5 years of supporting startups - Nasscom 10K Startups’ Suresh Jayaraju explains mentorship


Since 2013, Nasscom 10000 Startups programme has been nurturing and fuelling the entrepreneurial spirit in India. YourStory spoke to Suresh Jayaraju, the head of Nasscom 10000 Startups, to understand the programme’s impact in its five-year journey so far.

The National Association of Software and Services Companies (Nasscom) launched its ‘10,000 Startups’ initiative in 2013, and through the programme, aims to support 10,000 startups by 2023.

With the initiative touching the five-year milestone this year, YourStory spoke to Suresh Jayaraju, Senior Director and Head of Nasscom 10000 Startups initiative.

A management graduate from Sydenham Institute of Management Studies, Research and Entrepreneurship Education (SIMSREE), Mumbai, Suresh led product development and strategic partnerships to fuel the growth of several established brands like Rediff, Google, Airtel, Samsung, and the Tata Group, among others.

He started his professional journey in 1999 with Rediff.com, where he created India’s first online marketing center, and introduced an ad-lead generation model. At Google, he led Content Partnerships for Google Maps, Google India Search, and later Strategic Partnerships for Android and Google Mobile Products for South Asia. His last stint prior to Nasscom was at the Tata Group.

At Nasscom 10000 Startups programme, Suresh has been shaping the programme to nurture and drive significant value to India’s tech startup ecosystem.

Below are edited excerpts from the interview.

YourStory: Nasscom 10,000 Startups has completed five years. What has been the programme's impact on the startup ecosystem?

Suresh Jayaraju: Nasscom 10,000 Startups was launched in 2013 with the aim to support and nurture 10,000 tech startups in India. At that time, the frenzied approach hadn’t caught on, and so this initiative was a disruptor of sorts.

In the past five years, we have evangelised entrepreneurship for over 4,000 startups who have graduated through this programme. If we exclusively look at funding – often considered to be the pet peeve - over 10 percent of the funded startups are from our programme.

Suresh Jayaraju is the Senior Director and Head of Nasscom 10000 Startups.Impressively enough, our initiative and outreach that spans across 20 cities has seen the rollout of 3,000 events and has established deep linkages with the ecosystem. Our corporate innovation focused programme has managed to pique the interest of companies, resulting in more than 100 PoCs, and 400 startup - corporate connects.

We have also been providing global market access to Indian startups. Through the programme InnoTrek, close to 300 startups have been immersed in the global ecosystem. Beyond this, our focused mentorship sessions, be it one-to-one or larger workshops, have offered much-needed guidance to the startups.

YS: What are the initiatives launched by the programme to nurture the startup ecosystem?

SJ: Right from inception, the team has worked towards running initiatives that match the needs of the startups.

The idea of supporting startups took the shape of several high-level programmes such as the physical incubation space, which was launched in partnership with the state governments in 10 cities. The aim was to offer equity free workspace at a subsidised rate, where startups would be freed of external hassles, to devote their time on product/market development.

As a national programme deliverer, we were conscious of not being constrained by geographical boundaries, and so a pan-India approach was always on the cards. The introduction of a virtual programme was a clear testimony to this thought process. It ensured that Tier II city-based startups were not left behind.

Moreover, the assistance was not limited to provision for office space and went much beyond to address specific issues related to business. For instance, we brought in focused initiatives such as Investor 101 and Mentor 101 sessions as part of both incubation and virtual programmes. It soon attracted a huge fanfare, marked by a steep rise in session attendance.

The need for providing the latest online tools and services like cloud credits wasn’t lost on us. Our partners such as Google, Microsoft Azure, Amazon Web Services, IBM Cloud, Digital Ocean and 25 others started pitching in to offer unmatched free credits.

Considering the giant leaps that the Indian startups were taking, we focused our efforts to build a market access programme for growth-stage startups too. Through our annual InnoTrek programme, a week-long visit to the Silicon Valley, we have been able to facilitate interaction and engagement for startups with global giants and encouraged them to gain disruptive knowledge. In turn, it has led to alliances being built, and scale-up, particularly using the global platform.

We also launched ‘Code For The Next Billion’ in partnership with Facebook, to bring the spotlight on social impact startups and help them scale-up through extensive mentorship and boot camps. Our second edition saw Invest India and Startup India extend extensive outreach support on a national scale.

YS: What is the advantage of Nasscom 10000 Startups for entrepreneurs?

SJ: Nasscom 10,000 Startups has been at the centre point of the startup ecosystem in India. Once a startup is inducted, it gets access to worldwide networks consisting of corporates, mentors, angel investors, VCs and the like, which can then be leveraged to fast-track growth and advancement.

Apart from this, we also provide crucial connects with key global ecosystem players such as Google, Microsoft, IBM, Digital Ocean, Facebook and others for not only accessing tools to scale up, but also to build technology and the right product.

The support received from the state governments has also helped us establish physical workspaces at subsidised rates in major cities.

The goal is to drive significant value and bring about change in the ecosystem, which has led us to introduce impact-led initiatives for startups in all these years.

YS: Funding has been the buzzword of the startup ecosystem. How does the programme help entrepreneurs in getting access to funding?

SJ: As mentioned earlier, over 10 percent of the funding has happened through our physical incubation programme. Few of our startups have also been acquired such as - Bookpad, Bakfy Healthkhoj, Letsride, and Zepper to name a few. While we help startups meet the right investor, we are also cognizant of the fact that a lot of startups need guidance in pitching, sharing the right kind of information and creating pitch decks.

For this, we organise workshops to answer the most basic question of ‘How to pitch right’. Coupled with this, we also extend support in bringing exposure and visibility to startups actively looking for funding through our digital/media promotions.

YS: We often ask entrepreneurs about their challenges. In case of Nasscom 10000 startups, please highlight some challenges that the programme faced and being at the helm, what were the strategies you developed to overcome them?

SJ: The sheer size of the base (startups) is often stupefying. As per the reports, nearly 1,000 startups gets added every year. A lot of startups do not realise that there is a need for feedback from industry experts. To bridge this gap, we started conducting several workshops led by domain experts to cover topics such as design thinking, customer validation, product management, legal, sales etc.

It would be unfair if we did not have a special mention of the continued support that we receive from our partners who are eager to help these fledgling startups succeed.