Infrastructure, flexibility, innovation, growth – these are some of the benefits for entrepreneurs and corporates in this growing network of co-working spaces.
[This article is part of Startup Hatch, the YourStory series on incubators, accelerators, makerspaces and co-working spaces in the startup ecosystem. See earlier profiles of initiatives at IIT Bombay, IIM Bangalore, BITS Pilani, NCL, Tata Elxsi, Axilor, NID, IIIT-Bangalore, IIIT-Hyderabad, Vellore Institute of Technology, PSG Coimbatore, Workbench Projects, Makers Asylum, Appy Hours, Turning Ideas, NetApp Excellerator, Pitney Bowes Accelerator, TechStars, Indigram Labs, WeWork, Z Nation Lab, Sandbox Startups, Brigade REAP, Target India Accelerator, Zone Startups, Ashoka Innovators, and Startup Leadership Programme.]
Pranay Gupta is the co-founder of co-working space 91springboard. He earlier worked at Lehman Brothers and Nomura. He was also Joint CEO of IIM Ahmedabad’s incubator (Centre for Innovation Incubation and Entrepreneurship); he helped set up and expanded the incubator, leading over 40 investments in startups across many domains.
Pranay is a board representative/observer at Rolocule Games, Innoz, Ideaforge, Medulla-Soft, Mayavi Telecommunications, Innovese, BioSense, TravelYaari and Mangoreader. He graduated from IIM-A and IIT-Delhi.
Pranay joins us in this interview on the opportunities for startups in India, the importance of professional networking for entrepreneurs, and the role of co-working spaces in India’s startup ecosystem.
YourStory: What was the founding vision of your co-working space, and how is it supported?
Pranay Gupta: The founding team of 91springboard got together with the simple idea of helping entrepreneurs. Our primary way of doing so was and is by creating a community of peers and a culture of paying it forward. We have grown and expanded over the years to become a larger and more inclusive community of professionals from all walks of life, but the DNA remains the same.
I think I speak for all my co-founders in saying that 91springboard’s mission remains being able to help make the path for all our members a little easier and a little less lonely. Our vision continues to be supported by the startup/entrepreneurial community of people in India.
What I respect and admire most about this community is that it has been built by people who were generous and gave even though they were working round the clock. They participated with good cheer even as they struggled with their startups.
YS: How many spaces do you have in India, and what are your expansion plans?
PG: We currently have 20 spaces spread across eight cities in India - Bengaluru, Mumbai, New Delhi, Noida, Gurgaon, Navi Mumbai, Hyderabad and Goa. We will soon be opening a new hub in Pune.
Currently, India has massive opportunities and an already existing and growing demand. So, although going global may happen sooner or later, India is keeping us super busy for now.
YS: How many startups are members of your co-working space in India?
PG: There are about 2,000+ startups that currently work out of 91springboard. The sectors include HR, accounting, ecommerce, consulting, real estate, pharma, healthcare, legal services, logistics, and energy. The list is quite elaborate, actually!
YS: How many corporates are members of your co-working space in India? What is your value proposition for them?
PG: Honestly, the line between startups and corporates is blurring but of whatever we think of corporates or large-scale startups, there are around 400+ members at 91springboard. The value proposition for them is the same as we provide to any of our members, which is imparting a sense of community, being in an innovative environment, having flexibility to grow, and having no headache for infrastructure management.
YS: What would you say are the top three opportunities for Indian entrepreneurs?
PG: I truly believe that India is on a massive growth mode right now and there will be a lot of opportunities in India. But, clearly, the consumer space in the country takes the larger piece of the cake in my opinion. When I say consumer opportunities, they include the various opportunities that come with any country transitioning from a developing to a developed nation. The windows of opportunities can range from the FMCG sector and lifestyle products to services and healthcare.
Another thing that I can think of is how ‘big data’ as a term has become all-pervasive and people have been talking about it as an opportunity for a long time, but I do believe that a lot of companies are still not using data in an ideal manner. To that extent, combining data with analytics for actionable outputs is an area where there should be good opportunities.
Lastly, we have seen that the defence sector in India has been importing a lot, and I believe there are massive opportunities there for Indian startups. It is a tougher sector to crack but with the government now taking a proactive role in engaging with startups, I think it should be a great sector in terms of favourable circumstances for Indian entrepreneurs.
YS: What are the key challenges faced by startups in India, and how can you help bridge the gap?
PG: All of 91springboard’s co-founders have been bitten by the entrepreneurship bug at some point or the other early on in our working careers. Varun Chawla founded MyGuestHouse, which he later sold to MakeMyTrip, Anand Vemuri worked with a medical device startup in the Valley (California), and I was joint CEO at the CIIE at IIM-A.
In their various experiences, we all went through common problems faced by entrepreneurs in India, which led to the emergence of 91springboard. It is the desire to help create and build businesses that motivates the team.
There are five main problems we solve for entrepreneurs and businesses alike:
- Access to infrastructure: We provide a plug ‘n’ play office setup where our members can simply come in and start working. All the necessary office infrastructure, everything from WiFi to workstations along with a café and chill zone, are provided by us. You’d probably think that these features are offered by other co-working spaces as well -- but for us, the way our spaces are designed has consciously transformed over the past five years in accordance with the needs of the members.
- Network: We pride ourselves on the vast member network that our team has strived hard to create over the past five years and that continues to grow everyday. We create an environment where member interactions are maximised and people can tap into a network of like-minded individuals and organisations.
- Knowledge: We organise and host a ton of events geared to gaining knowledge such as workshops, seminars, roundtables and panel discussions, to name a few.
- Service providers: We provide access to a vetted list of service providers across verticals with everything from cloud computing to legal, accounting, finance, marketing and many more, who pass on benefits of free or discounted services to our members.
