MIT professors and a brand strategist get together to start DesignGild, a design accelerator for startups


Pune-based design-focused accelerator DesignGild will be launching its first batch at the end of this month. The accelerator is sector- and stage-agnostic.

“Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.” – Steve Jobs.

While design indeed is one of the most crucial aspects of product development, few startups value and understand its true importance.

It was with this realisation that 50-year-old professor Anant Chakradeo, Dean of the MIT Institute of Design and an educator and strategist with over two decades of experience in engineering and design education, decided to set up DesignGild with 37-year-old Harshit Desai, who heads the industry relations initiatives of MITID, and 26-year-old Apurva Chordia, a product designer and brand strategist.

DesignGild, set up by the MIT Institute of Design, is one of the country’s first design-focused accelerators. The aim of the accelerator is to provide high-quality design mentorship and resources to passionate individuals and teams to create design-led businesses.

DesignGild is a platform for startups to collaborate with senior design mentors and fresh design talent and get the appropriate technology resources and business support to take a venture to the next level.

The focus of the accelerator will be towards strategic design consulting, the mentorship of design co-founders, and hands-on design services to enable seamless integration of design in business. “This design-focused accelerator will support the selected startups in converting innovative ideas into valuable business propositions,” says Harshit.

Team at DesignGild

Bringing the design focus

Sector- and stage-agnostic, DesignGild is open to all kinds of startups, regardless of whether they focus on product or service ideas. Apart from startups, DesignGild will also support passionate students who wish to convert a unique idea born from academic projects into a viable business model.

Harshit believes the current startup ecosystem stands on primarily two pillars, technology and business. However, there is growing evidence globally that design is a critical aspect to ensure startup success. Early engagement with design goes a long way in creating sustained business value. He adds,

“The primary objective of this accelerator is to bring high-quality design to the startup ecosystem. DesignGild will enable startups to leverage the power of design to create meaningful products, services, and experiences for their end users.”

The key aspects of what the company is offering startups includes:

  • A customised design-technology-business road map
  • Access to high-quality design mentorship and hands-on resources for seamless execution
  • Prototyping, user testing and validation facilities
  • Investment and fund raising
  • Company formation support, IPR consulting, and legal facilitation

DesignGild leverages its high-quality network of experienced design professionals, industry consultants, academicians, researchers, and students to ensure that design remains at the core of the business, the primary driving force for business success.

What will it do?

There is a customised road map for every selected startups, depending upon the starting point and the goals to be achieved. Every startup has access to various mentors, field experts, academic researchers, and enthusiastic design students spanning 10 design disciplines, as well as all prototyping resources along with access to investors.

We have recently started the operational activities and are now in the process of selecting our first batch of startups. We have received interesting applications from startups at different stages and from different sectors,” says Harshit.

The team claims to have applications coming from startups across sectors like healthcare, fintech, aviation, robotics, AI and AR/VR.

Currently, the programme is designed and customised according to the requirement of the startups. The focus is on the concept of ‘Design and Make’, under which the startups will be exposed to the latest design methods and processes to enable them to unlock business opportunities.

What does it entail?

There are also one-on-one sessions with experienced design mentors and a dedicated design team that works with the startup through the various stages from design strategy to execution. DesignGild will also provide access to a wide network of manufacturers, technology partners, and software developers, as well as advanced prototyping facilities to convert ideas into real market-ready products.

The programme will have input on design thinking, lean and agile methodologies, business model innovation, service design, brand communications, and various other concepts and tools that make the startup market-ready. It equips the startups with the ability to create compelling customer experiences and long-term business value by keeping design at the core of the business.

The key requirement for a startup to qualify for DesignGild is belief in the power of design. DesignGild seeks passionate founders who have identified a problem and are developing innovative solutions for it,” says Harshit.

The world of accelerators

As a process to get selected, startups have to fill in an allocation form, based on which they will be shortlisted to the next round. In the second round, a panel of technology experts, business leaders, and designers will evaluate the startup on various parameters like innovation quotient, team dynamics, scalability, product-market fit, and future plans before making the final selections.

DesignGild will be looking at an equity of anywhere between 1 to 6 percent, depending on the quantum of work done and the kind of startup.

Over the past two years, there have been several accelerators who have ventured into the Indian market. Especially for early-stage startups. A number of global corporates like Target, Microsoft, Citrix and SAP have set up their own incubation centres to build connects with new-age Indian startups.

Older and equally popular are incubators and accelerators set up by academic biggies like the IITs and IIMs. These work with the larger body of students and alumni.

Apart from these, independent incubators and accelerators also have mushroomed, with some working with the government or academic institutions.

For startups, accelerators help remove entry barriers and provide relatively easy access to capital and mentorship. However, in an earlier YourStory article, Vani Kola, Managing Director at Kalaari Capital, said, “Startups today do have a high failure rate. There will be a lot of money invested that perhaps will not give 100 percent success. The question is whether there were sufficient companies of size and scope that did create significant value.”

DesignGild is, nevertheless, firmly focused on design. It aims to be a global design ecosystem where startups can engage and collaborate with design at all levels.

“With our accelerator programme, we will assist startups to convert their ideas into market-ready propositions. DesignGild is building collaborations with other national and international organisations for exchange of participants and mentors,” says Harshit.

He adds that DesignGild will also be a vehicle to communicate the value of design to a larger audience by conducting events, workshops, and bootcamps, and becoming a thought leader to evangelise design in business and society at large.