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How IIT Bombay is spawning the startup culture in ‘Powai Valley’

Jubin Mehta
11th May 2015
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Buildings around the Powai Lake
Buildings around the Powai Lake

Powai is a suburban neighbourhood in the North East of Mumbai, not generally associated with the fast-paced Mumbai life. The region gets its name from Powai lake, an artificial lake built 120 years ago to supply drinking water. The lake is not used for the same purpose anymore, but makes a fine setting for India’s premier technology, Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, which was setup in 1958.

Instilive
Instilive

Over the years, the college has been a budding ground for some brilliant minds that have made the nation proud. And in the last few years, it has been producing technology entrepreneurs at an astonishing rate. After our interview with the highly controversial Rahul Yadav, the Co-founder of Housing.com, I strolled through the IIT Bombay campus to get a vibe of the place. Right at the entrance, you’re met with a poster of Instilive.com, a social network developed inside IIT-Bombay for efficient flow of information inside the campus.

Housing.com and Tinyowl are two heavily venture-backed companies that have been founded by IIT-Bombay alumni. Both these companies have plush offices in Hiranandani Business Park, and are growing quickly. Aasaanjobs is another company from IIT-B alumni that has grown very quickly over the past few months. Founded in 2013 by Dinesh Goel, Aasaanjobs is a recruitment portal for blue-collared and entry-level white-collared workers. It employs about 180 people across business development, sales, operations, marketing and technology. Dinesh says, “Given that IITians are the brightest minds in the country, building a tech platform is a challenge that entrepreneurs from the institute readily accept. Numerous students start working on their ideas during college itself, with the vibrant entrepreneurship culture prevalent in the institute encouraging them.”

 

Powai Plaza
Powai Plaza

He estimates around 50 technology startups in Powai, and says that these companies provide a range of services like jobs, real estate, food delivery, and cab booking etc. There are a few enterprise companies like Aureus Analytics which also have a foot in Powai. Almost 15-20 startups have got funding, and others are joining the league. (check out IIT Bombay's SINE Incubator) Doormint is one of them. An on-demand professional consumer service platform, Doormint was launched in January 2015 by three IITians --Naman Lahoty (IITB), Abhinav Agarwal (IITB) and Piyush Ranjan (IITK) -- and the company has already raised a seed round from Powai Lake Ventures. PLV is a network of entrepreneurs who’ve had successful ventures previously, and are now giving back to the ecosystem by investing in budding entrepreneurs. Zishaan Hayath, the Founder of Toppr.com, which recently raised an INR 65 crore round is one of the key investors with PLV.

VC funds are also interested. Matrix Partners India and K Raheja Corp announced opening of The Space, a co-working space in Powai. The Space aims to provide infrastructure for three-to-six person startup teams which will be selected by a panel of investors from the Mumbai startup ecosystem. The first batch of startups will be taking up The Space by the second week of June.

And IIT-Bombay seems to be the primary reason for this spike in interest. There are a few other schools and colleges in Powai, but there hardly seems to be a mention. There are a couple of outcomes to ponder because of this:

  1. Many Mumbai startups claim that there is a dearth of technology talent in Mumbai. All the techies are supposed to have taken high paying jobs (which they hop very quickly) in Bangalore. In this scenario, IIT-Bombay does a good job of providing the quality talent pool that is highly required.
  2. But on the flip side, coming from the IIT tag, the talent comes in at a steep price. Also, most of the graduates coming out are now more interested in starting their own ventures, looking at the success stories around.

Talking of the trend, one of the IIT-Bombay professors says, “These students are very competitive. Just getting into IIT-Bombay is so much hard work that once they are in the institute, they always have this urge to chase. Many get engulfed in the wave and realise their true calling much later.”

On the positive side, startup ecosystems have globally evolved from education institutes. And once spawned, the wave can then move on to other colleges. IIT-Bombay has certainly got Powai buzzing. Doormint Co-founder Abhinav says, “Powai is amazing and filled with energy on every front -- entrepreneurs, investors and core team members. I believe Powai has gone full circle in a way that startups are always looking out for people, and people come here to get opportunities.”

Housing Co-founder Rahul Yadav believes that there is nothing really of note that has still come to the fore, but looking at the signs, the winds of energy have set in. Entrepreneurs and investors have sniffed an opportunity, and the next few years will reveal an interesting tale of how technology unfolds in the ‘Powai Valley’.


If the Mumbai startup ecosystem excites you, don't miss these two events that we have lined up for you in Mumbai this week. Register for the events on the links below


 

(image credit: Shutter Stock)

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