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From a startup powerhouse to a parallel dimension matrix, India stumps German entrepreneurs and investors

Dipti Nair
2nd Mar 2018
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Meet the members of the German delegation and what they have to say about the learnings from their India visit that saw the launch of GINSEP, a bridge to German-India startup collaboration.

Have you ever wondered about the outcomes of large trade delegations that visit different countries to establish business ties? More often than not, they are merely photo ops. While at other times, the media lets us down because there is no follow up.

But as they say, in the startup world one does things differently. Last week, I had the opportunity to spend the entire time with a delegation of German entrepreneurs, investors, corporate and government officials visiting India to get a first-hand impression of the startup landscape here.

The German delegation at the Taj Mahal in Agra.

The five-day visit organised by the German Startups Association culminated into the formal launch of the German India Startup Exchange Program (GINSEP) in New Delhi on February 23.

GINSEP aims to be the bridge between the startup ecosystems in the two countries to accelerate cross-border innovation and help both sides take advantage of each other's strengths.

It was a packed schedule during the two-city tour of Bengaluru and Delhi. But thanks to the traffic, the long commutes became the default networking time, and by Day 3, most of us had become familiar with each other to exchange our personal stories and those of our families. And the best part is, all of us realised that when the day is done, we are all the same -- bring on the Bollywood music!

Impact

But to take you back to my first point about outcomes of such delegations, I was happy to witness first-hand the impact of this particular one.

By the end of the tour, the members went beyond collecting only business cards and actually found synergies in the India side to look at possible collaboration. Richard Blöcher, CEO & Co-founder of Vriction, from Hamburg, who has roots in Myanmar, was eager to explore opportunities with Jyoti Thyagarajan’s Meghshala when he heard that their course material is being used in Myanmar too. “For me, the talk by Jyoti was very inspirational and I hope to be in touch with the startup,” said Richard.

There were many more examples, as you will find out in the article, that showed it was indeed worthwhile for the delegation to have traveled all the distance.

As Angela De Giacomo, Investment Manager, Bissell Family Office, and the brain behind the GINSEP, said that results of such visits can only be felt in smaller groups and not in huge events.

I spoke to the members of the delegation on what their expectations were before they ventured on their trip and what their learnings were after their India visit. Let’s hear it from some of them.

Nora Herzog

Nora Herzog

Project Lead for GINSEP

https://www.linkedin.com/in/nora-herzog-79984551/

Expectations:

I did not have too many expectations. I was just curious what the startup ecosystem here has to offer. I was already in love with India from my travelling experience before.

Learnings:

I realised that the startup ecosystem here is very vibrant and has a lot to offer. There are a lot of things where both countries can learn from one another and I look forward to connecting startups in those areas in order to support the ecosystems.

Nora says that her vision for GINSEP is to try and build a sustainable and long-lasting bridge between both startup ecosystems of Germany and India. “We will do this by providing information and making the network on both sides visible. We want to connect startups from both sides with corporates or investors and create business opportunities for both countries. We are also giving startups from each country a platform to present themselves through a pitch or matchmaking to the other country. More information on GINSEP events is on our website: http://ginsep.co.”

Augusto (right) with Laszlo Posset, Managing Director, T-Systems ICT India.

Augusto Pellarini

Deutsche Telekom, Early Stage Startup Investor and Mentor

https://www.linkedin.com/in/augustopellarini/

Expectations:

I first came to India in 1997. A lot has happened since then. I was somehow sceptical about what I would see. I had heard of the ecommerce startups and also the problems of last mile delivery due to the chaotic traffic. My expectations were not very high, to be honest. A portion of this for sure was arrogance, coming from Germany where we have access to everything.

This recent trip blew me away. Ola, Flipkart, and PayTM had invited us to their corporate headquarters. I walked from meeting to meeting getting fired up with goosebumps on my skin from their stories.

To start with, the managers were highly skilled graduates from top US colleges like Harvard, Stanford, and MIT. On top of that, some of them had been working in the Silicon Valley at Google, as was the case of the Chief Data Scientist of Flipkart.

During the presentations, we were told how daily problems are being solved with super simple solutions (payment transactions through QR codes to verify and accreditation of the buyer). Solutions which change the course of the lives of hundreds of millions of people on Indian streets. Bringing income and wealth to them. More than that, solutions were provided that bring access to bank accounts and lending opportunities to build up businesses. All of that backed by lots of data from the engines built to have data analytics capabilities.

To me, all of this was like a strong dose of drugs. I could not believe what I was hearing. Artificial Intelligence in service of the poor street seller and for the business, a win-win situation surely.

The disadvantages of the Indian economy are flipped around and made an opportunity to create value. Sometimes it needs scarce resources to come up with fantastic ideas. This seems to be the virtue of the Indian startup ecosystem. Something none of the other ecosystems in the US or Europe have.

In my view, international investors can no longer close their eyes to this market. I feel humbled to see what is going on in India, and I'm glad to have signed up for this trip.

Learnings:

Never underestimate the power of creativity that people develop in scarcity, when they assess their potential for solutions.

I returned home humbled and happy. Humbled because once again I have been taught life lessons and happy to see that India’s future looks bright. The upcoming Indian generation will teach the world many lessons in the years to come. I look forward to these exciting times.

Christiane (third from left) with the team at ThEx innovativ.

