 years”. The company (from six to 12 years of age; their target believes that India’s Urban Mass, currently at group) outgrow clothing very quickly. Still, they 129 million (and expected to increase in size and income) have expanded from four-sale points at the time of launch makes up a workforce equivalent to 10 percent of the to 450 points this year. What spurred their growth was the metamorphosis of the population and earning an average of about US$3,200 ( 2.2 lakh), “will be the key driver of India’s consumption Indian retail industry that took place during this time. Manu story in the coming five to 10 years”. also attributes the boom to “the narrowing of the lag between There are many factors that result in Gen X spending so international trends and the Indian market thanks to the much on children and childcare. Some of them are: a resilient Internet, and the increasing spend of disposable income on and growing economy; growing affluence owing to double kids, due to dual income households.” incomes; indulgence that arises as a consequence of having The Internet is responsible for the growth of a lot of baby children later in life; guilt on account of lack of quality brands and services, as is evident from the rapid growth of time with children; nuclear families; parental aspirations, Mycity4kids.com. It started merely as a listings site but has etc, in addition to growing media exposure and brand become the largest online platform of its kind, hosting blogs, consciousness among children. And Gen Y will just see more contests and video content. With over 1,800 bloggers bringing of the same. These demographic and consumer trends offer in 85 percent of the traffic and 200 experts advising young business opportunities to meet increasing demand. From the parents, the site fulfils the role of nani-dadi in a nuclear family. pregnancy stage until the child reaches five years of age is “We no longer raise our kids as we were,” says Vishal Gupta,




co-founder and MD of the Gurgaon-based portal. “The flow of knowledge is horizontal—no longer handed down the generations—because mums trust other mums.” However, the Indian market is still unwilling to pay for content, which is why their revenue model is advertising-driven. Gupta says, “We’ve estimated that the advertising spend behind the mothers’ demographic (25-45 years) is US$5.22 billion ( 35,000 crore). The woman in the house is a gatekeeper to three markets—her children, her home and her personal needs.” The website’s advertising spend for digital amounts to 10 percent, which is about US$500 million (about 3,430 crore). Other numbers include reaching out to four million unique mums in a month, while 6.5 million mums regularly visit the site on a monthly basis. The numbers add up to a reach of over 80 percent of Indian mothers on (and via) Facebook. As a result, the venture has bagged tie-ups with Johnson & Johnson and Dettol, appropriating a large amount of the spend that goes towards the maternal community. Gupta says that in the next four to five years, the digital spend will go up from US$500 million (about 3,430 crore) to US$2 billion (about 13,700 crore), while the ad spend is likely to increase by 22 percent. On the other end of the spectrum is Bharat Gulia, Co-founder of Eddy Tablets, a game-based interactive learning solution for children from the ages of two to 10 years. Gulia is attempting to have parents invest in content. “Learning is a huge market, in India, especially in the early impressionable years. If you can deliver ways for kids to learn better, at an affordable cost, it has unlimited potential. Asian economies view education as an investment. They will buy their child two outfits less but will invest in education. From the middle class upwards, everyone is open to spending on education,” says Gulia. His own opportunity came in 2012 when tablets were introduced and the constraint of a keyboard was done away with, bringing computing power closer to children. He found a set of people who believed in his idea, opted for angel funding, and launched in January 2014. Priced at about US$117 ( 7,999) onwards, Eddy Tablets provide educational content, are password protected, can be monitored through parental controls and ensure a safe digital experience. Although built harder, stronger and safer than a regular tablet, the usage is very specific and Gulia says there is resistance among some Indian parents, who are wary of buying personal devices for their children aged two-10 years (compared to the West where one-third children of the same age group own their own devices). Gulia, however, perceives this as an opportunity of a developing market rather than 118

Creepy doll and sippers/bottles by FirstCry or Amishi Life?