- Access to capital: We organise investor meetups and larger events to give the opportunity for our members to tap into the investor community.
YS: What are the selection criteria for startups in your co-working space?
PG: The concept of community is a very important one to 91springboard. So while there are no inked rules and we welcome all startups to join our co-working space, we make sure we explain the potential members the concept of community and ensure that it will benefit their line of work or industry.
YS: What support and services do startups receive in your co-working space?
PG: Our focus goes far beyond providing seats and workspaces. Our core objective is to bring people together and form meaningful communities that create an impact. We create an environment where working professionals get access to resources that they can leverage to expand and scale their business.
For example, we organise events geared towards networking and gaining knowledge. One of our most popular events is Mentor Hours, where we have a large list of industry experts who generously give their time to mentor entrepreneurs across verticals.
We also organise meetups, workshops and seminars that address the variety of business needs of these entrepreneur. This includes everything from workshops on advanced Powerpoint and Excel, to digital and content marketing, and even 3D printing and public speaking. We give people a place where there is continuous learning happening, that our members can tap into as and when needed.
Quite a lot of these sessions are designed not just keeping the founders in mind but also how the people working in their companies can do better in their roles. Aside from work-related events and programmes, we also focus on cultural, entertainment and social welfare related efforts and activities that help our members give back to the community, helping them both professionally and personally.
YS: Do you also invest in the startups, and take equity in the startups?
PG: We are supported by Niti Aayog’s Atal Innovation Programme and as a part of that initiative, we have been provided seed funds through which we can invest up to Rs 12.5 lakh per startup.
Yes, we have done investments and we do take equity in startups. It is a much smaller number but there are a few startups where we invested. There is a parallel team that takes care of this and the startups may or may not necessarily be based out of a co-working space for investments. It is based on a matching investment model where someone else also needs to be investing in the startups along with us.
YS: How would you differentiate your co-working space from the other co-working spaces in India?
PG: As mentioned earlier, we don’t just provide infrastructure. We provide a conducive environment for people to grow and network through various workshops and mentorship programmes and give them an equal opportunity to leverage our vast network of professional as well as personal communities.
91springboard’s core competencies lie in creating a co-working environment and culture that enables collaboration and growth for all parties involved. 91sprinboard has two main differentiators:
- Community: We function on a community-based approach and believe that the spaces we are building thrive on a sense of community. The culture is what sets us apart from the other co-working spaces.
- Network: Being the largest co-working space provider, we have the biggest network across the country of various stakeholders, from mentors to investors, service providers, partners and of course working professionals at various stages of their journey, creating the most value for anyone who joins the community.
YS: What would you define as success for your co-working space?
PG: To me, member growth, both of individual and companies, is a good measure to define the success for 91springboard.
YS: How do you compare and contrast India’s co-working spaces with those of other countries like the US and China?
PG: One thing that is clear is that customer willingness to pay is much lower in India compared to the US and, for that matter, China as well. To that extent, Indian co-working spaces have to be much more efficient to sustain and be able to pull off this growth.
The second thing is that networking and engaging with community is an acquired skill for a lot of us. In the US, for instance, because of the way their education system is, they are relatively better at talking to others, networking with each other and supporting each other. For example, the alumni groups there are much stronger for the same reason.
In India, we don’t have a lot of examples of great professional communities. While personal communities in India are much stronger, there aren’t many professional communities in India. To that extent, co-working spaces in India, especially the ones like us that focus on community-building, need to start from the basics and educate the client on community - versus just create an environment and expect the client to take it up from there.
YS: What are your plans for the coming 3-5 years with respect to new startups?
PG: We are tying up with a bunch of corporates and we are already Niti Ayog-supported; there are a lot of other state governments we are having good conversations with. One thing we want to ensure is make life easier for new startups beyond just infrastructure. We have worked hard towards that in terms of getting them the right mentorship and potential exposure to clients and investors, and you will definitely be seeing a lot more of that from us.
YS: How can better partnerships be forged between co-working spaces, industry and universities?
PG: There are two critical aspects to every good partnership. One is that the partnership should be a win-win for everyone, and the second is regarding the people implementing that partnership. However interesting or strong the MoU, if the person who is the point-of-contact for the partnership in the respective firms is not as excited about the partnership, it doesn't work .
We do have a lot of good tie-ups with the industry that are done in a manner where the industry benefits by engaging with startups at our hubs and startups benefit through the exposure and products they get from the industry. As our startups benefit, so do we, in addition to the programme fee that the industry pays us for this. We have seen that work and I think for us we will be focussing a lot on scaling these activities at our end.
YS: What are your recommendations for Indian policymakers to make business easier for co-working spaces, investors, and startups in India?
PG: Although the government is gradually working towards making business easier for people in India, to me, making investments to startups super easy is critical because without funds it’s very hard to set up any business. Any efforts that include reducing capital gains, and valuation not being questioned, are important and useful.
There are a lot of other small factors that inadvertently become irritants and slow down the setting up of a new business. For example, imagine a homemaker wanting to sell her product on an ecommerce platform. She would need a GST number and for her to have a GST number she would need an official address - but she is a homemaker. In the new digital landscape where everything is online and people are maintaining accounts online, the government can work towards eliminating the residential address clause for that.
YS: What are your recommendations or words of inspiration to the startups and entrepreneurs in our audience?
PG: My biggest recommendation would be to build something that your customer is excited about and willing to pay for. Put your head down and focus on it for four years.
If you are honestly improving your product and customising it so that the client is willing to pay for it and you survive through that for four years, I can confidently say that there is a 99.99 percent chance that you will be successful. It’s just that. There’s no science or sexiness to it. It’s just this four-year window indicator.