How the Anthill Studio accelerator helps media-tech startups ride the digital wave
[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, Maersk, Ashoka Innovators, and Startup Leadership Programme.]
Praveen Mokkapati is Associate Partner at Anthill Ventures. An IIM Bangalore alumnus, he has over a decade of experience in B2B scaling across India and Southeast Asia. He oversees operational aspects of sales and marketing distribution channels for entrepreneurs across various startup scaling programs such as Anthill Studio. He also assists corporate strategy and innovation for industry leaders by leveraging the startup ecosystem.
Praveen joins us in this chat on the vision of Anthill Studio, the graduated startups, selection, and services for the upcoming cohort, opportunities for entrepreneurs in India, and recommendations for aspiring founders.
Edited excerpts of the interview:
YourStory: What was the founding vision of your accelerator, and how is it supported?
Praveen Mokkapati: Anthill Studio was born to identify and help accelerate media-tech startups with strong potential to disrupt an industry that is deeply entrenched in traditional processes and business models. To enable this vision, Anthill Ventures partnered with Suresh Productions and Rana Daggubati – both with strong intent - to support the startup ecosystem via their very valuable industry knowledge and foresight.
YS: What would you say are the top three opportunities for Indian entrepreneurs?
1. eSports. When Amazon acquired Twitch in 2014, the eSports industry turned a corner. Commanding a rapidly growing viewership, the industry has the potential for startups to make it big.
2. Healthcare. From the several gaps in primary healthcare or emerging growth in senior citizens, to rising levels and awareness of mental stress and need for early or pre-diagnosis for a large population, there are many opportunities for the smart entrepreneur to build solutions.
3. Travel and mobility. With a rising middle-class population, their aspirations, and increasing disposable money to spend, more Indians are expected to travel in the coming years than before. Tailoring solutions for this segment can be lucrative. Given the emphasis on autonomous vehicles and electric cars, the entire value chain presents opportunities to disrupt the conventional solutions.
YS: Which startups graduated from your first cohort, and what kinds of IP are being created by them?
PM: The cohort at Anthill Studio is working on cutting edge solutions and IP.
• ComicFlix is a technology platform that converts movies and videos to stunning graphic novels at scale, which can be printed or distributed digitally.
• Saranyu develops and delivers OTT TV/video, digital news, enterprise video products, and solutions for content providers, aggregators, service providers (telco/OTT), and enterprises.
• Woodcutter leverages big data, machine learning, and analytics to help filmmakers understand how their audience views their projects, where they stand compared to similar films, and help them with their promotion strategies.
• RecoSense is an AI-driven venture that uses data science stack to offer user personalisation, content recommendations, and analytics aimed at boosting consumption, conversion and retention.
• NewsPlus brings you breaking news, local stories, and personalised feeds on topics you follow. Their platform has found traction with telcos, celebrity magazines, and large enterprises.
• Scapic allows users to build, explore, share virtual and augmented reality experiences right from their web browser.
• Rooter is a sports fan app that engages fans during live matches with fantasy and prediction games and connects with other fans, thereby creating a seamless second screen experience.
All these have graduated but we continue to assist them. See the video of their Demo Day here. We are actively pursuing Cohort 2 startups.
YS: What is the background of the managers and leaders of your accelerator?
PM: Prasad Vanga is Founder and CEO of Anthill Ventures. Within four years, he has built a startup portfolio of 30 companies across India, US, and Southeast Asia that has grown 3x in portfolio value. He is a Stanford GSB alumnus, with over 18 years of experience in helping senior executives from large organisations like Symantec, Nike, Nestle, Novartis, Wachovia, HSBC, and YES Bank to drive business transformations. Prasad also has the experience of an entrepreneur who built a $25 million company within three years. As an investor, he has backed several successful companies like Medplus, Zenoti, and Tynker which provided exits of more than 12x.
Rana Daggubati is a successful actor, producer, and a VFX entrepreneur. He has invested in tech startups over the last 15 years and has seen the first-hand impact of technology in Indian films. He has provided support services for visual effects to making VFX spectacle films like Arundhati, Baahubali, and Robot.