Christiane Kilian

Head of Startup Department, ThEx innovativ, Foundation for Technology, Innovation, and Research, Ambassador of GINSEP

https://www.linkedin.com/in/christiane-kilian-8ba346133/

Expectations:

This was my first trip to India and of course, I had some images in mind, and I am happy to say I wasn’t disappointed at all.

Learnings:

I wanted to know the ecosystem here and the whole week showed me that the startup ecosystem is more than ecommerce and software development. It is more about the people who have launched their startups in so many different sectors. And more importantly, it is about the fantastic women entrepreneurs. I was more than surprised and happy to see that there are so many women entrepreneurs here.

We are having our Investors’ Day event on June 19-20 and we want to invite Indian startups, which could be a practical start to this whole GINSEP programme.

Bindu Balakrishnan

Bindu Balakrishnan

Country Head of DCMN India, an international growth marketing specialist and industry innovator in the fields of media, creative and technology, Ambassador GINSEP

https://www.linkedin.com/in/bindu-balakrishnan-4827ba5/ 

Expectations:

To have a deeper insight into how the German investors and entrepreneurs perceive India and the opportunities it offers in terms of investment potential as well as business expansion for startups. I wanted to have a better understanding of the policies floated by the Indian government for the startups and where they see the potential in terms of collaboration with Germany.

Learnings:

The Indian startup ecosystem is buzzing and a lot of young entrepreneurs are coming up with some great ideas. From ecommerce/services oriented startups, the young breed of entrepreneurs has moved into solving issues at a grassroots level using IoT, especially in healthcare and agritech.

These startups look to Germany for support in identifying new technologies, symbiotic collaborations, and investments. German investors see India as a very interesting market to invest in and are amazed at the size of the market here, and also how despite the millions of acquired users, how much of the market is still untapped offering the potential for huge growth.

The government sees Germany as a hardware powerhouse and India has its strength in software, and these two core skills can be combined to come up with innovative products for the entire world.

Richard Blöcher (third from left) with the Vriction GmbH tech team.

Richard Blöcher

Entrepreneur, Vriction GmbH

https://www.linkedin.com/in/rbloecher/

Expectations:

Running an early stage startup, I certainly had no specific intentions going to India. I think startups or entrepreneurs, in general, are driven by curiosity, opportunity, and questioning the status quo. 

Being on this tour gave us invaluable insights on the pros and cons of building businesses in India. Therefore, I deeply have to thank Angela de Giacomo and YourStory for lending their eyes and sharing their network.

Learnings:

So far, digital India seems to be all about speed, the sheer market size, and ongoing growth. I think this is the main reason why we saw a lot of me-too solutions adapting to Indian customers. But even this environment fosters the need of innovation and differentiation.

As a B2B content provider, we have a solution for fashion ecommerce businesses that allows them to mix and match and see how the ensemble looks. My gut tells me we have a perfect solution for the young and playful Indian audience.

I’m looking forward to integrating the ‘catalog look generator’ on existing Indian ecommerce platforms and continue our very own Indian story. (Richard’s tech solution saw interest from StalkBuyLove, and he hopes to meet the right people in Myntra and Jabong to show his product.)

Burkhard Bonsels

Burkhard Bonsels

Managing Partner

ATHANOR CAPITAL PARTNERS GMBH

https://www.linkedin.com/in/burkhard-bonsels-212368/

Expectations:

After several years in management consulting and private equity, I now focus as an independent investor on digitisation and related technologies and business models.

I had worked as a management consultant in India many years ago and was already impressed by the country's culture and development opportunities. With this trip, I wanted to follow it up and see what possibilities arise today.

Learnings:

The impressions I gained are impressive. India's large domestic market is increasingly offering opportunities for young companies as well. The number of such startups and the speed with which they were founded speak for themselves and show India in a different light than it appeared just a few years ago.

Alexander Kaiser with his co-founder

Alexander Kaiser

Founder and CEO of three startups: ESPORTS UNITED, w3alpha.com, and PlaceX

https://www.linkedin.com/in/kaiseralex/

Expectation:

This is my first visit. I wanted to know about the culture and what drive Indians. I often get people/gamers writing to me from India with aggressive pitches. But I never took them seriously. But now, after coming here, I have a bit more to think about.

Learnings:

The culture here is completely different from ours. It will take me time to comprehend the disparity here. On the one hand, we saw businesses housed in swanky offices while on the roads it was a different story. It felt like a parallel dimension in a gaming world. The infrastructure is not keeping pace with the startup ambitions here. Of course, I was happy to visit the startups, and was impressed with the visit we made to StalkBuyLove.

Saban Denis Dasgin

Founder of three startups: digital marketing startup, trendomedia.com, artyourface.de/at/ch, Shabany.co that deals with baby wraps fashion

https://www.linkedin.com/in/sdasgin/

Expectations:

This is my first time in India. People who had travelled here 10 years ago, told me it was chaotic and troubled. And of course, one hears similar stuff in the news.

Learnings:

After the trip, my views have changed radically. Of course infrastructure wise it is not up to European standards. But what I find is everyone is so motivated. I can see it in the eyes of the entrepreneurs here, they want to change things, do something worthwhile. In the West, we take a lot of things for granted. I am already collaborating with a few Indian businesses here. For my pop art startup, artyourface, I work with an Ahmedabad digital art agency, and I will be happy to similarly collaborate for my baby fashion ecommerce startup, Shabany.

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