a challenge. “You could pump in money and distort the timeline but we’d rather not do that. We can see it taking direction; any new category takes at least seven-eight years to develop.” And when it does, Eddy Tablets will be there to cash in on it, with their first mover advantage. A big business opportunity, however, is not what drives Shalini Ahuja Agarwal of Safe Baby, India’s first professional baby- and childproofing service. Agarwal moved back from the US with her 13-monthold son to a regular Indian household with stairways, sharp corners and non-stop activity. Her wake-up call came when her son was scalded by hot tea. The lack of awareness and safety products in India led Agarwal to research extensively until she launched her venture, which gained the support of the medical community too. Agarwal quotes a study published in the Indian Journal of Pediatrics earlier this year, which reported that nearly two-thirds of injured children are below five years of age. Although Safe Baby’s services are priced affordably—a consultation is priced at about US$22 ( 1,500)—many parents are unwilling to pay for what they consider a frippery, an indulgence that the paranoid West has spawned. As a result, her largest customers are schools and day-care centres. Her venture looks into every aspect of a child’s safety—from surveying and baby-proofing homes to holding workshops on child safety awareness. Some of these workshops are held in Hindi, for caregivers, teaching them safety as well as first aid, realising that they are often the first at hand. “Sadly, people only come to us after a child has been severely injured. A few other such baby-proofing companies have sprung up after we launched in 2011, but I don’t mind because I’d rather see the awareness grow and more children safe.” It was from a similarly altruistic place that Meghana Narayan and Shauravi Malik’s Slurrp Farm, a health and organic food brand for children, emerged. Malik says, “We want to drive a real change in the health food market by creating a bottom-up market for this. We fundamentally believe that we need to change

“WE’VE ESTIMATED THAT THE ADVERTISING SPEND BEHIND THE MOTHERS’ DEMOGRAPHIC (25-45 YEARS) IS US$5.22 BILLION” –Vishal Gupta, Co-founder & MD, Mycity4kids.com Children’s apparel from Mohita and Manu Indrayan’s venture, 612 League



the way we eat as a society. Not little tweaks which are about premiumisation of the baby products market is a concern and replacing one ingredient with another. The notion that drives as a result, Amishi Life’s TG is the US$30,000 ( 20 lakh-plus) income households, who might otherwise be depending on us is that we need to eat like our grandparents did.” Health-conscious young women, who went on to become brand such as Chicco India and Pigeon India. While India is health-conscious mothers, got tired of asking friends, who a cost-conscious market, parents are willing to spend during were returning from international travels, to carry back the period that spans pregnancy and early years, for what is good-quality baby foods and decided to create it themselves. essentially a short but sensitive stage. This is a fact corroborated by Meeta Sharma Gupta, It doesn’t hurt that the market for infant formula and cereals alone is estimated to be at US$373 million ( 2,500 crore), founder of Shumee, a brand of eco-friendly, non-toxic, wooden growing at two percent annually (according to a Euromonitor toys. Gupta, a mother of two boys, searched for toys that report, released in February 2016, on the packaged food encouraged free play and imagination, and that didn’t need to industry in India), in a country of increasingly nuclear and be imported. Having just moved back from the US, where her double-income families, where elder son preferred wooden toy trains homemade baby food is a luxury. to battery-run toys, she knew what Narayan and Malik came up with she wanted and set out to make them. recipes that their grandmothers used Finding suitable manufacturers was to feed them. They incorporated the only challenge and she is thrilled commonly used items such as ragi, to have one each in Karnataka, moong, maize and mango, effectively Gujarat and Tamil Nadu, so that cutting out the argument most her products cash in on a variety of desis use (i.e. it can’t be safer and handcrafted traditions and skills. more nutritious than what grandma Gupta quotes the Euromonitor makes). Slurrp Farm’s current range report and shares some of their own comprises breakfast and snack analysis, which estimates the Indian options for children, using natural toy market at US$2-3 billion (about 13,700-20,600 crore) and growing at a and organic ingredients, priced CAGR of 20-25 percent. It is expected US$4.5 ( 300) onwards (that serves 10 or more meals). In the pipeline to hit US$6-9 billion ( 41,000-62,000 crore) by 2021. However, the market are pre-natal, post-natal, nutrition is largely unbranded and fragmented, and energy options for the young as with the branded toy segment making well as the elderly. up about 30 percent of the market Even then, Slurrp Farm isn’t at best, with Funskool and Mattel looking to be stocked in the dominating (between US$ 15-30 premium segment of the market. million or 100-200 crore). “When a customer holds a Slurrp Eddy Tablets, a game-based interactive learning solution by What makes it a good time to be in Farm product in their hand, we want Bharat Gulia e-commerce is the fact that the brickthem to feel tremendously proud of and-mortar market is fragmented. holding a beautiful ‘Made in India’ Each one of the founders agrees that product. We don’t need to import food for our children from elsewhere. Our goal was to convey there is significant growth potential for omnichannel brands a sense of value for money to the customer—it looks world and networks like FirstCry i.e. by building an online as well class, has a global identity, yet incorporates Indian traditional as offline model. Says Supam Maheshwari, Founder and CEO, FirstCry, recipes and is priced sensitively,” says Malik. Their desire to create awareness across the board seems to be working as “When we began, the market was unorganised and customers they excitedly talk of orders via Amazon being shipped out to did not have easy access to world-class brands or even enough variety and good-quality products. We observed that Indian smaller cities across India such as Ernakulam and Kota. Another mother bringing safer options to children, Malika parents largely preferred buying offline, which gave us great Datt Sadani had her epiphany when she moved back to India inspiration to adopt the hybrid model. We were determined from the US. Her elder daughter had atopic eczema, requiring to create a niche ecosystem by providing a well-integrated products that Sadani never faced trouble sourcing during physical (with over 300 offline and mobile stores) as well as their years abroad. She was then forced to request and rely on an online option via our e-store.” And so, perhaps it wouldn’t be inaccurate to say that other friends who were travelling internationally. Until she decided to launch Amishi Life, a safe and natural pregnancy and baby- than babies, what India also does well, is take the best practices from the world over, incorporate traditional knowledge and care product brand, slated to release in early 2017. Her husband and co-founder Mohit Sadaani says that the customise made-in-India solutions for new generations.






