Bengaluru: In a corner of Bengaluru’s posh upscale neighbourhood of Koramangala, a little-known start-up incubator has been quietly mentoring hundreds of start-ups over the past five years.

At a time when start-up grants, incubators and accelerators are picking up steam, Startups Club, founded in 2012, has already helped incubate more than 1,000 start-ups, said Salma Moosa, founder and managing director, Startups Club. The incubator-cum-consulting firm has been working with early-stage companies since 2013, when India’s start-up ecosystem was starting to take off in a big way and large global investors such as Japan’s SoftBank Group were waking up to the potential of India.

Startups Club’s strong focus on early-stage and student-led start-ups has taken their footprint to more than 20 cities across India, especially in tier-II and tier-III cities. The incubator, which was founded in 2013 by two veteran business consultants, Salma Moosa and Vivek Srinivasan, has been helping provide strategic mentorship, business consultancy, introductions to investors, and free meet-ups to entrepreneurs. Since its inception, it has worked with a wide variety of early-stage firms across sectors.

Moosa and Srinivasan had met in 2005 and they initially started off with a business consultancy which then pivoted into a full-fledged start-up incubator.

“When start-ups took off in India, we launched meet-ups and events for entrepreneurs and we learned from them that there was so much needed to be done... There was a lot of practical support that budding entrepreneurs required at that time, so we saw that gap and launched Startups Club," Moosa said.

Recently, the incubator floated a new investment arm named SCINcurator LLP with support from several investors including Indian Angel Network, The Chennai Angels and other individual investors. SCINcurator’s corpus is around a few million dollars as of now; it plans to invest $100,000 in 10 start-ups every year and add more corpus in the coming months.

Startups Club also has a student incubator through which it funds start-up ideas and prototypes. One of its student start-ups, Vicara Tech, built a wearable device, which recognizes hand gestures; it can be applied in gaming, graphic designing, and video editing. It is going for crowd-funding next month.

According to Mahesh Balla, chief mentor and investor at Startups Club, lack of investor ecosystem especially around seed and early-stage start-ups, lack of mentorship and industry involvement, and an overall absence of readily available talent are the biggest problems that start-ups face in small cities. Startups Club aims to tackle these.

Startups Club has an industry-agnostic model which is different from other top accelerators led by venture capitalists, IT companies, and tech giants like Google, Amazon and Microsoft.

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Every year, Startups Club also holds a ‘Demo Day’ when all its community members come together for two days of exclusive dinners, networking sessions and closed-door pitching sessions with investors. The incubator currently claims to have over 20,000 members, including founders, mentors, executives, students, and entrepreneurs.

“So it kind of boils down to the Demo Day we conduct in every December. For 2018, we already have 12 finalists lined up from more than 20 states. Last year, we had 20 finalists, and we had over 1,000 attendees," said Moosa.

“Given the fact that they (Startups Club) have been in the ecosystem for a long time, with attention on Tier-2 and Tier-3 cities, which seem to be their USP, I think they really stand out from rest of the incubators…Not a lot of start-up platforms today reach out to Tier-2 cities," Shashank Kumar, chief executive of payments company Razorpay said over the phone.

“Also since they (Startups Club) are targeting such a wide base of start-ups, I think they have to think about how to scale the process as they go forward and provide value to all the entrepreneurs and businesses they are touching," added Kumar.

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