Mumbai: In its search for the most innovative start-ups in India today, the National Entrepreneurship Network (NEN) in association with the Tata group launched the Tata NEN Hottest Startups awards on Wednesday. In a first of its kind contest, winners will be chosen through a public voting process, rather than a panel of experts. Mint is the official print partner for this exercise and will cover the competition and profile some of the competing start-ups.
Aiming to make the survey an annual event, NEN, a non-profit organization run by the Wadhwani Foundation, is starting with 52 nominations. It has a pipeline of a few hundred more based on its own database and external sources such as the Hyderabad chapter of The Indus Entrepreneurs (TiE), which suggested 70 start-ups for nomination. As the competition website (www.hotteststartups.in, also accessible through www.livemint.com/hotteststartups) opens up nominations to the public, NEN and Wadhwani Foundation’s executive director Laura Parkins estimates it will cross 1,000 start-ups, which will then be vetted by experts and the community.
Helion Venture Partners’ managing director Kanwaljit Singh said the NEN competition was the biggest in scale. “It reaches out to a large audience with potential and existing entrepreneurs,” he said. “Most such awards have a defined framework, but this looks like a much larger platform.”
Information about the competition, including the complete list of nominations, reviewing experts, nominee profiles, and ratings and additional entrepreneurial resources will be available on the website. “The idea,” said Parkins, “is to involve the community and get more people to see that start-ups are cool, so anyone can nominate, or vote for their favourite start-ups.”
NEN will be working with its network of 380 educational institutes, companies such as Microsoft Corp. and start-up-centric organizations such as TiE, Proto.in and KickStart to find, guide and publicize start-ups during the course of the competition. Other partners for the exercise include Helion, Seedfund and the Wadhwani Foundation. All nominees also stand a chance to get Rs2-3 crore from Seedfund by participating in the Tata NEN Hottest StartUp Funding Challenge 2008.
In the past, start-up competitions have used a closed-door selection process in which winners are chosen by a group of experts. This includes popular business plan showcases by educational institutes such as the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay’s Eureka, Indian School of Business’ TiE-ISB business plan showcase, start-up hunts by venture capitalists (VCs) such as the TiE-Canaan Entrepreneurship Challenge and start-up showcases such as Proto.in.
Here’s how it all works. Over the next 18 weeks, the process of spotting finalists in the NEN competition will be split into two phases. In the first phase, companies will be nominated and voted for by the public. Both are ongoing processes. Readers can suggest companies for nomination and vote for them online, or through text messages on mobile phones.
In parallel, a panel of two experts comprising VCs, seasoned entrepreneurs and industry experts will review each nominated start-up.
A shortlist of 30 start-ups will be announced on 6 November, based on the maximum public votes and best expert ratings. Equal weightage is given to each. Thirty chosen ones will then be profiled in depth on the website and voting will be opened again. The final five start-ups to receive maximum votes will be declared the hottest start-ups on 23 December.