Clockwise from top left: Fresh fish sourced by The Fish Chain; Mallikarjun Reddy G, Founder, EcoFarm; staff at Golden Farm; an electric bike created by Ampere; Coimbatore’s iconic Lakshmi Narasimhar Temple; Naveen Chander of The Fish Chain; tyres at Ampere

COIMBATORE It may not figure on India’s list of metros but Coimbatore is increasingly becoming home to a number of homegrown entrepreneurs across industries and social interests, reports Ramnath Subbaraman Photographs by Arjun Menon



uch has been said about Coimbatore’s entrepreneurs. One story dates back to the time when the best textile machinery in India came from Europe. However, a businessman eschewed conventional advice and turned to Japan, even though, at the time, Japanese products were considered shoddy. It was during his visit to the Far Eastern nation that he realised that the country’s narrative was going to change and its products would soon be synonymous with high quality. Eventually, he not only imported the machinery but also some techniques he learned there. His instincts paid off and his business became a huge success. The man behind the decision was GK Devarajulu and his venture, Lakshmi Machine Works. Yet another anecdote, albeit apocryphal, is that of an owner of a leading textile retail chain. His son wanted to enrol for an MBA before joining the family business. However, the owner decided to send him to a shop for some on-the-job learning, under a sincere sales supervisor. The son found the decision demeaning but went along with it. When he made an inconsequential error and was reprimanded, the young scion, upset with the way he was treated, rushed to his father to have the staff fired immediately. The old man listened, then wrote a couple of notes and asked his son to deliver them to the staff in question. They were not pink slips. Instead, they were apologies to the manager and supervisor, promising better behaviour from his son. The incident became the scion’s first lesson in business. These stories represent two strands of entrepreneurship that define Coimbatore. One is a belief in entrepreneurial instincts, a tendency to go against the grain and the willingness to take risks. And the other is a belief in conservatism that swears by the wisdom of doing things the old way, a tendency to take one step at a time and the willingness to make ambition subservient to stability and humility. The two—sometimes conflicting but often complementing— values have made the city a unique and flourishing economic hub with its own distinct character. “It’s very underrated,” says Sena Palanisami, a San Francisco-based technology veteran, whose company ViSolve has an offshore development centre in Coimbatore. He adds, “If you hear an automobile horn, it’s probably made in Coimbatore. Your t-shirt was probably made in a neighbouring town 30 miles away. Pump sets, wet grinders, auto spare parts… the list is long.” Palanisami’s venture is an example of new economy businesses that have gravitated to the city in recent times. It is among several IT and BPO companies (IBM, TCS, Cognizant, Wipro, Robert Bosch, etc) that have set up shop in the city, drawn by the relatively cheaper costs and the quantum of talent in colleges in and around the city. It’s out of this mix of diverse sectors—manufacturing, agriculture and services—that a new generation of start-ups has emerged. They reflect the same diversity, benefit from entrepreneurial camaraderie (the tendency of entrepreneurs helping each other out, even as they compete for the customer and resources) and are shaped by the same twin strands of entrepreneurial aggression and a conservatism that sees businesses not merely as a vehicle to make money. Hemalatha Annamalai, who founded Ampere Vehicles, which makes electric vehicles for personal and business mobility markets, says making money is just the byproduct of doing business. She studied engineering at Government College of Technology in Coimbatore, joined Wipro, spent a few years in Australia, got a B-degree from RMIT University in Melbourne and founded her first company, an HR Consulting firm called Uni Connect, in Singapore in 1998. Doing her MBA, she said, broadened her outlook about business. When she decided to set up Ampere in Sulur, a suburb



