October rolls in six days from now and, with it, venture capital’s annual courtship season. Over the next three months, October through the third week of December, you will hear or read of business plan contests, networking dinners and boot-strapping workshops more often than usual. Not that all of this does not already happen. But events during the courtship season are different. This is the one time in the year when every fourth person you bump into at such events is likely to be a venture capitalist (VC), by design.
This season is very important for VCs, but more so for the nascent start-up ecosystem here. In the five-odd years since American VCs returned to invest in Indian start-ups, the three months before January have typically served as a warm-up or launch pad to a new funding season. So every year, starting October, American VCs, usually from Silicon Valley, troop into the country, sometimes as a delegation, to swap business cards with the start-up community.
In recent years, a smattering of European firms have also followed suit.
Since many of them are occasional or first-time visitors, the ideal way to engage with start-ups is through networking events.
A couple of years ago, Draper Fisher Jurvetson (DFJ) organized a business plan contest, the DFJ India Venture Challenge in collaboration with The Indus Entrepreneurs (TiE). Subsequently, DFJ closed a few deals here and is now setting up an office in Bangalore. Incidentally, DFJ India Venture Challenge is yet to do an encore. But there’s no dearth of similarly branded events each year. This year, for instance, New Enterprise Associates (NEA), which runs a local fund called NEA Indo-US Ventures, has teamed up with the Indian School of Business (ISB) in Hyderabad and TiE to back a start-up business plan showcase. Winners get funded by NEA.
Next week, I hope to be part of a rather special anniversary celebration—SVB Global—a unique enterprise based in California, which banks with technology start-ups and VCs, completes its third year in India. In some ways, the revival of early-stage investing started at SVB’s Bangalore headquarters. Back in December 2003, SVB Global chief Ash Lilani led one of the first Silicon Valley venture firm delegations into India on an exploratory mission. Almost all of the 20-odd firms who visited then, now directly or indirectly invest in India. Many of them, in fact, used SVB’s offices as their landing point.
The other event I’m looking forward to is Eureka! 2007, the business plan contest organized by IIT Bombay’s incubation cell. It is the oldest such contest in the country and returns this year bigger and better. It doesn’t take a genius to figure that such events are essentially deal sourcing channels for VCs.
So, all the more reason to quickly sign up and participate. If you are lucky, you might even get to listen to Timothy C. Draper, co-founder of DFJ, or John Doer from Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers, give out tips on elevator pitches.
Snigdha Sengupta is Mint’s resident expert on private equity and venture capital.
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