Why CIIE.CO continues to back risky early-stage startup ventures
CIIE.CO is an accelerator and investor, which also provides mentorship to very early-stage startups. It has mentored over 5,000 founders, and over 1,500 startups have gone through its acceleration programmes.
Startup investment is a risky business. Most of the new companies and their ideas simply do not make the cut, and hence the risk of losing one’s investment is a real possibility.
In this scenario, CIIE.CO is backing very early-stage startups that are in segments that may not have many backers.
Set up at the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad (IIM-A) as a centre of excellence, CIIE.CO has presence in other parts of the country as well. For the last 16-odd years, it has played multiple roles in what it calls innovation continuum—as an incubator, an accelerator, a mentor, a knowledge hub, a seed and venture investor, among others, to nurture early-stage startups.
The focus area of CIIE.CO is startups at the very early stage—those in the seed, pre-seed or idea stage and also in segments where there may not be an established ecosystem.
“We were set up with this mission of identifying where the gaps exist in India’s entrepreneurial and innovation ecosystem and then design interventions to help plug those gaps,” says Priyanka Chopra, Chief Operating Officer at CIIE.CO.
CIIE.CO has backed startup ventures and founders in segments such as deeptech, climate tech, inclusive tech, and the Bharat market, much before these caught the attention of others.
For example, in the deeptech space, CIIE.CO started supporting ventures that were then called IP-driven startups. Some of them include drone startup IdeaForge and spacetech startup Agnikul Cosmos. Similarly, CIIE.CO has also backed startups in the climate tech space, which was earlier termed ‘cleantech’.
While these segments are witnessing increased participation from investors in the ecosystem, they still have a long way to go unlike other established areas such as ecommerce, fintech, and mobility.
The other defining element of CIIE.CO has been the way it has expanded to locations such as Jaipur, Indore, and Guwahati, which fall outside the ambit of key metros to catalyse the regional ecosystems. It went to these locations as it realised there are entrepreneurs who require assistance and are tapping into unaddressed markets.
The institution was set up with support from the government of Gujarat and Department of Science & Technology, government of India.
“We were sector agnostic when we started and gradually built sectoral expertise and networks in a variety of sectors such as ICT, healthcare, mobility, climate, agriculture, financial services etc. We were the pioneers of accelerator programs in most of these sectors, “ says Chopra.
CIIE.CO also started its first accelerator programme in 2008 with around 12 startups, which were from the information, communication, and technology (ICT) space. This was a residential programme.
“We provided structured intervention and support infrastructure as all our accelerator programmes were looking to do what we call an orbit shift,” says Chopra.
The support came in many forms for the entrepreneurs–be it helping them to graduate from a prototype to product market fit or validating the product towards a proper business plan.
This also meant that these startups were later showcased to others, especially to the investor community, and also the corporates. This enabled CIIE.CO to build its network and get access to other mentors as well as markets.
“The earliest are the most-risky stages and that is where we step in,” says Chopra.
Chopra terms the entire array of services provided by CIIE.CO as an “innovation continuum”, which is the full spectrum–from incubation and acceleration to seed and venture funding and insights.
The missing piece in building this entire continuum was that of providing capital. CIIE.CO was able to provide a certain sum of money–a couple of lakhs to one crore rupees–which mainly came through grants from government and non-government institutions.
The genesis of this was when it started nurturing the clean tech space and realised that such ventures require a large quantum of money. This led to the setting up of Infuse Ventures in 2012, which focused on the cleantech space.
Today, CIIE.CO has two funds under the Bharat fund platform–Bharat Innovation Fund and Bharat Inclusive Seed Fund. These primarily invest in deeptech and Bharat market focused ventures at the pre-seed, seed, and pre-Series A stages.
Chopra says CIIE.CO has three broad themes or focus areas that it would like to support–deeptech startups, inclusive tech, and climate tech. The inclusive tech segment has ventures that are looking to leverage technology to serve the underserved segments of the country.
Today, CIIE.CO aims to build companies of consequence.
“Our aspiration is that the best founders who solve the toughest problems in the earliest stages come to us. They are at their most risky or vulnerable stages of their journey, and we would love to support these companies,” says Chopra.
CIIE.CO has a scorecard that shows its success in terms of incubating, accelerating, and investing in startups.
Chopra says the institution has mentored over 5,000 founders, and over 1,500 startups have gone through its acceleration programmes.
CIIE.CO has also provided equity capital to over 350 startups and has had 40 profitable exits, she adds.
“For every rupee we have invested, these startups have raised over Rs 30 from the market,” she remarks.
The satisfaction for CIIE.CO comes from the fact that it has been the first mover in many segments of the Indian startup ecosystem.
“It is from the zero-to-one journey where we would be the most valuable partners for founders,” says Chopra.
According to her, in all these years, CIIE.CO’s belief has deepened over the idea that it is the founder who makes all the difference.
“Our USP is really at the early stage of giving institutional support,” she says.
She says their biggest payoff has come in the form of referrals through their networks, with second-time founders also approaching them.
“We do not have any problem in the sourcing of startups,” she says.
(The story was updated to correct a typo and update a quote.)
Edited by Megha Reddy