Sunil Tukrel’s company Untumble is a design factory for theme party supplies. Opposite page: Kiran Madhav, EcoSystem Manager for Forge Innovation Accelerator


Electric bikes at Hemalatha Annamalai’s Coimbatorebased Ampere Vehicles Opposite page: Ampere’s shop floor


in Coimbatore, her priorities were clear. The company would build a product with multiple applications, and that through her company, she would empower women. In the early days of Ampere, when a factory manager said it was a bad idea to hire women because “they took leave and their productivity tended to be low”, she fired him. Presently, over 30 percent of Ampere’s 120-strong workforce are women and a majority are from neighbourhoods within walking distances. “They all do a fantastic job,” says Annamalai, who aims to increase the ratio of women in her workshop to more than 50 percent in the future. Annamalai’s venture deals heavily in technology. When she studied the electric vehicle market, it had already gone through one hype cycle. She realised that the entry of many businessmen who merely saw it as a trading opportunity had caused some damage to the product category. They paid no attention to technology—an electric vehicle is a complex product at the intersection of chemistry, electronics, mechanical engineering and material sciences—or to good service, a key for any automobile. With Ampere, she wanted to avoid both mistakes. Right from the beginning, Ampere invested in technology and R&D. However, for nearly one and a half years, it tried to break into the regular petrol two-wheeler market, only to realise that the venture needed to create its own segment. Among consumers (i.e. youth and women), and for industries, a range of vehicles including a threewheeler called Trishul (which works like a Segway) was put in use, especially on textile shop floors where employees would have to walk kilometres between machinery. In another part of the city, another entrepreneurial duo is attempting to solve a supply-chain problem. Naveen Chander and Rajiv Jagadeesh run The Fish Chain. They observed that landlocked cities such as Coimbatore did not have access to fresh seafood (plus, the variety was limited) because the supply chain was almost nonexistent. Over six months of research and troubleshooting, Chander and Jagadeesh travelled to landing docks to speak to fishermen and traders. The duo began building a strong network with fishermen and worked with them for logistics. Then, they turned to the front-end—the shops—especially since they are associated with shouting, odour and general chaos; none of them positive attributes. “We wanted to change that,” says Chander. The founders have ensured that The Fish Chain’s branches in Coimbatore, Ooty and Bengaluru are clean, well-organised and have pamphlets that educate customers about new fish varieties, nutritional values and recipes. They also work with hotels “not merely as suppliers but as partners who understand their business needs well. We have also helped them in organising a sea-food festival”. Chander adds that it is important to “first create the demand for your product and then work on other matters such as consumer technology”. The Fish Chain currently uses WhatsApp to share price information and also offers limited delivery services in the cities, where they have outlets. They also plan to expand to Hyderabad and Chennai. “One of our surprising discoveries is that the fresh seafood demand is not limited to landlocked cities but also to coastal ones such as Chennai,” adds Chander. “It’s about time and convenience. Currently the system is inefficient and that’s what we are trying to fix.” In the same vein, two other entrepreneurs in Coimbatore are attempting to solve inefficiencies in the farming sector using technology. In essence, Abhilash Thirupathy and Karthic Ravindranath are pooling in their efforts to build an Uber for farm mechanisation equipment. It is the first time that either founder has worked in this sector. Thirupathy, 129