Suresh Babu Daggubati established Suresh Productions (SP), one of India's largest integrated production powerhouses with offerings for producers, distributors, exhibitors, digital post facilities, animation, and gaming studios. With around 400 theatres in the country, SP has upgraded the cine-viewing experience via D-Cinema in theatres.
Rajeev Menon helps startups scale with speed by bringing big business thinking to early and growth stage startups. He has 25 years of experience, and is a Gallup-Certified Strengths Coach working with senior leadership and teams for career, personal development, and performance.
Mahesh Balani is an executive coach with over 20 years of experience in helping professionals and business owners achieve transformational outcomes. He is an active investor and has been an entrepreneur in the retail space. He has a process engineering background and is a GE-certified Lean Six Sigma Black Belt.
Navaneeth Menon focuses on driving operational excellence in the programme through continuous improvement and bringing best practices into various processes of Anthill programmes.
YS: What are the key challenges faced by startups in India, and how can you help bridge the gap?
PM: Unlike the past, there are vast improvements in the availability of institutional capital for equity or debt. More than capital, early growth stage companies need strategic investors who can help turn the startup into a scale-up.
These companies need investor-partners who can understand the fundamental gaps that are preventing them from scaling, those who can provide business scaling support on those specific areas, introduce necessary industry partners for market access, and provide access to senior sector or functional professionals who can provide valuable insights to the startup. Startups in Anthill Studio or any of the other programmes are offered all these tiers of support as they chart their growth story.
YS: What are the selection criteria for startups in your accelerator?
PM: An ideal startup would have their solution validated in the market through a successful POC or early customer(s). All companies are evaluated for their scalability. The core of our decision-making rests on two aspects: the founder(s) and the core team on one side, and how they stack up on Anthill’s proprietary algorithm called Scalability QuotientTM.
Built on over 100 parameters, the algorithm allows Anthill to assess early growth stage companies across many levels and attribute a scalability score. Our ability to positively impact the startup’s scalability is also an important data point during the selection process.
YS: Who are some of your institutional partners, and what kinds of agreements are in place?
PM: Across the sector, Anthill Studio has partnered with large movie production houses, technology consulting firms with global scale, and the vast investor community. Each of these stakeholders has been extremely supportive to Anthill Studio’s mission to scale media-tech startups with speed.
Nearly three state governments have been progressive in either leveraging Anthill’s core startup ecosystem or in active conversations to boost certain sectors in their respective states.
YS: What support and services do startups receive in your accelerator?
1) Business Mentoring. On the basis of the SQ assessments, Anthill Studio and its team of experts understands the gaps and scaling potential in order to develop a customised scale-up plan for every company. Workshops on business and technology, intervention sessions, 1:1 founder coaching are aligned with this plan.
2) Market Access. The programme selects startups whose products have undergone successful product validation in the market. It actively helps startups identify target customers who are willing to provide problem statements or use cases. We call this effort successful when at least one opportunity for every startup is successfully closed during the three-month programme.
3) Infrastructure Support. The cohort is offered access to space and facilities of Ramanaidu Studios, a movie production and film school facility in the heart of Hyderabad. Suresh Productions, a large production house that owns the studios, provides sector access, support and understanding to the startups. In addition, the programme has joined hands with industry partners who offer solutions related to cloud infrastructure, financial solutions, among others.
4) Marketing and PR. Right from support with the right marketing strategy to coverage across Anthill’s PR network, early stage companies become more visible across print and digital media.
5) Investments. Showcase events attract institutional investors and industry partners in addition to Anthill’s interest to invest in select startups. For additional capital raise requirements, Anthill provides support to the cohort throughout the process.
YS: What percentage of equity or fees do you charge your startups?
PM: A nominal amount of equity is charged to be accepted into the programme. The percentage varies based on the stage of the startup. For global startups, we also provide the option of venture building and scaling, whereby the programme will help the startup launch their local subsidiary and scale in the Indian market rapidly.
YS: How would you differentiate your accelerator from other accelerators in the field?
