Time Travel II: Techsparks 2013!


YourStory’s Techsparks event series is an inspiring chronicle of India’s startup journey, with product showcases, insightful panels and high-power keynotes. In the last column, we shared the journey down memory lane with the highlights of Techsparks 2012, let us move a year down now to a flashback of Techsparks 2013!

The 2013 edition of the annual startup showcase and conference kicked off on October 5 with an even more diverse and power-packed programme than previous editions.

“India is a country of storytellers – the largest and oldest stories in the world come from here! Today, every startup story is unique and powerful, and it matters,” said YourStory founder/CEO Shradha Sharma. “Can we create 1.3 billion entrepreneurial stories from India? And from other parts of the world?” she challenged.

The YourStory.com site (formerly YourStory.in) now has sections called HerStory (women entrepreneurs) and SocialStory (social entrepreneurship). Of the 70 startups showcased so far at Techsparks events, 33 have been funded and two acquired.

The twitter hashtag of the event trended within an hour, and one of the tweeters remarked that the day of the conference was also the second death anniversary of the legendary Steve Jobs.

Shailendra Singh, Managing Director, Sequoia Capital India, delivered the opening keynote on the theme “Enduring Success.” He drew on the company’s successful portfolio startups: iYogi, Mu Sigma, JustDial, Xoom, LinkedIn, Pine Labs, Druva and so on. “Young companies today are in ten years disrupting Fortune 1000 giants. Enduring success comes from agility, building defensive moats, culture and perseverance,” he said.

“TechSparks is a good platform for us – we have now invested in a TechSparks 2011 winner,” he said; the startup is cloud platform Idea Device.

Ambiga Dhiraj, Head of Fulfillment at Mu-Sigma, shared some insights into the analytics startup’s success in a fireside chat. “We had no customer for eight months,” she recalled. “Delivering data services out of India is not a cost play but an innovation play. We build curiosity in our employees. We give awards and prizes for best question of the month,” she explained.

An inspirational talk was then delivered by Dr. Anu Vaidyanathan, Ultraman Athlete, and IP Professor. “My inspiration in life is Kung-fu Panda! How does one find inner peace?” she asked. Entrepreneurship is about satisfaction, independence and being able to get gifts for your parents, she joked. “Real heroism comes from unexpected sources, not just the usual characters like Steve Jobs. Keep your senses open,” she advised.

The second fireside chat featured Kavin Bharti Mittal, Head of Strategy, New Product Development, Bharti SoftBank. “A startup has to be insatiably curious, should care about the product, and be passionate in the industry,” he advised. Founders should hire people who have high levels of curiosity, and pay attention to social aspects of team dynamics.

Cutting-edge design tips were then shared by Nick Talbot, Global Design Head, Tata Elxsi, in his talk: “How Thinking ‘Design’ First Can Help Build Successful Ventures.”

“Design = vision + craft + communication + pragmatism,” he aptly summarised. Put anthropology before technology, and blend technology with design. "Don't decide your technology platform before you've thought through your design," he added. The company also has a programme called Incub@TE to help small companies start up.

The topic of startups going global was addressed by Madan Padaki, founder of Head Held Hgh Services and earlier director of MeritTrac Services. “There is a huge opportunity in boosting entrepreneurship among Rubans, the new rural youth. We call this trend Rubanomics,” he said. His company wants to create 1,000 RubanHubs in India and other countries, with 100 Rubans per hub. “When people are hit by the power of what is possible, they become changed individuals,” he observed, showing an inspiring video of a youth empowered with business and communication skills.

The next panel, with additional speakers from FusionCharts, Cisco, Microsoft India and Frictionless Ventures, gave further advice on globalising startups: build a product which is phenomenal; benchmark globally; leverage SaaS models; choose your expansion timing carefully; develop product roadmaps; build a culture of learning. The panel identified a range of emerging opportunities for startups in India: mobile gaming, payment, resource management, enterprise data management, crowdsourcing, e-government, healthcare and systems integration.

The next brilliant keynote came from professor Gerard Tellis, Director of the Center for Global Innovation, University of Southern California. Relentless innovation is the only success factor in the long term, he said, citing numerous cases of companies who fell prey to incumbent’s curse and could not overcome a culture of complacency and even arrogance. Companies need to be willing to cannibalise their own products before competitors do so; they should have tolerant attitudes towards risk and failure and convert them into learning opportunities. (See my review of his book, Unrelenting Innovation.)

The panel on building a company from scratch featured speakers from Praefinium Partners, Seed Fund, EduSports, TutorVista, Idea Device and Practo.

“A company lasts only as long as its culture sustains and drives it. Therefore choose the right team,” advised Sanjay Anandaram, Venture Partner, Seed Fund. “Delegate, delete or die,” said Alpesh Patel, Dealmaker at UK Trade & Investment and Founding Principal at Praefinium Partners; founders need to master the art of delegation if they want to grow and scale. Other advice offered included staying away from corruption, listening to the customer, being transparent, articulating your vision, and not hesitating to fire those who cannot stay in line with your vision.

The much-awaiting startup pitches then took centre stage, with a string of innovative products (see more detailed profiles here):

1. Flutura - decision sciences and analytics

2. Airwoot - customer support for brands on social media

3: CloudMunch – PaaS solutions for enterprises and SMEs

4: Collaborate Cloud - social work management product

5: Mobilistic Innovative Business Solutions - supply chain management

6: MoeGIS  - health information mapping and tracking

7: TradersCockpit - equity market screener and analysis tool

8: Pervazive - curative analytics for telecom network operators

9: Stelae Technologies – content conversion solutions

10: Eye and Buy - integrated SME business platform to help sales

11: DeltaX - digital media platform to buy, optimise & report search

12: Cooolio – app for cricket fans

13: Brio Smart - open source app server to develop SaaS products

14: Kallows Engineering - healthcare products + apps for ECG

15: GetActive – personal health indicators tracking device

16: Agile CRM - SaaS CRM with marketing automation

17: LoudCell - real-time data for for managing diesel generators

18: Retigence - retail inventory decision support systems on cloud

After deliberation by the expert jury, the Top Three picks of Tech 30 2013 were announced: Pervazive, Stelae and Flutura, with a special mention for MoeGIS!

The concluding panel featured Binny Bansal, Co-founder of Flipkart, and Lakshmi Potluri, Senior Executive, Shopify India. “Customer focus is key to our success. Luck and timing are also super-important to scale. We are not afraid of global competition,” said Bansal.

“We didn’t know how to sell electronics goods differently from books – but learnt fast. You need to learn everyday. The day you stop learning, you stop scaling,” he added. “I am introverted, but shy people can also become entrepreneurs!” joked Bansal, to rousing applause.

“Work is not seen as ‘work,’ it is passion, you like it, you want to do it. An entrepreneur has the best situation, he is doing what he wants to do,” explained Bansal. Tier 2-3 cities in India will see huge adoption of smartphones, and that will be helpful for e-commerce growth in India.

The 2013 edition of Techsparks was a tremendous source of creativity and inspiration (see my pick of Top 30 Quotes), and even had a theme song (composed and performed by Abhinav Kumar) and a rousing performance of folk music by the Kutle Khan Project from Rajasthan! The creative troupe had the audience on their feet in their concluding set in the evening, a fitting end to India’s best startup showcase. Now who said geeks can’t dance?       :-)

See you all at the TechSparks 2014 events and grand finale this year!


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