How IIT Mandi Catalyst is supporting budding innovators to showcase their entrepreneurial spirit

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The startup ecosystem is booming in India, and organisations everywhere are playing their part to encourage people who dream of running their own businesses. There are several conferences that bring budding entrepreneurs together and involve them to discuss ideas and ways to execute them.

A technology business incubator named Catalyst from the Indian Institute of Technology in Mandi has been doing its fair share of bringing such innovative minds together to discover entrepreneurs of the future. Called the Himalayan Startup Trek (HST), IIT Mandi Catalyst’s annual flagship event is returning for its fifth edition with the title HST Grand Challenge (HGC) to find and nurture bright minds.

What is Himalayan Startup Trek?

Launched in 2017, the Himalayan Startup Trek brings together various stakeholders of the Indian startup ecosystem and connects them on a single platform. Being held virtually this year owing to the pandemic, the Himalayan Startup Trek has previously helped in introducing new venturing startups to seasoned mentors, allowing them to discuss new and innovative ideas, and thus forging partnerships that have transformed ideas and innovations into products and services.

Over the last five years, Catalyst has emerged as one of the leading incubators in the region. Having supported over 160 startups in sectors like clean energy, healthcare, enterprise management, agriculture, manufacturing, biotech, education, and consumer internet, Catalyst aims to provide mentoring and training programmes for startup founders.

With more than 100 such programmes being hosted to date, Catalyst has used them to meet the funding requirements of early-stage startups through its funding schemes. According to Arjun Gupta, founder of Genetico Research and Diagnostics Private Limited, “Genetico participated in HST in 2019. It was a wonderful 2-day event with pitching sessions and expert talks by various VCs and unicorn founders. Catalyst very nicely managed the entire event in addition to one-on-one interaction sessions of startups with various experts. We got selected in the 3-months incubation program followed by seed investment as part of the incubation program as a consequence of this event. I highly recommend pre-seed/seed-stage startups to participate wholeheartedly and get the best out of this action-packed startup event.”

This year, the HGC aims to identify and support innovative technology-based solutions in three broad categories. Apart from awarding prize money to the top startups participating in the event, it will also pick up a handful of the most feasible ideas and enable innovators and entrepreneurs to conduct prototyping, testing, and implementation.

Professor Ajit Kumar Chaturvedi, Director of IIT Mandi, says, “IIT Mandi Catalyst is continuously helping innovative minds materialize their startup ideas. I invite startups from across the country to experience the thriving ecosystem at IIT Mandi and avail the resources and assistance provided by IIT Mandi Catalyst.”

Themes of the event

The HGC consists of three themes, which are sponsored by different stakeholders. The first theme ‘The New Age Alliance - Human-Computer Interaction’ sponsored by iHub and HCI Foundation, IIT Mandi, aims to promote the use of intelligent interfaces and technologies in people’s daily routines as well as in complex business and social decision-making processes.

With themes like brain-computer interaction, assistive technologies to aid and enhance human functioning and decision-making, the use of advanced technologies to enhance cognitive abilities of humans, and use of artificial intelligence to aid human decision-making, prediction, communication and processing, this category focuses on the design of computer technology in a way that its intelligence and computational capabilities can be utilised for good.

The second theme ‘The Foothill Innovators Challenge - Build For Himalayas’, sponsored by SJVNL and compliance support, is aimed at innovators and aspiring entrepreneurs who have the intent and passion to build technology-based solutions for solving the social, economic, and ecological challenges faced by Himalayan regions.

It consists of themes like hill road safety, disaster management and prevention, supply and demand challenges faced by Himalayan agriculture, interventions to scale local products and services, rural development, and other problems faced by the Himalayan regions. It involves focusing on addressing the issues and solving them by building supply chains, storage, or building capacity at different value chain levels.

The final theme ‘The Habitable World Challenge - Environment and Sustainability, sponsored by Peak Ventures, ALSiSAR Impact, and The Solar Labs, aims to focus on the devastating effect of human intervention in nature’s life cycle and enable startups and innovators to come up with ideas that can help in making the world a more livable and habitable place for all species.

With themes like climate change, natural resource management, renewable and clean energy solutions, and waste management and recycling, this theme aims to encourage innovators to build solutions that align with the UN Sustainable Development Goals such as waste management, e-vehicles, green solutions, and recycling.

Inviting and rewarding innovations

With prize money of upto Rs 2 lakh to be awarded to the top startups in every theme, this is the perfect platform for aspiring entrepreneurs, college students, and young professionals as it provides them with a chance to rack their brains at the ideation and prototype stages. Top startups will also be provided incubation support and access to funding schemes at Catalyst.

While it welcomes unregistered teams and individuals, registered startups, startups in the pre-seed stage, and innovators/researchers owning a validated technology are also welcome to participate in the event.

All applications will be evaluated by a jury panel consisting of representatives of sponsoring agencies, incubation centres, thematic experts, and technology experts in a multi-stage screening and selection process. Applicants need to make sure that their ideas are in alignment with the advertised thematic, technological areas, and with IIT Mandi Catalyst’s overall vision and intent.

They also need to determine the nature and extent of the innovation and must apply with intent to build and implement their solutions. Another thing that applicants must keep in mind is that the products and solutions must be technically feasible, and must be aligned with the market demand.

Catalyst started receiving applications on October 25, and all interested candidates must send in their applications no later than November 25, after which the jury panel will take about five days to screen all the applicants. Pitching sessions will be conducted from December 5-10, with the main event and prize distribution to be held on December 11 and 12.


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