The Wharton India Startup Challenge received 500+ applications, of which top 10 finalists were chosen. The three winners earned a cash prize of $20,000 and other rewards from AWS, DigitalOcean, ThinQbate, and LetsVenture.
The 23rd edition of the Wharton India Economic Forum (WIEF) was held in Mumbai last week. WIEF is the largest student-run, India-centric business conference hosted by the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. It brings together entrepreneurs, leaders, professionals, academics, and students from across the world to discuss India’s growing presence in the global economy. The event was attended by more than 400 people.
WIEF 2019 was led and co-chaired by Wharton School students Juhi Bhatnagar, Kartik Das, Swati Ganeti, Khushboo Goel and Sonal Panda.
One of the top attractions at WIEF is the Wharton India Startup Challenge (WISC), which is in its sixth year now. In the past, now-successful startups like BabyChakra, Zostel, Haptik, Zoomcar, Bizongo, and Ketto have presented at the WISC. The Startup Challenge has grown 20X since it began. Past winners of the challenge have gone on to raise over $50 million from more than 20 institutional investors.
WISC zeroed in on 10 startups from a pool of more than 500 applications. These 10 finalists were given the opportunity to pitch in front of an investor panel at WIEF. The panel included names like Padmaja Ruparel of India Angel Network, Prayank Swaroop of Accel Partners, Rajinder Balaraman of Matrix Partners, Sakshi Chopra of Sequoia Capital and Badri Pillapakkam of Omidyar Network.
This year, the 10 finalists included GoComet, Nuo, Lifepage, CashPositive, AgroWave, Reculta, MyPetrolPump, Wink & Nod, Credenc, and ItiLite.
The startup pitches were evaluated on the basis of four parameters: strength of the founding team, product market fit, financials, and WIEF mission alignment on impact.
The winning startups were:
Ashish Gupta, Co-founder & CEO, MyPetrolPump, said: “Participating and Winning WISC is another milestone in our long journey. WISC ‘19 has provided us with huge visibility across the startup ecosystem in India and abroad. We are looking to raise pre-series A investment to the tune of $2 million to scale up further.”
Mayank Kukreja, Founder, ITILITE, said: “At ITILITE, we have built a smart platform for the modern corporate traveller and WISC was a great opportunity to showcase it to a large audience. Winning the startup challenge is yet another validation that our product is the much needed technology boost to this sector stuck in old school processes. We are strengthening our presence in the top 10 cities to serve the large void in the corporate travel industry.”
Avinash Kumar, Co-founder, Credenc, said: “The WISC journey through the different stages helped us improve our pitch and see ourselves more objectively. To be one of the winners for this year is a great feeling, and beyond the cash prize, it gives us further validation and steam to keep pushing the boundaries. Our ambition is to open up a very large lending segment which is currently ignored, enabling students across India to pursue education and careers of their choice by removing the financial barrier.”
Wharton India also roped in several partners to aid the winning startups.
The top three earned cash prizes of $10,000, $6,000 and $4,000, respectively. They also got $10,000 in Amazon Web Services and DigitalOcean credits. Additionally, the three winners received prizes from ThinQbate (a Mumbai-based startup accelerator) and LetsVenture (a platform for angel investing).
Juhi Bhatnagar, Co-Chair of WIEF, said: “This has been a record-breaking year with unprecedented attendance and more than 500 quality startup applications. The top three had incredible pitches and energy, and we are so excited for what they plan to build. We are certain that the winners are going to benefit greatly from the value addition in terms of the network, validation as well as reach that winning WISC will provide. Some pitchers have already started getting inbound interest from investors.”
Kartik Das, Co-Chair of WIEF, said: “This year WISC witnessed a diverse range of startups and the organising team worked hard to collaborate with the nation's top VCs to narrow down the list of applications to the top 10 finalists. In addition, we have also launched the WISEMENTORS initiative for startup mentorship, and an inspiring podcasts series capturing insights from leading business professionals.”
VCs gathered at WISC weighed in as well.
Commenting on the evolution of India’s overall startup landscape, India Angel Network’s Padmaja said,
“When we started out as investors, we only saw services being offered. There were no product startups. That was where we were. That has changed now.”
Rajinder of Matrix Partners concurred. He said, “India has always had outstanding entrepreneurs. Finally, we have a market that is right.” Prayank of Accel Partners added, “The big change is the speed at which startups are beginning to scale now. I hope the perception will change, and there will be a global deep tech company out of India.”