Bengaluru: Software products think tank iSpirt is attempting to boost crowdfunding for Indian ventures with the latest edition of a day-long technology entrepreneurship event, as part of a broader effort to encourage innovation and manufacture of local tech-powered products for the masses.
Crowdfunding refers to the process of raising funds from multiple investors through a web-based platform or social networking site for a specific project, business venture or social cause.
With the latest edition of Innofest, which was launched last year in August, iSpirt is attempting to drive the “maker movement” in India and create the Indian equivalent of the popular Maker Faire in the US, which encourages creative do-it-yourself projects from innovators.
The push towards showcasing affordable, locally-made hardware and technology products comes at a time when India is attempting to shed its tag of just being “the back office of the world” and the premier destination for low-cost, outsourced software projects.
“A new India is emerging before our eyes. A new segment of 100 million families, 500 million people who are outside the formal sector are coming into the formal sector because of India Stack, smartphones, connectivity and now demonetization,” said Sharad Sharma, co-founder of iSpirt.
Once they are part of the formal economy, they get access to credit and can embrace pay-to-use business models in a way that’s not possible today. This improves human development outcomes significantly, Sharma said.
For this year’s Innofest, 150 hand-picked projects will be showcased all over the country and more than 2,000 bootstrapped entrepreneurs and innovators will be part of the initiative. The event, to be held in Bengaluru on 8 December, will feature entrepreneurs, product-makers and innovators who are yet to scale up in a big way and have not yet built enterprises that can be classified as startups.
Most of the projects of such entrepreneurs and businesses are funded through crowdfunding platforms, and not by big-ticket venture capital firms. Venture capital firms typically back businesses that have an addressable market of Rs1,000-5,000 crore and the potential to capture at least 10-15% of the market in about five years. This is not the case with most of these businesses in their formative years.
“We are going to see an explosion of products that cater to the ‘Bharat’ markets. These products will have a different value proposition than what’s available from the West. Local innovators will bring them to life. We must nurture these innovators because, one day, they will supply to the mid-segment all around the world,” said Sharma.
“For example, they (mid-segment) may not be able to afford an RO water filter but would be able to engage in a monthly contract. The provider of this RO water service would, in all likelihood, use a desi product,” he said.
Projects that will be showcased this year range from high-tech blood transfusion machines to bionic arms from entrepreneurs and product-makers across the country.
Last year, showcased products included a working prototype of a virtual reality headset named Tesseract that rendered any content in 2D (videos, games) into 3D—which was built by three third-year engineering drop-outs. Other projects included an affordable mobile phone-based solution, targeted at farmers, to control motors remotely by a start-up called Kisan Raja.
Niti Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant, Infosys co-founder Nandan Nilekani and Biocon chairman Kiran Mazumdar Shaw have thrown their weight behind this initiative. Major crowdfunding platforms such as Kickstarter and Wishberry are also expected to participate in Innofest.
The initiative comes at a time when the lack of investor appetite and entrepreneurial inclination for innovative technology are ailing the domestic start-up ecosystem and crowdfunding is still a nascent concept in India.
In India’s fast-developing start-up ecosystem, a disproportionate amount of venture capital has been pumped into local “unicorn” start-ups such as Flipkart and Ola by global investors ranging from Tiger Global Management to SoftBank.
With Innofest, local start-up ecosystem backers are hoping that locally built products from a different set of innovators and businesses would go mainstream.
For instance, Niti Aayog CEO Kant is currently attempting to create labs for makers and innovators in different parts of the country as part of an initiative to promote India-made products.