Cool Ideas: Round seven

These start-ups are changing what your money can buyfrom robots to midnight home deliveriesand how you buy them

Building a business isn’t easy. Even if you have a unique idea and the drive to create something exciting, balancing the creative and business-driven sides of your start-up is a challenge. In our annual cool ideas issue, we focus on start-ups that are doing different things, or doing things differently, and turning them into businesses.

This is the seventh cool ideas issue, and we’re proud of the companies we’ve featured over the years. Not everyone needs to be a tycoon, but a really cool idea comes with staying power.

With inputs from our writers all over the country, along with feedback through social media, the first list of cool ideas we looked at this year had well over a hundred companies.

To make sense of how we shortlisted the final 21, one of the first filters we applied was time. The focus was on start-ups, particularly businesses for whom 2012 was the big year, where they fully developed and deployed their ideas. The next step was to look at the scope of the idea—in some cases, the idea could change the way we do things every day.

At the same time, we weren’t shying away from companies just because they were small; just so long as they demonstrated potential for growth in the future. Some of the companies we have featured operate in just one city, or have a catalogue that’s only a few pages long, compared to the million-plus items on major e-commerce sites. But these companies are filling a niche, and doing it in a fun, unique manner.

Arjun Bhat of Travspire, which provides unique travel experiences that standard packages can’t offer. Photo: Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint
Arjun Bhat of Travspire, which provides unique travel experiences that standard packages can’t offer. Photo: Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint

There is the hardware company that makes solar backpacks so that the smart devices that are filling up the country never run out of power. It’s a need that hasn’t been addressed in India yet, and it is a simple and elegant solution to a common problem.

Speaking of mobile phones, we found some great app makers who are trying to use the platform as a tool for education, awareness and social change, in a self-sustaining fashion. These aren’t necessarily ideas that will make their creators rich, but they want to change the world we live in.

Arjun Bhat of Travspire, which provides unique travel experiences that standard packages can’t offer

E-commerce continues to be important in India, and more and more people are joining in with unique ideas to fill the gaps left by giants like Flipkart and Jabong. Whether you’re trying to get customized products, engravings, musical instruments or museum pieces, we’ve found the people filling each niche, and found the ones who have the plans to build a business out of a cool idea. We’re not always right, of course, but we’ve seen many of the companies we talk to grow and diversify over the years.

In the mobile space, we featured Aksharit in 2011. The Hindi version of Scrabble, created by MadRat Games, helped the company become popular and grow, and in December 2012, the company was able to raise $500,000 ( 2.9 crore) in funding from Blume Ventures.

In e-commerce, one of the companies we featured in 2011 was Nurturing Green. A business that sells trees and seeds online, it has blossomed. Annu Grover, the company’s managing director and founder, says, “We now operate in six cities with 22 offline stores, with over 50,000 retail customers." The company was recently used as a case study by the Harvard Business Review.

We’ve tried to find companies that offer unique services, and in 2012 we covered The Yellow Cycle, GameOn India and SkillKindle in this category. The Yellow Cycle was originally a gifting start-up that let you present unusual experiences. In the last one year, it has grown and refined its concept, and will be starting two new divisions this month.

GameOn India, which organizes everything from Indian Premier League-style kits to referees to international standard venues for corporate games, has, in the last one year, started running year-round sporting leagues for companies. It currently has seven firms on the roster, and has also started Devil’s Circuit, an iron man-style obstacle race.

Zeba Zaidi, the co-founder and CEO, says, “We now have more than 20,000 members, and in the last year, have held around 200 tournaments, and are about to expand to two-three more cities."

SkillKindle, a community marketplace for classes, has grown in the last one year from 2,000 regular users to 35,000, with 650 trainers teaching everything from Parkour and mixology to juggling with fire.

Presidential Wheels, an online limousine hiring service, is now adding two customized cars to its fleet, and founder Sahdev Goil says the company is hoping to double its revenue in 2013.

In 2011, we also featured Akosha, an online platform aimed at simplifying consumer complaints redressal. At the time, the platform was still building a base; it has since worked on 200,000 complaints from customers.

But not everything we focused on was digital either. In 2012, we featured Nuru Energy, which makes rural lighting solutions. Nuru has been able to scale up operations in India and Africa and is about to embark on a major round of expansion. Sameer Hajee, the company’s CEO and founder, says: "We’ve been able to increase our product portfolio and grow rapidly, distributing our lighting solutions to 1,100 village-level entrepreneurs in East Africa alone."

2011’s Earth2Orbit—E2O launched its first client satellite in 2012, and has taken launch clients from the US, Japan and Europe for both secondary and dedicated launches. The company also received praise for the launch of the Japanese client satellite, PROITERES, on the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle in September.

Epoch Elder Care, which had 20 clients in 2012, now offers care to 110 people in the National Capital Region, Mumbai and Pune. Its staff numbers have gone up fivefold, and it has been able to start a dementia and Alzheimer’s care programme. It has built more flexibility into the packages it offers, and is planning to start services in Kolkata and Bangalore by the end of the year.

Nutragene, another healthcare start-up we profiled last year, was able to finally invest in its DNA sequencing machine which, managing director Anubhav Anusha says, cost about 1.5 crore. In the last one year, they’ve gone from 200 tests in three-four months to 2,000-2,500 tests a month, according to Anusha.

We believe that by this time next year, the majority of the start-ups we’ve featured in this issue will have similar stories to tell. Think we missed something? Tell us your cool idea.

For all 2013 Cool Ideas: Flybyknight, Beenthere, Lumos Design Technology, Gridbots, Bleep, Asimov Robotics, SchoolAdmissions, Houseproud, Bluegape, Engrave, GuitarStreet, Travspire, Circle of 6, TernUp, U2opia Mobile, MangoSense, Gubbi Labs, PayTM, Photovatika, Tushky, The Eternal Library .

Previous Cool Ideas issues: 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012