Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Ideas to flag off another green revolution

ET’s Power of Ideas is not about metropolitan themes set in concrete jungle, it’s a lot about earthy ideas from sons of the soil. The final list of the programme would not have been complete without ideas from the sector that employs 60% of the country’s population, agriculture. Although, the ideas in the rural and agriculture sector were few, but interestingly, they came from very young entrepreneurs.

For instance, 25-year-old Avinash Veerappa from Bangalore saw his power of idea germinate from his love for mushrooms. When he surveyed the market in his city, he discovered that an unsteady supply of mushrooms was leading to a huge unfulfilled demand.

He studied the demand-supply gap in the market and evolved a business plan for cultivating mushrooms in greenhouses near Bangalore. “We will cultivate differ
ent types of mushrooms, like oyster and milky, that are not cultivated in the country,” said Mr Veerappa. These varieties have longer shelf life, which is key to marketing mushrooms, he said. “One key finding of my research was that mushrooms available in the market were not cleaned because of their lower shelf life,” he added.

He visited two central government institutes and found varieties that
were more nutritious and had longer shelf life. Mr Veerappa plans to brand his mushrooms ‘Mushy More’ and will initially sell them in Bangalore, Coorg and Mysore. Utilising his background in genetics, Mr Veerappa will undertake research on mushrooms to develop more nutritious varieties. “The Power of Ideas is my chance to get funding for the business,” he said. He is looking at Rs 15 lakh funding to establish his business, which is in trial stage now.

Mr Veerappa is not the only one. With a rural focus, Atin Garg, too, is keen to get funding for his business plan of milking high-yielding HF variety of cows. Mr Garg said that most of the milk produced in the country
comes from buffaloes and is not suitable for dairy products since it has a high fat content. “Cow’s milk is preferable for dairy products,” he explains. The HF variety of cows costs Rs 50,000 each and is known for its high produce. He plans to spend Rs 2 crore on buying 400 cows and has already spoken to cooperatives and companies interested in buying milk. “Selling milk is not a problem in India,” he said. The atmosphere in his Sadhaura village on the HPHaryana border is suitable for breeding the foreign cows, he plans to buy. The business, he said, is a profitable one, which includes capital gains at regular intervals. “We can sell some of the reproduced cows,” he said. He is confident that the business can break even in a year-and-a-half.

Both Mr Veerappa and Mr Garg were happy they attended the session organised by ET, along with angel partner Indian Angel Network. It helped them to understand what the investor is looking for in a business plan.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

IT, telecom dominate PoI’s final shortlist

IT and telecom seem to be the hottest sectors in the final shortlist of The Power of Ideas programme. Of the 254 ideas shortlisted by The Economic Times and angel partner, Indian Angel Network, 57 came from the IT/technology-enabled services (ITES) sectors. Another 14 ideas were from the internet space, taking the total number of IT and IT-based business ideas to a whopping 28%.

Almost 30 out of the 71 ideas related to tech sector came from the south of India — particularly Bangalore, Hyderabad and Chennai. In fact, many ideas in technology proliferated because of the telecom boom. Sharat Jain, Delhi-based CEO and founder of, who is one of the shortlisted entrepreneurs says, “We chose telecom because of the large mobile user base in the country, close to 42 crore, of which 92% subscribers are prepaid. About Rs 50,000 crore of transaction takes place through prepaid mobile cards.”

Mr Jain had earlier worked in positions as head of Dentsu India, an auto-comp maker, and Teleglobe, a VoIP-based venture. His venture is a website that lets users recharge online through various payment modes, from direct debit to cash cards.

Another idea related to the mobile medium came from Noida-based Luna Ergonomics, founded by Abhijit Bhattacharjee. The company’s site called provides a vernacular dictionary and statistical tools for vernacular messaging. “Currently, no other dictionary offers regional language support in India. We chose mobile as a medium because applications developed for the mobile are going to be more pervasive than those developed for
the web.”

About 23 of the 71 ideas related to technology came from people under the age of 30. About 32 ideas came from people aged between 30 and 40. Also, almost 18 of the 71 technology-related ideas have come from people who hold post (technical) graduate degrees in management or engineering.

Exemplifying such trends are people like Shilpi Aggarwal, an MBA from Fore School of Management,
who is all set to launch a web ecommerce portal with just two years of experience in the IT industry. “I chose the internet as a medium as the product I am going to market is a global one and tech-related marketing for it has not started as yet,” she says. Truly, IT has proved itself to be the most effective field for new ideas.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Mentoring helps finalists polish business plans

Education is not a barrier to becoming an entrepreneur and this statement is aptly supported by the profile of the 254 participants who are part of the final shortlist of The Power of Ideas programme. A good 40% of the finalists have non-professional qualifications only. They are graduates, postgraduates without fancy management degrees and those who have done certificate courses to supplement their graduate degree.

G Sriram is a graduate based in Bangalore who feels education does help in innovation. He is working on setting up a brand new venture, which will manage IT infrastructure and offer services on Software as a Service (SaaS) model. “We are at the proof of concept stage and we need money to make it production ready,” he says.

At the group mentoring session, Mr Sriram was impressed by the experienced
line-up of mentors on the stage and the session helped him clear many doubts. “I was confused about financial projections for the next three years,” says Mr Sriram. He got guidance from a mentor at the session. As the session ended, he was clearer about why angels invest in different ideas rather than just going to tried-and-tested investment avenues like real estate or stocks.

Now he, like many of the other short-listed entrepreneurs, is looking forward to the one
on-one mentoring where he intends to polish his business plan further. “There are many blanks to be filled,” he points out.

