Incubators play a vital role in the Indian startup space. From providing mentorship to giving networking advantages, they can help build a startup scene from the ground up. Incubators are where government interventions and VC capital may not be. They work with local talent to develop startups that are filled with potential.
Currently, India ranks third behind the US and China, when it comes to the number of incubators and accelerators. India is very tech savvy and has produced rapid innovations that assist founders every day. However, we haven’t yet created a tech giant or an industry-agnostic player that has dominated globally. We’re still focused on local problems and thinking regionally. We haven’t yet developed the next big Google or Tencent. In fact, the gap is so massive that US and China are working with thousands of incubators while we’re with hundreds.
India has both a quality and quantity problem. We need to develop a greater number of incubators and accelerators, as well as find hidden gems and scale them much faster. The startup India movement did help in getting the knowledge out there, but the government hasn’t yet spent its complete corpus on startup investment. Up till a few months ago, they’ve invested about 10% of the total allocated fund.
A driving factor has been student cells, and young India initiatives. These cells, clubs and institutions are urging younger Indians to develop the innovations of tomorrow. Some estimates have the number of tinkering labs to be around 900+, with hundreds of innovation hubs and business centres. There is progress being made across all channels of the Indian startup sector, especially when it comes to educating future entrepreneurs.
The impact has been significant with many more startups emerging from these incubators. These centres create valuable structure for thousands of startups to scale effectively.
Accelerators are especially more helpful when it comes to disruptive technologies. Artificial intelligence enabled smart shopping company Niki.Ai worked with multiple accelerators to ensure business development and mentorship. They worked with Facebook, Amazon and SAP’s incubation centres early on. Another startup by the name of Flatpebble, also went the accelerator route. CEO Venkatesan Seshadri believes that it’s all about the networking effect.
“Startup accelerators are like business schools—the real value is not in the education but in the contacts and the peer-learning one gets,” Venkatesan Seshadri, CEO of Flatpebble was quoted as saying.
Many of India’s largest startups have been through an accelerator program. Oyo Rooms was a part of Mumbai’s Venture Nursery so that the company could grow into various segments of the marketplace. More recently, CIIE, the tech incubator of IIM Ahmedabad, has invested in smart shoes technology company Heelium. Through the mentorship and networking resources available at IIM-A, the company hopes to become the go-to choice for running shoes. The crux of the deal was around the incredible R&D available within the company.
“Through our investment, we aim to acknowledge and appreciate the innovative founders, their expertise in sports materials, biomechanics, and product design, supported by a large market opportunity in sports footwear,” Vipul Patel, VP CIIE, IIM-A said.
Incubation centres are also necessary for the development of business models, support and core mentorship that many innovators need. There may be a viable solution out there but taking it nationwide can have its own challenges. That’s why governments and institutions have their own approach to incubation as well.
Three years ago, the state of Telangana established T-Hub, a startup incubator with the aim of developing the state and Hyderabad’s startup ecosystem. In the past three years, it has incubated hundreds of startups and has spurred the growth of the startup ecosystem in the state. Though run independently, it was the brainchild of IT minister KT Rama Rao. It has been helping startups in the city and state scale with support in various forms such as mentoring, access to funding, access to government clients, large corporates, among others.
Karnataka has launched a grant of Rs 50 lakh for startups working in the social innovation and rural space. Through this grant, the state government hopes to incubate innovation in the local region. This is another shining example of home-grown innovation being spurred by government incubation centres.
Another example comes from Menterra, a partner of Villgro launched in 2016. Menterra worked with Biosense to tackle malnutrition and diabetes in rural India. Through their incubation services, the company was able to reach maximum impact within the communities targeted. They had essentially transformed the way that the company was run and made it a scalable business within a few years.
“When we incubated Biosense, it was a product idea and the founders were still pursuing their degrees at IIT Bombay. It was a typical dorm startup. The founding team told us they know the problem and they can create a solution. They didn’t know how to build a business around it. They asked us if we would help them to build a business. It was a test of our incubation model. Over the last seven years, Biosense has launched 7 products and has raised more than USD 4 million,” Mukesh Sharma, Co-Founder, Menterra Venture Advisors was quoted as saying.
Essentially, all it takes for the startup space to flourish is mentorship, guidance and a structure around which they can innovate. There are hundreds of entrepreneurs with brilliant ideas, but they need the help of Indian incubators to truly change the way that India thinks.
Views expressed are the author’s own.