As his six-month-old start-up, Motvik, prepares to launch its first product, wwigo, a software that allows a camera mobile phone to double as a webcam for a computer, Maruthavanan Thiyagarajan is clocking in 12-hour workdays regularly. Even as he fine-tunes wwigo, short for ‘webcam wherever I go’, he squeezes out at least 10 hours a month to schmooze with other tech entrepreneurs.
Most of the networking Rajan, as his friends calls Thiyagarajan, does is at the Bangalore chapter of Mobile Monday or MoMo, the world’s leading mobile community that began in Finland in the autumn of 2000. At MoMo meetings, start-up companies get to demonstrate prototypes of technology products they are building, network with tech companies in the cellular space, and get validation of their ideas from peers. And more importantly, forge business partnerships that ease market entry.
With entrepreneurs starting up businesses by the score—in 2006, about a thousand are estimated to have been primed in India—mentoring groups have not lagged far behind. Such groups, aimed at helping first-time businessmen with a platform to network and meet potential funders, partners and customers, are finding several followers in Bangalore, the country’s tech Eden. Like Rajan, for instance. He firmed up partners for wwigo’s launch at a MoMo meeting.
There are others like Rajan. Over the last weekend, over 350 technology enthusiasts converged on the campus of the Indian Institute of Management in Bangalore, for Barcamp Bangalore, a non-formal conference, to discuss topics ranging from social networking and e-governance to wikinomics, an economic model that is built on the premise that openness is better than secretive platforms.
The meet showcased a successful online networking site CommuteEasy, which facilitates car-pooling in traffic-choked Bangalore. On display also were prototype demonstrations from a clutch of start-ups ranging from Mchek, a mobile payments service, Ziva, a mobile search provider, and Motvik.
“The start-up model where two guys worked on a beat-up PC in a garage is just so much nostalgia. Today, start-ups have to constantly network with peers and be open to correct the course they are on if they are to survive,” says Saumil Majmudar, who co-founded two start-ups Learn-at-Home and QSupport, before launching his third start-up Sportz Village, with interests in corporate sporting events and sports tourism.
Majmudar works with a Bangalore-based mentoring network Eclub that now has 60 members chosen by invitation only. The group meets once a month and provides inputs that can range from how to hire optimally to business strategy to readying a VC pitch. On a need basis, the Eclub invites venture capitalists to come in and informally review business plans frommembers.
Business networks such as MoMo, BarCamp and Eclub are here to stay as a dominant feature of the ‘entrepreneurial eco-system’, say experts. “It is not just money, it is the right kind of advice that goes with it that start-up companies need,” says Saurabh Srivastava, a member of the Band of Angels, a group of wealthy individuals who advise and help with seed capital for start-up companies. The group recently opened its Bangalore chapter, its third in India after Delhi and Mumbai.
Acknowledging the growing need of start-up companies for a support structure that includes advice, business contacts and physical infrastructure to build ideas into prototypes, the Bangalore chapter of The Indus Entrepreneurs (TiE), plans to provide incubation facilities and a monthly mentoring clinic open to start-ups at its 2000sq. ft facility in the city’s downtown area.
“We have 65 charter members, who are successful entrepreneurs in turn they will devote at least one hour each every month to mentor the 540 start-ups companies that are TiE members,” says Pradeep Kar, founder-chairman of Microland, a company focused on network management, who heads TiE’s Bangalore chapter. From mentoring only technology start-ups now, TiE will soon also focus on entrepreneurs in sectors such as real estate, retail, biotech and light manufacturing.
“Every successful entrepreneur is aware of the help he receives from an informal network of friends and advisors. A mentor network is an effort to make this service available to a large audience of start-ups formally,” says Sanjay Swami, founder of Mchek, who represented MoMo at a worldwide cellular conference in Barcelona this February. Swami says he wouldn’t have been able to demonstrate his company’s mobile payment service at GSM World but for being part of MoMo.