New Delhi: This year’s edition of start-up showcase event Proto.in in New Delhi was a break from the past for more than one reason: it was being held away from its home base, Chennai, for the first time and it saw an amorphous bunch of entrepreneurs of different vintages and backgrounds. There was an ex-investment banker (LordsOfOdds), a duo of fresh graduates (AKVenture Info Pvt. Ltd that runs Lootstreet.com), two husband-and-wife couples (Muziboo.com and Advantage One Human Resourcing Pvt. Ltd under the brand The HiringTool) and two software engineers planning to work with farmers in Bihar (Ferox Foods Pvt. Ltd).
Sixteen firms, ranging from start-ups that are a few months old and a 25-year-old small business venturing into new territory, were chosen to show their offerings at the two-day event hosted at the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi (IIT-D). E-commerce, recruitment and consumer Internet firms dominated this year’s event. “The quality of companies showcased this year has been good, we will talk to some of them,” says Alok Mittal, managing director of Canaan Partners.
Show time: Ferox Food’s Bhishm Narayan Singh with flakes of Makhana, a cereal crop grown in huge quantities in Bihar that the firm plans to merket as a healthier option to breakfast cereals available in the market.
With the sole exception of mobile banking start-up Eko India Financial Services Pvt. Ltd, Proto did not see much by way of value-added service (VAS) providers to mobile phone services firms. This is in sharp contrast to its first two editions, which had five such entries each. One reason could be that large VAS players have taken market positions. “Many mobile companies came up in 2006-07, but it may not be easy (for fresh firms) to run a VAS business now,” says Rahul Khanna, director, Clearstone Venture Partners.
In the last 18 months, Proto—the name comes from product prototypes that firms have to build for the demonstration—has proven to be an important platform to connect start-ups and investors, along with institute-driven annual business plan competitions such as IIT, Bombay’s Eureka and the TiE-ISB showcase, organized by the Indian School of Business and The Indus Entrepreneurs. Over four editions, it has showcased 57 start-ups. Of the 41 that demonstrated at the last three Proto.in events, eight have received seed or early-stage funding, including Minekey Inc. funded by NEA Ventures, Le Travenues Technology Pvt. Ltd that runs air ticket search portal iXiGo.com backed by BAF Spectrum, and the Erasmic Ventures-funded Myntra Designs Pvt. Ltd.
Three others—event Web start-up Seraja, social networking site Saffron Connect and news aggregation site Taazza.com—have shut shop and the remaining 30 remain self-funded.
For some companies, Proto was the first public platform to unveil their products. This included Mumbai-based Blink Media Pvt. Ltd, which has devised an intelligent screen affixed to shopping carts at retail chains to help users navigate through aisles and serve targeted ads, and Soliton Technologies Pvt. Ltd, a defect detection company that unveiled its latest product, a palmtop-sized smart camera that would capture and detect flaws in assembly and machine parts.
The oldest firm at this edition, Databyte Equipment Pvt. Ltd began in 1983 as a small business supplying LED (short for light emitting diode) display boards to banks and companies, but was chosen at the IIT-D Proto to demonstrate a recent software product, Lipikaar, which makes it easy to type out Indian languages using a normal Qwerty keyboard.
The youngest, Ferox Foods was incorporated earlier this year and is yet to begin operations. It plans to market a cereal crop called Makhana, the kernel of a nut called Gorgon, grown in large quantities in Bihar, as a healthier alternative to breakfast cereals available in the market. Founder Bhishm Narayan Singh, originally from that state, is currently in touch with the Central Food Technological Research Institute to obtain certified technology and equipment. “I have lived in Bihar for 20 years and want to go back and work with the farmers. There is big opportunity in this if we can set up a food processing plant in Bihar.”
More than 400 people attended the event. “We were apprehensive about moving base, but the turnout has exceeded our expectations,” said Vijay Anand, chief organizer, Proto. Participants, too, were impressed. “Because of the location, people have come down from all over the country, which has been good for us,” says Chandan Maruthi, founder, JustOnDemand Technologies Pvt. Ltd. On its site Storrz.com, it creates and aggregates online stores for more than 55 branded stores.
Photosharing: Picporta founder Pulkit Gaur.
Area: Image search
Buzz: Picporta allows image search based on content rather than tags, using face recognition technology. Its current consumer offering is a photosharing site that stores and fetches images based on who or what is in the picture, but is also looking at enterprise solutions. The technology platform built by the company over the last two years can be trained to recognize faces or automobiles, using multiple images. While it faces competition from large digital imaging companies, what differentiates Picporta, according to founder Pulkit Gaur, is “it can recognize not just 2-D images, but even real people”.
Blink Media Pvt. Ltd
Intelligent shopping: Blink Media;s Devang Raiyani.
Area: Intelligent shopping carts
Buzz: Blink Media makes portable screens affixed to shopping carts in malls to engage a buyer with interactive content. The screen allows users to check out product information and location within the store using a touchscreen. The start-up, whose co-founder Devang Raiyani wheeled out a prototype shopping cart on stage for demo, intends to serve targeted advertisements to buyers at the time of purchase using a combination of Wi-fi to beam the content and sensors to detect a product when the buyer is in that aisle. Blink plans to share the cost of setting up and advertising revenue with the retailers.
Verifying claims: Crederity co-founder Rakesh Antala.
Area: Identity fraud detection
Buzz: This Indo-US cross-border start-up verifies identities and resumes to prevent fraud for services such as online jobs or matrimonial sites. “The number of such transactions is increasing in India and there is a need to verify claims made on such sites,” says co-founder Rakesh Antala. The company, which verifies data from the source, says false claims range from lying about education and background on matrimonial sites to completely fabricated online resumes. It has about 20 corporate clients, including Simplymarry.com and individuals who use its services to establish a stamp of credibility.
Eko India Financial Services Pvt. Ltd
Mobile Banking: Eko India founder Abhishek Sinha.
Area: financial services
Buzz: This start-up has adopted a model that has proven a cost-effective way of banking in parts of Africa—to create a no-frills savings bank account and transact using a mobile phone. By partnering with banks and local kirana stores, Eko wants to enable a large, as yet unbanked, population to make financial transactions without stepping into a bank. A user can deposit or withdraw money from his neighbourhood kirana store and transfer money across accounts. “As it is bank-led, it enables cash-to-cash models and there is no collection fraud,” says founder Abhishek Sinha.