Propel Pitchfest21: A crash course in success for budding entrepreneurs

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Are you an entrepreneur who’s in two minds about launching a startup amidst the Covid-19 pandemic? Here’s what online broking firm Zerodha co-founder Nikhil Kamath’s advice is for jittery entrepreneurs: the time for innovation is ripe and there is no time better than now to start a business.

“Another way to look at the Covid-19 crisis from an entrepreneur's lens is that people have more free time available right now and they can be sold new products as they have the time to test them. There are plenty of opportunities for one to take advantage right now,” said Nikhil during a fireside chat at the annual startup event ‘Propel Pitchfest21’ organised by the Propel Incubator at BML Munjal University on April 28 and April 29, 2021.

Supporting his observation with the example of the Indian stock market, the Zerodha co-founder said, “The number of people with direct or indirect exposure to the stock market in India is around 1.5 crore out of a population of over 140 crore. However, the largest rise that we've seen in this number in India in the past decade has been in the Covid year i.e. between March 2020 and April 2021."

The Propel Pitchfest21 incubator programme aimed to encourage new ideas, innovations and support young startups to scale ahead. The initiative also sought out to give startups an opportunity to showcase their solutions, network with ecosystem stakeholders like investors and learn from thought leaders.

The two-day online event also featured a host of informative sessions, panel discussions, masterclasses and fireside chats, and a pitching contest that aimed at nurturing the spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship among budding entrepreneurs.

As part of its pitching contest, BML Munjal University had invited applications from startups across two categories — Indian startup product and Indian startup services. The two startups with the best solutions bagged cash prizes and seed funding support during incubation, apart from other benefits like networking opportunities, services at discounted prices and other perks. The university received over 300 entries for the pitching contest.

The startups which participated in the pitching contest for the 'Indian Startup Product' category were Backyard Creators, BlisCare, BatX Energies and Dr Nanoxa. The startups which participated in the 'Indian Startup Service' category were NotBot, HappyMinds, EVO and TransCreations.

The two startups which were announced as winners of the Propel Pitchfest21 incubator programme were BatX Energies (Indian startup product), Transcreations (Indian Startup Service).

Straight from the experts

In one of the panel discussions organised on Day 1 of the event, industry leaders exchanged their views about how investors and startup founders could support each other to drive impact and score growth opportunities.

The discussion was moderated by Vishal Talwar, Director- Institute of Innovation & Entrepreneurship, BML Munjal University and featured Anmol Jaggi, Co-Founder, Blusmart Electric; Rohit Chanana, Founder and Managing Partners, Sarcha Advisors; Rohan M Ganapathy, Director, Bellatrix Aerospace and Jatin Desai, Managing Partner, Inflexor Ventures as speakers.

The group of panellists featured a mix of startup founders and veteran investors who delved into how they assess prospective business opportunities. The investors said that they prioritised qualities like imagination, ability to innovate and flexibility to pivot according to market dynamics while scoping out a prospective startup. Meanwhile, startup founders on the panel — Rohan and Anmol — said that they respected the trust that their angel investors had in their vision which helped them scale ahead.

In the second panel discussion of the day, the audience got a peek into how startup collaborations have been booming in India and UK in the recent past and the reasons that are triggering this trend. The interesting panel discussion featured Richard Scutt, Programme Manager, STEAMhouse Incubator; Prem Kumar Barthasarathy, Managing Director, Pontaq; Neelendra Nath, Founder and CEO, Innovitas and Laura Demetris, Deputy Director-Investment and Marketing, British High Commission as speakers.

During the interaction that was moderated by Ghanshyam H Nabar, Director India, West Midlands Growth Company, Laura Demetris from the British High Commission in India shed light on the various initiatives launched by the UK government and facilitated by the British High Commission to encourage entrepreneurs from countries like India to explore new business avenues in the UK.

“We have a great programme called the Global Entrepreneurship Programme which helps companies who want to move to the UK do so through a dedicated support system.” As part of the process, the British High Commission offers free of charge mentoring and support to help the companies by endorsing them for a visa.

Meanwhile, Prem Kumar Barthasarathy from Pontaq, a UK-India fund that invests in B2B technologies, talked extensively about how Indian entrepreneurs should explore the pandemic-hit global business landscape and said that the times may be uncertain due to the pandemic, but business would continue as usual. "However, what has changed is the pattern of consumption. Indian startups should think through how the market has changed and create modular capabilities so that they are able to reassess, redefine and redo things if they have to."

Decoding lessons in leadership

Propel Pitchfest21 also packed a host of lessons for young businesses about diverse topics that ranged from legal challenges to securing funding and understanding the venture capital ecosystem.

In their masterclass on ‘Demystifying Venture Valuations’ Amit Kumar, Partner and Sameer Arora, Virtual CFO of ah! Ventures deep-dived into what makes a startup a unicorn, how the former are evaluated and how these evaluation methodologies have changed over time, among other topics. Explaining the grind behind such valuations, they advised budding entrepreneurs to focus on value creation and valuations will follow suit.

Talking about his mantra for assessing prospective investments as an angel investor, Amit said that he depended on the '3P principle' — product, potential and people. “I base my decision on three factors— if the product is any good, if it has potential and how efficient are the people behind it. The project needs to tick these boxes according to my liking.”

Kapil Gaba, Senior Advisor, The One Valley and Rajive Gulati, Senior Programme Office, UN Technology Innovation Labs talked extensively about how the incubation ecosystem has evolved over the years in a fireside chat on the topic 'Physical vs Virtual Incubation'. The panellists stressed on the fact that a virtual ecosystem was as effective and sometimes more productive than physical incubation, but the two systems are important in their own ways.

The attendees also got a chance to hear Dhruv Nath, Director, Lead Angels Network as he shared his insights about the trials and tribulations of securing the first round of startup funding.

In another masterclass, Ashwini Vittalachar, Partner, Samvad Partners and Abhinaya Chandran, Associate, Samvad Partners doled out tips and suggestions on how new startups could keep legal tangles at bay and the regulations that they needed to follow.

The university hosted a virtual legal and investor clinic where budding startups got to interact with angel investors and legal experts and discuss their challenges, pitch new ideas and build a network for future support.

Addressing the audience on the second day, Sunil Kant Munjal, Chairman, Hero Enterprise & Chancellor of BML Munjal University, said, “I am overwhelmed with the response we have received from the students as well as the startup and education fraternity this year around too. India’s startup ecosystem is quite dynamic and is in the league of the likes of Silicon Valley in California, Cambridge and the UK, which are hotspots of innovation and building self-reliance. It is encouraging to see how the students have started thinking about solutions to solve world problems within the given resources and time. At BMU, we live by the ethos to build leaders of tomorrow. I wish everyone success and would be happy to extend support and guidance whenever required. I congratulate the faculty at BMU to keep the flag flying higher.”


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