In the next three months, start-ups in the country, mostly in the technology space, will be spoilt for choice in terms of the sheer number of business plan contests that will be available to test their ideas. But the one that will set the tone for the season will be the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Bombay’s Eureka! 2007. The premier event kicks off this week and will conclude on 3 February 2008. Apart from being the oldest business plan contest in the country, started in 1999, it is also the largest in terms of scale and influence. More than 1,300 applications had already come in at the time of writing this story and by the last date for submissions, 2 October, the organizers expect applications to be at least double that number.
For the 20-odd students who form the organizing committee, which falls under the institute’s student-led Entrepreneurship Cell or eCell, Eureka! is just one part of a sustained initiative kicked off last year to create a microcosm of the start-up ecosystem that young entrepreneurs need today. While the quantum of announced and committed venture capital money floating around in the Indian market at present is unprecedented, an estimated $3 billion (Rs11,910 crore), not a lot is available yet at the seed stage—$75,000-1 million.
Seed capital is typically invested by individual angel investors, normally successful entrepreneurs, but in the absence of a large number of such individuals in India, seed-stage entrepreneurs remain strapped for funding.
Eureka!: Members of the organizing committee of the Mumbai institute’s student-led Entrepreneurship Cell or eCell.
In a bid to bridge that gap, the eCell drives four key forums that try to anticipate and address every kind of support that a start-up entrepreneur may require. We bring you the chronology of events straight from campus:
Catch ‘em young
The business plan contest is flanked by Ideaz, the pan-IIT business idea competition. It brings undergraduate and graduate students from the seven IITs together to flesh out their ideas and form teams. This actually runs parallel to Eureka!—this year’s idea pitches took place on 30 September on campus—and participant teams have an option to submit their business plans for Eureka!
The purpose of this forum is to catch potential entrepreneurs before they have even thought of becoming one. Since the IITs combine some of the best brains in the country, both in terms of academia and students, it is perhaps one of the most effective ways to tap this talent early.
When Eureka! was created in 1999, it broke new ground at a time when start-up business plan contests hardly existed in the country. Among the early success stories that emerged from the event were Myzus Pvt. Ltd, Herald Logic Pvt. Ltd and Powai Labs, all incubated on campus at the Society for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. However, after a promising start, the subsequent Internet bust saw early-stage funding disappear and Eureka! suffered a setback as well. That changed in 2004 when confidence in Indian technology start-ups returned and venture capitalists started exploring investment opportunities here. Today, Eureka! has a proud legacy—it has introduced 17 start-ups as winners or runners-up at the contest till date. For a young entrepreneur, student or otherwise, this is perhaps one of the best platforms to showcase ideas simply because of the exposure and networking opportunities it offers.
The eCell has also been acutely aware of the new challenges that Eureka! faces now with the proliferation of a host of other business plan contests. So, last year, Eureka! was opened up to working professionals as well—so far it was open to students of any college or institute. “If students team up with working professionals they stand a better chance of taking the idea forward and actually starting a company,” says Ankit Agarwal, one of the key organizing members at the eCell. In addition, the prize money has also been raised—from Rs4.5 lakh last year to Rs14 lakh this year. The first prize, at Rs4 lakh, is almost the equivalent of the total last year.
The IIT old boys’ network, much like the Indian Institute of Management version, is well known for its ability to last well into middle age for most of its alumni.
Last year, at the initiative of the IIT Bombay eCell, these formidable networks came together to set up Gen, or the Global Entrepreneurship Network. This is the forum to tap into if you are an entrepreneur looking to fund your start-up or build a stronger business proposition. The good news about Gen is that it does not restrict access to B-school alumni—everyone is welcome. Since its launch last year, Gen has shored up a registered user base of 2,000 that can tap into its resources, which are considerable. There is a panel of venture capitalists who advise, mentor and if lucky, fund start-ups. Successful entrepreneurs, also on panel, help new entrepreneurs fine-tune their businesses. Last week, the forum got in Yahoo and Webchutney as sponsors.
Unlike Eureka! and Ideaz, Gen is not event-driven and its resources are available throughout the year. A notable value-add is that the venture capital panel, which is critical to its success, changes every 15 days so that there is always a panel available and venture capitalists can also rotate in line with their convenience.
The grand finale
The winners of Eureka! 2007 will be announced at IIT Bombay’s annual entrepreneurship summit or the E-Summit. Earlier, the summit was held as part of the institute’s annual technology festival, but in recent years it has become an event in its own right. This year’s event, slated for 3 February, will also be the first that will link up with Eureka! The summit, in some senses, brings the season’s activities to a close and blends interactive workshops and brainstorming with leading corporates into its format.