Pitches ranged from machine design startups and ticket discovery engines to edutech firms and professional networking platforms.
The finals of the Wharton India Startup Challenge—a conference that connects emerging startups with investors and allows them to pitch their business ideas—saw several startup entrepreneurs taking the stage to present their ventures to a team of judges that included Rehan Yar Khan (Managing Partner, Orios Venture Partners), Sandeep Murthy (Partner, Lightbox Ventures), Shivani Bhasin Sachdeva (MD & CEO, India Alternatives), Karan Mohla (Executive Director, IDG Ventures India), Preeti Sinha (Senior President and Global Convenor, YES INSTITUTE at Yes Bank Limited) and Vishal Khare (Director, Enterprise, Citrix India and Angel Investor).
Pitches ranged from machine design startups and ticket discovery engines to edutech and fintech firms. The event, organised by the Wharton India Economic Forum, is in its fifth edition this year. The winners of the Startup Challenge were eligible for a cash prize of $20,000 as well as several benefits in the entrepreneurial ecosystem.
The top three winners included:
Eduvanz is a tech-driven NBFC offering short education loans for skill training and development. Using technology, it assigns a credit score to every loan-seeking student based on their socio-economic and demographic background, their banking and finance statements, as well as the course and institute they are applying for. In the last four months, the Mumbai-based startup has received applications worth Rs 12 crore, mostly for skill training in the informal sector. It has partnered with corporates like McKinsey, Dr. Reddy’s Foundation and Godrej Industries, and utilising their CSR funds to dole out loans to skill-seekers. Eduvanz pocketed a cash prize of $12,000 at the 2018 Startup Challenge.
SpotDraft is an AI-powered contract and invoice management platform that allows individuals to draft legal contracts, generate invoices, automate payment reminders etc. It eliminates the middleman between the client and the advisor, and makes contract drafting a much more cost-effective exercise. The startup is presently aimed at freelancers and small businesses, and its AI technology scans the market and advises customers on what they should negotiate. A contract can be drafted on the platform in less than a minute. SpotDraft says it has drafted over 6,500 contracts in just a year, and has generated over 5,000 individual sign-ups. It operates on a freemium model. SpotDraft pocketed a cash prize of $6,000 at the 2018 Startup Challenge.
Mumbai-based Saral Designs has developed a low-cost sanitary napkin-making technology that can produce 800 pads a day. It then distribute those pads in rural areas where access to female hygiene products are very limited. Combining product design, machine technology, and innovative delivery mechanisms, Saral has distributed over 1.4 million pads in two years. Ninety-three percent of women in the rural areas where Saral reaches are said to be buying these affordable pads. The company has set up two compact manufacturing machines in India and Bangladesh. Saral Designs grabbed a cash prize of $2,000 at the 2018 Startup Challenge.
Some other finalists included:
Confirmtkt is a travel ticket discovery engine that is trying to solve the problem of waitlisted train tickets in India through machine learning and data analytics. This Bengaluru-based startup has built a ticket search engine that suggests alternative modes of transport (bus, taxis) to customers when their train tickets get cancelled at the last minute. Confirmtkt records 10 million searches on its site per month, and has a customer retention rate of 27 percent. While it started out as a search engine only, it has now evolved into a platform for bookings too. It has also earned a licence from IRCTC to sell rail tickets on its site.
Gamezop is a Delhi-based B2B gaming startup that allows games to be played on mobile/desktop browsers without the need to install apps on devices. This company is out to fix the problem of frequent installs and uninstalls in casual gaming. The model is is simple: it acquires the rights of HTML 5-supported games mostly from lesser known app developers. It then optimises and standardises these games. And, finally, distributes them to publishers that include social messaging apps and platforms like Facebook, Messenger, Hike, and so on. Users can play these games on browsers and post shareable weblinks on social networks. At present, Gamezop has a catalogue of 200+ games, and has nine million monthly active users.
Perpule is a Bengaluru-based startup that has developed a self checkout app for customers at offline retail stores. Perpule 1 Pay eases checkout queues at large-format retail stores by allowing customers to seamlessly scan item barcodes through the app, create an online cart of their purchased goods, and process an immediate e-payment to the store. Perpule has tie-ups with prominent retailers like Shoppers Stop, Hypercity, Pantaloons, Big Bazar, Spencers and so on. The company presently accounts for 15-20 percent store checkouts. Its shop-online-checkout-offline offering aims to ease serpentine cash counter queues across the country.
SoundRex wants to be the “next Dolby of sound”. The Mumbai-based startup is helping transmit sound from Point A to Point B seamlessly and wirelessly. It is using machine learning, artificial intelligence, and mathematical concepts through which it can control tens of thousands of speakers and create unique sound effects at concert venues and theatres. SoundRex wants to bring about an era of “wearable speakers” and it has a licensing deal with with global audio giant Harman that owns the JBL line of speakers. The startup estimates an annual revenue of $500,000. In comparison, Dolby is at $4 billion. Hence, the opportunity to grow is huge.
PlexusMD is a LinkedIn-like network for doctors and healthcare organisations. The platform enables doctors to create their professional profiles, get access to job offers and a curated news feed of health-related news and developments. More than 60,000 doctors and 4,000 institutions have signed up on the network. PlexusMD claims to have more than 200 new sign-ups everyday. Above 3,000 jobs have also been posted in the network. The Ahmedabad-based company has also partnered with Bajaj Allianz to offer doctor loans. In order to curb fake sign-ups, PlexusMD plans to develop a feature where doctors have to scan their licence at the time of on-boarding.