Tech, art and policy: Jaipur as startup hub

13th Oct 2015
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Startup buzz picking up in the renowned Pink City - Jaipur - reflected in two recent events: YourStory’s TechSparks city meetup and the first ever Startup Rajasthan Festival (see photo gallery of the startup exhibition here). Idea flow, startup networks and investments are gathering momentum within the state, and with outside linkages as well.

Advantage Jaipur

Over 75 entrepreneurs and professionals attended the TechSparks meetup at the ThinkSpace co-working hub, and identified a number of advantages Jaipur offers entrepreneurs. These include its engineering and artistic talent, well-established business culture, lower salary levels and cost of living, less traffic and pollution, and a sufficiently large base of early adopters. The city is a major tourism destination, jewellery centre and home to the famed Jaipur Literature Festival along with other theatre and film festivals.

TechSparks Jaipur panel
TechSparks Jaipur panel - Saurav Lodha, Dinesh Pratap, Aakash and Dhruv Saxena

Elsewhere in Rajasthan, the cities of Jodhpur and Kota are major hubs for preparation of the CA (Chartered Accountant) and IIT-JEE entrance examinations, respectively. The Barefoot College in Tilonia, founded by Bunker Roy, has won a range of awards for grass-roots social entrepreneurship initiatives among rural communities.

A number of successful Rajasthani professionals and entrepreneurs who live outside the state now see a chance to give back to their community as its startup ecosystem matures. Jaipur has better roads than Bengaluru, some of them joked. However, some Jaipur startups have development centres in Bengaluru.

Jaipur is also close to Delhi, which offers a ready market for startups from Rajasthan. For example, HippoCabs first launched its inter-city cab-sharing service along the Jaipur-Delhi route.

The government has just announced a Startup Policy, becoming the fourth state in India to have such a policy (after Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat). The five-year policy has set targets of 50 incubators, 500 startups, and angel capital of Rs 500 crore to be mobilised. Domain areas include clean-tech, art-tech, ed-tech, health-tech and IoT (Internet of Things).

Digital startups represent the new age of entrepreneurship, and the state has a growing ecosystem for founders, said Vasundhara Raje, Chief Minister, Rajasthan. The Startup Rajasthan Festival was supported by TiE Rajasthan, incubator Startup Oasis, and the Rajasthan Angel Investor Network (RAIN).

Six startups pitched at the TechSparks meetup: Seva Services (home and office machine repair services), Gurupdate (entrance exam information portal), AlphaFront (online financial planning tool), FaidaOnline (barter platform), LinkYou (realtime networking platform) and WoodenStreet (custom furniture), from which the jury winner was AlphaFront. Villgro and HeadStart organised pitches at the Startup Rajasthan festival, which featured a student business plan competition as well.

Startup pitch - Jaipur entrepreneurs
Startup pitch - Jaipur entrepreneurs (Faida Online, LinkYou, WoodenStreet, Gurupdate, Seva Services and AlphaFront)

Startup tips

Founding teams from Jaipur offered a range of useful tips for budding entrepreneurs at the TechSparks meetup. CarDekho, regarded as one of Jaipur’s most famous startups, is now rolling out a car services offering called CarBuddy. “We have acquired other companies to stay ahead,” explained Dhruv Saxena of CarBuddy.

He advised entrepreneurs to stay focussed on customer needs and changing media habits. For example, well-designed digital content about auto parts works better than print manuals, which no one seems to read any more.

Aggressiveness, hunger for success, and agility are the qualities of a successful entrepreneur. The startup team must also have a regular supply of fresh talent. “I hire freshers rather than experienced professionals. They are eager to learn, and are able to think out of the box,” said Dhruv. (See also YourStory’s coverage of online payment startup RazorPay, real estate startup Propterry, and ed-tech startups Srjna and LogicRoots from Jaipur.)

