Meet the mentors who give Entrepreneur First its unique edge
In January 2019, global talent investor Entrepreneur First (EF) launched its programme in India with a 50-member cohort of first-time founders. Since its foundation in the UK in 2011 by Alice Bentinck and Matt Clifford to help budding entrepreneurs build their companies, EF has seen over 2,000 people graduate from successive cohorts across the globe. Bengaluru is one of the six global locations for the programme that include London, Singapore, Paris, Berlin, and Toronto.
The programme, which accepts 60 aspiring tech entrepreneurs every six months, is unique in that it works with founders even before they have an idea, and also helps match them with a co-founder and raise seed funding. The programme has two stages: Form – where you find a co-founder and develop your idea, and Launch is where you get your team funded and begin building your company.
The programme in India is headed by Esha Tiwary, General Manager, EF India. Esha has been working closely within the Indian startup ecosystem for several years across multiple leadership roles, including launching the GSF Accelerator in Bangalore, CMO for Cloudnine and building new businesses in Myntra from the ground up. The programme also has mentors from across the entrepreneurial ecosystem who not only bring unique perspectives to the founders but are also a highly valued source of guidance in their early entrepreneurial journey. They include:
- Ashutosh Vikram (Program Lead) – Ashutosh is the co-founder of agri-tech startup Ninjacart, and has significant experience in setting up and scaling a business, product management, team management, business planning, marketing etc.
- Ashwin Chandra - (Entrepreneur in Residence)- Ashwin is a two-time entrepreneur who started and exited Brekkie - one of India's first cloud kitchen and delivery businesses. Ashwin works closely with founders and helps them go from ideas to creating venture backable businesses.
- Prajwal Bhat - (Entrepreneur in Residence) Prajwal was the Founder of Cerenode, a data analytics company focussed on Life Sciences and Healthcare. He has worked in deep tech startups and lends his expertise in business development, go-to-market, manufacturing and operations to the budding entrepreneurs.
- Vivek Kumar - (Launch Lead) Vivek was the Co-founder and CTO at Excubator. He has significant experience in setting up corporate innovation programmes for some of the world's leading global enterprises and providing them access to top-notch startups. His extensive work with early stage startups in the ecosystem has positioned him well to advise EF startups on their business-building and fundraising journey..
- Venkat Raju - (Venture Partner at EF India) Venkat is a serial entrepreneur,a corporate executive with deep business, and technology experience and a respected angel investor in the Indian ecosystem. He lends his expertise in digital transformation, innovation, scaling, mentoring/advisory services, product management, and venture financing.
- Srikant Sastri - (Venture PartnerAdvisor at EF India ) Srikant was the Co-founder at Crayon Data, and a board member/advisor to several emerging companies, university incubators, Government of India and the Bihar state government.
The EF programme is unique as it draws on the expertise of former entrepreneurs to help the future tech entrepreneurs. The three-month programme begins with the Form phase where participants focus on finding the right co-founder to develop their idea. By the end of Week 8, over 80 percent of the cohort have formed teams and prepare to meet the Investment Committee and admission to the next phase of the programme – Launch. Founders who don't clear the investment committee typically still leverage this network to move their business forward. Many join EF’s portfolio companies, some even continue with their business and use EF’s network to their benefit.
“EF brings the best aspects of (and is a cross between) an Incubator (nurturing of entrepreneurial talent and ideas/concepts into potential businesses), an Accelerator (enabling very rapid growth of the product and the business in a short burst of time) and an Early Stage Fund (critical financial support at the initial stage of these startups where they are unlikely to get external funding),” says Venkat.
He adds that EF differentiates itself in the "Talent game" by onboarding aspiring entrepreneurs with high potential; giving them access to others with complementary skills and expertise, and sets them on a path to success with proactive, relevant interventions.
While startups prepare for the Demo Day, the EF team works in parallel to identify relevant investors from across the globe as startups coming out of the EF program are both locally and globally relevant.
“The quality of people joining the programme is very high. You get to work with founders who have tremendous ability to build startups which are strongly differentiated. This is something that the startup ecosystem of India really needs,” says Vivek.
Srikant says that India has a rich base of talented people who want to be tech entrepreneurs. “They often have the domain skills but struggle to figure out how to get started. The EF programme invests in such talent by giving them everything they could possibly need: access to a pool of potential co-founders, their first cheque, high-quality mentoring, and even plugs them into a global network.”
He says being involved with EF is a unique experience. “For me, as a mentor and angel investor, nowhere else will I be offered such a talent pool on a platter. Spending time with these young founders is one of the things I most look forward to each week.”