Gaurav Yadav’s father, like many other Indian parents, saved close to Rs 15 lakh for his son’s higher education. An entrepreneur himself, he was very supportive when his son decided to utilise that money to set up a business that he had in mind for some time. The father
son duo dived into it and Gaurav designed a network which will connect educational institutions across India. “This will have a mix of social networking, social learning and administrative tools for institutions,” says Mr Yadav. What is unique is that unlike social networking sites, on Yadav’s network, every institution will have separate administrative rights.

At the mentoring session, Mr Yadav got clarity on how to pen down his concept neatly for the elevator pitch. It seemed to have worked and he made it to the final 254. For him, he says, one-on-one mentoring was the most impor
tant part that he has been looking forward to. “I will get to clear my doubts. Every budding entrepreneur has doubts, on expansion, challenges, building a team and the like,” he says.

He has already tested his network with 45 institutions in Kanpur and is now looking for funds to expand outside Kanpur. Having a professional qualification is great, but not having one obviously does not impede a person from launching into his dream business.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

After a tough race, 254 ideas enter the finals

Over 12,000 ideas. A shortlist of 1,000 proposals. Now, just 254 waiting for their final mentoring.

The budding entrepreneurs that The Power of Ideas programme has incubated are now just one step away from achieving their dream: To sit across the table with a potential investor, argue out their case, and hopefully, walk away with funds. Hearing the mentors speak at the three group mentoring sessions has helped the shortlisted participants improve their elevator pitches. Business presentations steadily sharpened with each session, as the programme mentors instructed the participants on what investors generally look for in an elevator pitch. “Some of
the ideas could potentially be investible. The next stage where entrepreneurs will give a 45-minute pitch will give us a clearer picture,” says Saurabh Srivastava, founder, Indian Angel Network (IAN), angel partners of the programme.

At the earlier sessions, each participant gave a 15-minute telephonic presentation to the
mentors. Mentors, then, evaluated the elevator pitches on the basis of a few agreed parameters—the idea, potential market, unique differentiation, competition, financial projections, and the assessment of the team. “Teams need to have expertise in various fields—finance, technology, sales, marketing and the like,” says Mr Srivastava. He stresses that all these parameters are equally important. So far, each of the participants has got feedback on their concepts. If there were problems with the idea, the team, or the analysis, the mentors pointed these out to the entrepreneurs to help them improve. At the close of the Elevator Pitch phase, many participants acknowledged that simply being a part of the programme so far has been a huge learning experience.

“The business plans were a lot better. The mentoring session seems to have helped,” says Amitabh Shrivastava, angel investor at IAN. At the beginning of the Power of Ideas programme, the mentors only read the business plans. Now, as the programme progresses, their direct interaction with them is also increasing.

The final 254 entries will now go through a three-step process that will include submission of business plans, mentoring at an individual level, culminating with a meeting with investors for prospective funding. In one-on-one mentoring, says angel investor Sanjay Bhasin, the discussions will go in-depth. “The topics will remain the same (as group mentoring), but we will now look at financials more closely,” he says. He suggests that participants be a little more patient in explaining their idea to their mentors during this stage as well as the investor meet. Given that mentors may not be domain experts in certain cases, participants should try and stay away from too many technical details and try to elaborate on how they plan to sell and market their offerings. “Make the most of the time given to you,” he says.

After having a look at a number of elevator pitches, angel investor Atul Gupta feels that the financial projections made by some of the entre
preneurs were not very realistic. “They need to take some professional advice on projections. The SWOT analysis too needs careful analysis,” he says. Mr Gupta found a few ideas that had high potential. “Many of these need to be mentored a little more to polish their plans that will be presented to investors,” he adds. “In this phase, it will be critical to see how well entrepreneurs have understood their space and the financials,” says angel investor Amitabh Shrivastava.

The ‘mentorship’ period is at the very heart of this initiative. In The Power of Ideas programme, the mentor is a tech-savvy, hands-on guy, who may not be much older than the new entrepreneur he is guiding. What adds huge value to the guidance is that the mentor is also likely to be a CEO who has successfully nurtured his own
business and thus knows exactly what to do and more importantly, which mistakes to avoid. The responsibility on the mentors is not a light one as they are not just giving offhand advice but specific direction on key areas of putting an entrepreneur’s business plan into place. Their inputs go beyond making a participant’s idea reach a shortlist; their inputs touch the dreams and aspirations of people who have spent long hours working on plans, many of who will walk away from the sanitised environs of an organisation to the rough-and-tumble of entrepreneurship. The mentors, thus, act as pathfinders.

Both the mentoring and the subsequent meeting with investors are opportunities that people spend a lifetime trying for. This is a golden chance for them to prove the ‘power’ of their idea to the world.

IT, ITeS ideas find favour with panel

A closer look at the 254 ideas threw up interesting trends. 22% of the ideas were in the IT and ITeS space. Healthcare- and manufacturing-based ideas were next at 11% each while Internet-based ideas constituted 6% of the total. Cleantech ideas were just 4%. Over 40% of ideas came from South India while an almost equal number (26%) came in from the north and west. The shortlist also indicated that while younger talent found favour with the IAN panel, age and experience did matter when it came to the final stage. While 27% of the 254 ideas were contributed by participants between 26 and 31 years of age, 21% came from those who were 32-37 years, and 17% from those between 38 and 43. It was heartening to note that though professionals sent in 60% of the shortlisted entries (MBAs were a majority at 54% while those with BE/BTech were 34%), a formal qualification wasn’t entirely a disadvantage when it came to choosing the best ideas.