The Startup Rajasthan conference track featured speakers from Jaipur and other parts of India as well. Nishant Patni, Founder of Culture Alley, said: “Startups can create wonders. In 11 months, we have impacted 61 lakh Indian learners through our Hello English app.” The company's iOS app was launched during YourStory’s MobileSparks 2013 event. He grew up in Jaipur and began coding from the age of 12. Patni graduated from IIT Bombay and Kellogg School of Management, and hit upon the idea of an English learning app on a visit to China.

Culture Alley's Nishant Patni and his first PC
Culture Alley's Nishant Patni and his first PC

Immerse in the culture and ecosystem of customers, and make a real impact in their lives, he advised. Nishant cited data that showed 73 per cent of engineering graduates in India lack basic English skills. Speaking better English boosts their professional and personal lives, he said.

The Hello English app is free (ad-supported), and works in the offline mode as well. The startup has raised funds from Tiger Global and angel investors Rajan Anandan, Sasha Mirchandani and Sunil Kalra.

Rajesh Agarwal, Co-founder and MD, MicroMax, offered a range of lessons from his own startup journey, with included India-specific innovations such as long-life batteries and a line of phones designed specifically for women. “We are now among the Top Ten mobile brands in the world,” he said.

“Build for the masses but never sacrifice on quality,” he advised. The company has shown a flair for learning quickly and has branched out into tablets and TVs as well. “Every obstacle presents an opportunity,” Rajesh said, urging entrepreneurs to learn quickly from failures.

Entrepreneurs should do their research thoroughly and read a lot, advised Rahul Narvekar, Founder of apparel e-tailer Indian Roots. Founders should reach out, build broad and wide networks of contacts, and rebound from failure. “Investors invest in people, not just business plans. Be prepared to adapt to market changes,” he said. Later this year, his company is launching editions for Indonesia and Malaysia as well.

“Find a mission, not just a business,” said Khona Kalyani, Founder of Wanted Umbrella, a match-making agency for the differently-abled (see YourStory writeup). She raised funds via crowdfunding site Wishberry, and is also consulting for the Accessible India campaign which focuses on making public buildings and infrastructure accessible.

Khona Kalyani and Akram Veroze
Khona Kalyani and Akram Veroze

“Pick up the crumbs along your life’s trail, you never know where they will lead you,” advised Ramana Gogula, narrating stories from his life journey as IT professional, serial entrepreneur, venture capitalist and music composer. “The entrepreneurial journey starts not knowing where you will end up,” he said. Entrepreneurs should look beyond the tip of the iceberg at the bigger picture; they should strive for excellence but not be obsessed with creating the ‘perfect’ product.

Thinking out of the box and regularly reinventing oneself are key for long-term success, said Akram Veroze, an art activist who cycles around Indian villages and promotes theatrical performance. Tell a good story, have deep conversations, be resilient, and be adventurous, he advised, humorously drawing on the ups and downs of his creative journey – including being arrested on occasion (see article: ‘Cops to probe suspicious Telangana man caught in Jaisalmer’).

The Road Ahead

“There are huge opportunities if Indian startups go beyond the low-hanging fruit and over-crowded categories,” advised Mahavir Pratap Sharma, Director and Co-founder of RAIN. It is time to go beyond ‘me-too’ offerings and explore new domains; for example, rural India offers vast opportunities for entrepreneurs. Success factors for entrepreneurs are tenacity, traction and team, he said.

Founders should also balance vision with agility. “There are no successful entrepreneurs who have not pivoted. Learn as you go,” Sharma advised.

Mahavir Pratap Sharma
Mahavir Pratap Sharma, RAIN

A healthy startup ecosystem needs good academic and research support as well – and the TechSparks meetup ended with an address by Prof. G.S. Dangayach, Head of Department, Mechanical Engineering, MNIT Jaipur.

In the long run, a focus on quality, customer needs fulfillment and professionalism will serve entrepreneurs well. "Money, energy and talent are not evenly distributed, only time is – manage it well,” concluded Dangayach.

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