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 entrepreneurs 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.