Coimbatore’s iconic Lakshmi Narasimhar Temple. Opposite page: Abhilash Thirupathy of Gold Farm


a dentist and B-degree graduate from IIM Lucknow, worked with Johnson & Johnson before setting up his first start-up in the healthcare industry. His schoolmate Ravindranath studied engineering and working with technology before co-founding an aerospace engineering services firm. In 2012, the two joined hands and set up AK Surya Power Magic (rebranded earlier this year to Gold Farm). At the time, Tamil Nadu was undergoing one of its worst power crises. Losing power for hours together adversely affected farmers. So, the duo worked on building and providing solar-powered pumps to farmers. In the four years since, Thirupathy and Ravindranath also found growing demand for farm mechanisation equipment. This resulted in their working on launching a service­—complete with an app and hardware—to aggregate farm equipment and make them available on tap as simply as it is to call a cab in the city. “Our aim is to touch the lives of a million farmers,” says Thirupathy. From farming and fish supply to futuristic automobiles—that such a variety exists in Coimbatore’s start-up ecosystem is a reflection of its rich entrepreneurial history. A mix of businesses sprung up in the city after Robert Stanes became the first chairman of the municipality of Coimbatore in 1866 and set up textile mills in the town. It’s no wonder then that Coimbatore with its orientation towards business tends to attract people from different parts of the country. Sunil Tukrel, who attended Coimbatore-based Stanes School and PSG College of Technology, runs Untumble, an online company that designs, creates and sells customised themed party supplies in India. Tukrel says that there is no place like Coimbatore, if you are in business. He adds, “You have people from various parts of the country and it helps a lot in your market research.” But more than being a test bed, Coimbatore is where entrepreneurs feel at home. Dhruv Suyamprakasam, founder & CEO of iCliniq, an online doctor-patient consultation platform in Bengaluru, moved to Coimbatore because “unlike Bengaluru, there is no obsession about valuation here. This city lets you focus on solving the problem you intend to”. Coimbatore is uniquely positioned too—its population, —Dhruv Suyamprakasam, Founder at 10 lakh people, is one-eighth of Bengaluru’s; the start-up & CEO, iCliniq community is smaller and as a result, more closely knit; and the city has always had a strong culture of entrepreneurship. Data from the Ministry of Corporate Affairs reports that Coimbatore has over 30 companies per one lakh people, making it one of India’s top cities with high concentration of businesses. As a result, there’s no dearth of mentors who help young entrepreneurs navigate the business landscape. There is also a steady flow of talent—the district has over 75 engineering colleges. In fact, HCL’s Chairman Shiv Nadar studied at PSG College of Technology while N Chandrasekaran, CEO & MD of TCS, is from Coimbatore Institute of Technology. Vishwanathan Sahasranamam, co-founder and VP, FORGE Innovation Accelerator, highlights a key difference between Coimbatore and other valuation-obsessed cities. He says that the conversations quickly tend to move towards funding and if you are not funded, the person speaking with you will have already moved ten paces away. “Coimbatore gives you the space to build your start-up instead of getting caught in the valuation game,” he adds. Launched by Coimbatore Innovation and Business Incubator (an initiative promoted by Sakthi Group and supported by the Indian government’s Department of Science and Technology), FORGE conducts workshops on technology and entrepreneurship, and organises a range of events for the city’s entrepreneurial community. “People [in Coimbatore] are willing to help you out,” says Manikandan Shanmugasundaram, who runs Spero, an eco-friendly, electric bike start-up. “The connect happens



