Proto.in, the start-up showcase event that debuted this January, is going national. Chennai, the city that seeded the event, will play host one last time next month before the somewhat unique showcase event begins its rotation across other start-up hubs in the country. The two editions of the event held so far in Chennai have connected 52 start-ups with venture capitalists (VC) and industry experts.
Going places: Proto’s chief organizer Vijay Anand wants to standardize the event’s format following good response.
Proto is perhaps the biggest showcase event to come out of the start-up landscape here in the last two years, outside of annual business plan competitions held by B-schools and technology institutes, such as IIT-Bombay’s Eureka and TiE-ISB, co-hosted by The Indus Entrepreneurs and the Indian School of Business.
The Knowledge Foundation, which organizes Proto.in, was formed by a group of mostly Chennai-based bloggers and tech enthusiasts who put together events such as BarCamp (informal tech conferences) Chennai and WikiCamp.
“We’ve had a great response (to the concept), so we want to standardize the format and move it to different cities. It might be a couple of years before it comes to Chennai again,” says Vijay Anand, chief organizer of Proto. The venue for the January edition moves for the first time beyond the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Madras campus—Proto’s birthplace.
More than 500 attendees are expected and at the time of writing this story, 60 start-ups had registered for the event and another 30 are expected before 20 December, the last date for submission of plans. Of this, 25 will be shortlisted to showcase their products before VCs, entrepreneurs and industry experts. The subsequent edition will be held in New Delhi in the third week of July.
Proto can be loosely compared with DEMO, the popular launch pad for new products and technologies held in the Silicon Valley, in its implementation. The difference is in the objective. “Proto’s main aim is to help start-ups validate their businesses, while DEMO helps companies validate their products,” says Anand.
Incidentally, the inspiration for the concept came not from DEMO, but from audience interactions at BarCamps. Start-ups used these informal gatherings to demonstrate their product prototypes to a technologically clued in and often brutally honest audience, hoping for feedback and word-of-mouth publicity. This led to the concept of an event purely to showcase start-ups.
Over the next few years, Proto could potentially emerge as the signature start-up event in India. In less than 12 months, the forum has seen participation by close to 200 start-ups and garnered the support of several investors and industry bodies such as the National Association of Software and Service Companies (Nasscom) and the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI). Twenty-four VCs participated at the event in July this year, including Helion Venture Partners, Nexus India Capital, Matrix Partners India and Clearstone Venture Partners.
Incidentally, there is no commitment of funding at the event—it simply connects start-ups with investors.
At times, very early stage start-ups not ready for funding are in it for feedback from investors and entrepreneurs alike. A few companies short-listed for the last two editions of Proto have since raised seed capital (see graphic).
It is also beginning to attract attention from large technology companies, looking for partnerships or strategic investments. For instance, Siemens Venture Capital, the VC arm of electronics multinational Siemens AG, participated in the last edition.