PM: Anthill provides unparalleled access to scaling opportunities across Asia for each company it engages with. Its strong global network of investors and corporations ensures that these early stage companies have access to numerous sources of funding, excellent opportunities to establish beachheads and market share, ability to tap industry experts of high pedigree, and numerous other benefits.
For startups to reach beyond India, I need to highlight A-Scale (www.a-scale.co) – Anthill’s Singapore-based scaling and market access programme in collaboration with Enterprise Singapore, a government body. It’s the perfect platform to springboard into Asia.
YS: What would you define as success for your accelerator?
PM: Startups come into Anthill Studio seeking varying areas of assistance, including business support and mentoring, scaling support, access to potential customers and other strategic connections, marketing support, technology enhancement or refinements, and investment.
Through the programme, there’s a structured way to access all these forms of assistance. Fulfilling all or most of these aspirations is the programme’s goal. We’ve seen startups metamorphosise their narrative during the programme – this has been hugely fulfilling for us.
YS: What are some notable startups who have graduated from your accelerator, and what are their achievements?
PM: Each startup from the first cohort has great stories to tell. However, I will highlight the ones that have directly impacted mainstream cinema.
• ComicFlix. They have done very interesting projects on Kangna Ranaut-starrer Manikarnika, Nene Raju Nene Mantri featuring Rana Daggubati, and Rajinkanth’s Enthiran among others.
• Woodcutter. This startup, comprising of IIT Madras graduates, has worked on interesting studies including box office predictions, movie promotion analytics, audience demographic and sentiment analysis. Some of their projects include Fukrey Returns, No. 1 Yaari, and A. R. Rahman’s One Heart film among others.
• Scapic. This AR/VR startup has created an experience for recent Bollywood thriller Andhadhun, and Hollywood movie Bumblebee from the Transformers film series, among other exciting projects.
YS: How do you compare and contrast India’s accelerators with that of other countries like US and China?
PM: The community in India is just as vibrant and diverse as that in the US or in China. However, one key and often talked about aspect is the culture of sharing information, mentoring and community-like structure among accelerators and their cohorts in Silicon Valley; this has been paramount to its success as the startup capital of the world. Many Indian accelerators will benefit from adopting a similar culture.
YS: What are your plans for the coming three-five years with respect to new startups?
PM: With recent office openings in Singapore and Israel, we are offering global tech startups the chance to build and scale their stories in India. By bringing entrepreneurs-in-residence into this model, Anthill aims to help startups Scale With SpeedTM. We welcome startups to reach out to us should they find it relevant.
In addition, we’re working extensively towards the goal of positively impacting over 100 startups during this period.
YS: How can better partnerships be forged between accelerators, industry, and universities?
PM: Accelerators play an important role in maintaining partnerships between the various players. As innovation sourcing hubs, accelerators provide corporates access to startup innovations. Greater willingness for corporates to embrace open innovation will allow startups to apply their solutions at scale.
Today’s students are looking at startups as an exciting first career move given the several opportunities for learning and responsibility. While startups are often portrayed as a risky career choice by many universities, early association by means of internships with accelerator programmes might provide students a soft entry into the startup ecosystem.
YS: What are your recommendations for Indian policymakers to make business easier for accelerators, investors, researchers, and startups in India?
PM: From the deluge of articles around the onerous nature of the tax regime on startups, most of it is pure rhetoric and hyperbole driven by a few instances in the recent past. Apart from the many changes introduced by DIPP, more could be done – speed up investor accreditation to allow seamless flow of legitimate capital into startups as per valuations defined by market forces. Lesser barrier to capital infusion into startups will spur economic growth through job-creation and larger societal impact.
YS: What are your recommendations or words of inspiration to startups and entrepreneurs in our audience?
PM: India is a huge and diverse country with structural faults across several sectors – each of these presents a huge opportunity for aspiring entrepreneurs. Stories of successful unicorns and soonicorns that have emerged in the past decade are a testament to the enterprising spirit of individuals who have emerged despite all odds.
With the current environment more conducive than ever before, there cannot be a better time for new-age startups to identify a purpose and rally around it. The greatest stories have the tendency to bring people together. Will yours too?