in face-to-face meetings. You don’t need a visiting card. In fact, I didn’t even carry one for a long time,” he adds. “There is a bond here that I can only attribute to the spirit of Coimbatore.” A group of 250 entrepreneurs stay in touch via WhatsApp/Telegram and at any given time, at least 20 attend the weekly group meetings on Saturdays. This is where ideas and problems are discussed and workable, practical solutions are brainstormed. “If there is one thing that will have a long-term impact, I would say, it’s our Saturday meetings,” says Tukrel. The meetings and the entrepreneurial circle has helped in another significant way too. A common difficulty that start-ups encounter is competing with large organisations during campus recruitments for good slots. Start-ups normally get sidelined because they hire only one or two students, while an Infosys or TCS recruits in hundreds. So, instead of approaching colleges individually, the start-ups now go as an association. They get better slots during placement seasons now because, collectively, they recruit as many students as big companies do. What’s more, they give students the choice of the start-up they want to be considered for, making it a win-win situation for both sides. While many speak affectionately about the southern city’s salubrious weather, its small-town vibe and its relative distance from maddeningly active centres, there are some who are put off by these very features. An industrialist who moved from here to Delhi several years ago told a newspaper, “I need to be in a place where news is being made. Not in Coimbatore, where news is read a few days later.” Although, matters have improved considerably since, some continue to argue that the city could be erring on the side of caution. Sivaraj Sekhar, director of investment banking firm Veda Corporate Advisors, says that many businesses in Coimbatore are averse to raising equity because they don’t want to give up control. To some extent, that’s true of start-ups too. Sahasranamam of FORGE says, “You can be rich (get a huge valuation) or you can be king (have control of your company), and entrepreneurs here would rather be kings. And there is nothing wrong with that.” Spero’s Shanmugasundaram says, “There’s the city’s spirit again. They are not focused on valuation but on the top-line and bottom line. A business has to be profitable, if not now, at least in the foreseeable future, only then would entrepreneurs get four hours of sleep.” This approach, however, doesn’t stop start-ups from raising money by either angel or venture funding or other forms of financing. Shanmugasundaram himself recently completed a crowdfunding campaign, making Spero the first crowdfunded electric bike in the country. Coimbatore has, therefore, caught the attention of angel investors. Ratan Tata, for example, has invested in Ampere Vehicles. Unitus Seed Fund has a start-up scout here, thanks to entrepreneur Arumugham Sankaran, who played an important role in getting entrepreneurs together. Meanwhile, PSG College of Technology features a science and technology entrepreneurial park, which is presently incubating over 40 start-ups. There are also venture capitalists looking for promising start-ups in the city that may be in the blind spot of traditional VCs. All these features are adding up to create a dynamic ecosystem in Coimbatore—a diverse set of businesses, entrepreneurial camaraderie and a unique mix of entrepreneurial aggression and old-world preference for stability and humility. And cutting across these features is that unmistakable energy that comes from action, from solving problems and creating genuine value. Suyamprakasam of iCliniq cleverly concludes, “What we are doing is showing it can all be done right here.”



Karikalan Kumaresan, co-founder & CTO, Arivanza Technologies, which uses tech to help educators make a global impact. Opposite page: children line up at the Gass Forest Museum


In spite of a history that dates back thousands of years, India is considered a young nation. We became a sovereign only 69 years ago. We are also a country of a billion plus people, with more than half the population under the age of 25. So it’s no surprise that the youth is leading the way with innovation and entrepreneurship across sectors. That was the thought behind the cover of this issue—a young lion leading the Make in India lion, paving the way for a brighter future. “We have so much to fight for, so much to change, and so much to believe in,” believes Mumbai-based Himanshu Lakhwani, art director, Make in India magazine and cover illustrator.


RISING STARS Millennials who are making big changes, student entrepreneurs, and other bright young things

INNOVATIONS IN EDUCATION A new breed of start-ups

is changing how (and what) students learn

COIMBATORE COOL How this southern city

is attracting—and nurturing—fresh talent

Profile for Condé Nast India


This third edition features change-makers, entrepreneurs and innovators under 40. From those growing "super exotic" vegetables in India to t...


This third edition features change-makers, entrepreneurs and innovators under 40. From those growing "super exotic" vegetables in India to t...