New Delhi: The Tata NEN Hottest Startups Awards campaign, an ambitious attempt at the largest start-up competition in India covering some 1,000 ventures that are less than five years old, is only three weeks old but has been dogged by questions in the blog world.
The organizers of the competition, for which Mint is the official print partner, have come under fire in at least three blogs which allege that the National Entrepreneurship Network, or NEN, a non-profit organization aimed at encouraging start-ups, has acted unprofessionally. One such instance involved NEN writing to a start-up that it had been nominated by Pluggd.in, a blog that profiles and reviews Indian start-ups. This was incorrect, said Pluggd.in on its blog.
In an interview, Laura Parkin, executive director of NEN, concedes the error. Pluggd.in hadn’t nominated the start-up and its name had been merely obtained from a list of start-ups developed by Pluggd.in. NEN used several lists, including those from The Indus Entrepreneurs and industry lobby Confederation of Indian Industry, or CII. Edited excerpts:
Laura Parkin, executive director, National Entrepreneurship Network.
There has been some talk in blogosphere that some processes followed by NEN in the start-up competition have not been professional. Questions have been raised on forcible nominations following a blog post by TringMe founder Yusuf Motiwala. What is the issue?
The issue with TringMe was the nomination was online and he emailed the contact person (to withdraw it). Unfortunately, there was an internal miscommunication so we did not close the loop in bringing the nomination down. The minute we found out that, we immediately apologized, took the nomination down. We’ve now created three email IDs so that requests from participants don’t get lost in any way. If you want to change your nomination, email firstname.lastname@example.org; to withdraw, email@example.com; and the third is to reconfirm you want your nomination to go online at firstname.lastname@example.org
Now, with every single step, when we email the entrepreneur, we include a reminder that if you want to change or withdraw, here are the email addresses to do so.
Is it possible for someone other than the entrepreneur to nominate the company?
No, it is actually not possible to force a nomination. If we’ve heard about you or somebody else has and told us about you, our first step is to assign an internal contact person who will send you an email saying so and so has nominated you and do you want to participate. If you say no, it ends there. If you say yes, we email you the nomination form. The nomination form is only filled out by the entrepreneur (or someone he nominates); we do not fill it out. It takes at least an hour so it can’t be done by others accidentally. TringMe had already filled out the nomination form and wanted to withdraw later. Even if a company self-nominates online, we still review it and check with the entrepreneur.
How many start-ups have withdrawn after filling out the nomination forms?
So far, there are 297 companies online; nine have withdrawn. One was sold off so (it) had to withdraw; the eight include Tringme and Muziboo.
What was the issue with source attribution to Pluggd.in while nominating a start-up?
That was a very early glitch because we were so scared of not giving people credit. I’m sure we’ve looked at companies all over India, we’ve also been in touch with CII, contacted management and trade associations. Pluggd.in was not a partner. The company was indeed sourced from Pluggd.in and we accidentally sent (an) email out saying Pluggd.in had nominated them. We falsely attributed something to (Ashish Sinha, chief editor of Pluggd.in) that he did not do. The minute we realized this was a mistake, we wrote back to the entrepreneur and to Ashish. Now what we’re doing is unless people say you must attribute it to me, we’re just taking it as general nomination.
Some start-ups have criticized the process of rolling out nominations in batches on the website, which gives a heads up to the early nominations.
We expected more rolling nominations because people needed time to get the word out. It’s not as simple as two extra days or even an extra week. We have a complicated problem in making sure that all 300 and more get attention. If you’re up there for two months instead of two weeks, it’s easier. But we’re trying to find other ways to put groups of people together by slicing start-ups in different ways, such as how to get non-consumer companies out there or showcase companies from smaller cities because less people know about it. We do think there is a disadvantage to coming in late, but we’re not going to shut the nominations for those who do and we’re thinking how to improve it for next year. We’ll have a lot of pre-nomination activities, and batching people for more time on the site for next time. It will be easier if more people know about it so we can market it much earlier, get a lot of that work done in advance.
There is concern that companies might spam for votes through email and SMS. How do you ensure the top start-ups are chosen because they are promising companies and not the best spammers?
This is why we have structured (the) first round where half comes from expert reviews. We try to anticipate that it shouldn’t be all public voting in the first round. You need a 50-50 weightage of public votes and expert rating to get into the shortlist.
Any other learnings so far?
It’s much harder than we thought. For example, self-nominations are wonderfully expressive, but sometimes it is harder for lay people to understand, and working with the entrepreneur to get language done is very time-consuming. We were also concerned about the turnaround time on expert reviews. It was supposed to be one week, but we were really struggling with that. Luckily, our partners are coming in to help us, we have volunteers as well as three people internally to help with follow-ups just on the expert reviews.
Also See Details of the Tata NEN hottest start-ups competition at www.livemint.com/hotteststartups