FIIB ‘MERAKI’ – A Business Plan Competition with a Difference

Business Plan competitions are in vogue, as are the innumerable Incubators, Accelerators mushrooming in the country. India is known to be a land of extremes and it is no surprise that many institutions are finding the ‘business model’ of B-plan competitions as well as launching Entrepreneurship, Innovation Incubators attractive. All this may be premature for India given that this new realm of entrepreneurship is only beginning to find its feet in an established entrepreneurial ecosystem like the one in the USA.

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In 2012, FIIB launched a platform called MERAKI which just concluded its 3rd edition in January 2014. MERAKI invites business plans from across India (from better known institutions like the IIT’s, IIM’s while at the same time lesser ranked institutions, after all experience tells us that the best entrepreneurs don’t necessarily have a top-ranked institution DNA). Other than awarding handsome seed-funding to the top 3 teams, the uniqueness of this platform stems from:

(a)   The process of short-listing b-plans through various stages spans over 6 months and is fairly comprehensive. MERAKI (2014) received 125 high-quality business plans

(b)   The judges are blue-blooded venture capitalists with real-life experience of funding 100’s of ventures across various sectors, geographies. MERAKI’S 3rd edition judges included Alok Mittal (Canaan), Amit Khosla (AsiaBridge), Anshoo Sharma (Lightspeed), Manish Kheterpal (ex Rho, Actis & Providence), Sarbvir Singh (Capital 18) and Vishal Dixit (Zephyr). Feedback provided by the judges to MERAKI finalists is invaluable in their pursuit of building ‘venture fundable’ and successful ventures

Whilst from the 125 initial entries, 60 were short-listed for the 2nd round, only 10 teams were invited for a face-off with the judges.  MERAKI Top 10 Finalists in 2014 included a wide array of businesses: from solving the problems in Indian agriculture via hydrophonics and organic farming, to launching innovative products for health care administration. Several of these had a purely commercial goal like a scalable wedding planning business, but some businesses also struck a commercial, social balance like a green transportation solution that involves disabled people employment.

The teams receive valuable advice after a “Dragon’s Den” type grilling from the judges and get an automatic entry in the Fortune Venture Incubator (FVI), an Incubator that provides practical hand-holding required for young ventures. During MERAKI, the finalists also get exposure to successful entrepreneurs and investors through the FIIB Entrepreneurship Summit. This year it included a “Go to Market Product Strategy for Young Entrepreneurs” workshop conducted by Ambrish Gupta (Knowlarity) and discussion on “Promoting Entrepreneurship for Inclusive Development in India” where panelists like Ketan Kapoor (Mettl), Jyotika Bhatia (Srujna) and Anshoo Sharma (LightSpeed) shared their experiences.

All in all, FIIB MERAKI continues to make a meaningful difference in the pursuits of young Indian entrepreneurs and takes them one step closer to their dream.

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