ABAF, a forum where angels loved to tread

Asian Business Angels Forum(ABAF) hosted by Mumbai Angels was the big news from Mumbai last week . With over 200 angels from across the world converging to assess opportunities present in Asia and cross-border, the two-day affair held at Taj Land’s End, Mumbai, was a high adrenaline event. Harsh Mariwala, founder, Marico Group, set the tone by calling it the platform which would boost the startup ecosystem in India.

Harsh Mariwala, Marico group opens ABAF 2013

Harsh Mariwala, Marico group opens ABAF 2013

Over the two days, 80+ speakers from many Asian, European and American countries discussed, deliberated and shared knowledge about entrepreneurship in their countries. The panel discussions had a well-thought out trajectory. From introducing the Asia-Pacific angels, to sharing best practices of Angel networks, how to enhance cross-border investing, angels and acceleration programmes – each panel tried to discuss the subject matter threadbare in the limited time available. These discussions served as potent platform for sharing thoughts and best practices with each other.

Besides angels from various Indian chapters, the event saw participation of angels from Canada, US, UK, Singapore, China, Australia and HongKong. Mike Volker of Vancouver Angel Network, said: “These two days have been very good learning. ABAF has really done a good job of bringing together so many angels and entrepreneurs. It has been a good experience.”

That entrepreneurs are an enthusiastic bunch is well-known, and probably because of being around them, even angels exhibit traits of boundless energy. If you thought the full day event and numerous panel discussions would tire the angels, it was surely not evident at the networking cocktail held at end of Day 1. The networking cocktail that was supposed to be for two hours, went late into the night, till almost mid-night. No doubt, participants were making the most of their time at the ABAF.

Papertrell demoing at ABAF

Papertrell demoing at ABAF

On a parallel track, for angels who were ready to sign a cheque, there were many startups demoing at the ABAF across mobile, cloud, consumer internet, health and education sectors. Dave McClure of 500 startups gave a quick presentation to these young startups on how to approach the international market — the dos-don’ts.

Day 2 at ABAF touched upon macro factors impacting the startup space across countries. This time, it was about government support to the startup community, which sectors held the potential for investments, how corporates were doing their bit to support startups and what the next billion dollar idea would be.

Day 2 also played out two of the most intriguing panels – Angels and Acceleration programs and Evolution of Angels into VCs. Some well-known names from the Indian ecosystem sat on these panels including Mahesh Murthy, Rajesh Swahney, Mukund Mohan, Anand Lunia, Rehan Yar Khan and Sanjay Nath – to discuss these topics threadbare. These two were perhaps the most interactive sessions as well.

Investing in industry panel, which discussed opportunities for investments

Investing in industry sectors panel, which discussed opportunities for investments

Social entrepreneurs and impact investors took centrestage at the ABAF to discuss social impact investing on Day 2. The panel comprised of Omidyar Network, Omnivore Partners, Aavishkaar, Ankur Capital, Tonic LLC, Contrarian Capital India Partners and Unitus Seed Fund. Ritu Verma of Ankur Capital very aptly credited the ABAF for having looked at the social sector as an important spoke in the entrepreneurship wheel in the country. This panel introduced the work done by each of them in different sectors and emphasized the importance of social entrepreneurship to the development of countries.

The last panel of the event brought together head honchos from Canaan Partners, Nexus Venture Partners, Intel Capital, Sherpalo & KPCB, IDG Ventures and AIMIA Inc. This panel busted some myths that have been floating in the Indian startup space. Alok Mittal of Canaan Partners said the entity has never invested in any startups that came out of incubators and accelerators. His reason was because he thought the time period a venture stays in an incubator or accelerator is very short to be able to fully help mature the business. And Sudhir Sethi of IDG Ventures reiterated the India story when he said there is enough potential in Indian consumers and Indian market to help grow startups domestically, even before they start looking outside for business. He also predicted that contrary to obituaries written for eCommerce in India, the space still has potential to give the next billion dollar exits – particularly the online travel space and eCommerce.

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Some cross-border networking

Participants were seen networking and continuing their discussions at various coffee shops and bars even after the curtains came down on the event. Jordon Green from Australian Angel Network said he was very happy about the congregation. “ABAF was like a 2-day crash course in understanding the entrepreneurship space in India. Meeting so many Indian angels, investors and startups has been a valuable learning. I think the Australian ecosystem currently is how the Indian space was five years back,” he said.

This was the fourth edition of the ABAF. The earlier ones have been held in Singapore(2010), Shanghai(2011) and Malaysia(2012). From Mumbai, the ABAF moves to Hong Kong in May 2014 and Allen Yeung of Hong Kong Science & Technology Parks Corp invited all who had attended the event in Mumbai to Hong Kong. While every aspect of the event was executed with utmost precaution, one thing that made it all possible was the strict adherence to time. Every panel and speaker stuck to their allotted time, helping the organizers wind up on time. And it would not be wrong to say that the participants at the ABAF looked at “Time as money” and therefore, didn’t believe in whiling it away.