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Swimming  with  sharks  or  storm  in  a  tea cup?

The jury includes Ashneer Grover, founder and managing director of BharatPe; Anupam Mittal, founder and CEO of People Group-Shaadi.com; and Vineeta Singh, co-founder of SUGAR Cosmetics.Premium
The jury includes Ashneer Grover, founder and managing director of BharatPe; Anupam Mittal, founder and CEO of People Group-Shaadi.com; and Vineeta Singh, co-founder of SUGAR Cosmetics.

SonyTV’s new primetime show Shark Tank India, the local version of the popular international television show, has divided Indian startups into two camps: those who think it’s all about humiliating hopeful entrepreneurs and those who see it as mere entertainment

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BENGALURU : SonyTV’s new primetime show Shark Tank India, the local version of the popular international television show, has divided Indian startups into two camps: those who think it’s all about humiliating hopeful entrepreneurs and those who see it as mere entertainment.

Over the past few days, the Indian version of Shark Tank has polarized viewers across social media.

“The show displayed arrogance and ignorance of the highest level. All the sharks have proved themselves by launching successful startups. But it gives no right to anyone to insult budding entrepreneurs. A shark even called a startup kachra (garbage) on national television... the last thing India needs is bullying of ‘budding entrepreneurs’ by ‘successful entrepreneurs’," wrote Shikhar Goel, auto and electric mobility expert at Invest India, a government-backed organization that supports Indian startups, in a post on Linkedin.

On Shark Tank India, successful entrepreneurs such as Ashneer Grover, founder and managing director of BharatPe; Anupam Mittal, founder and CEO of People Group-Shaadi.com; and Vineeta Singh, co-founder and CEO of SUGAR Cosmetics; hear pitches from startup founders looking for investment and mentorship. There are seven judges, five of whom are present in each episode.

BoAt Audio founder Aman Gupta, MamaEarth co-founder Ghazal Alagh, Lenskart founder and CEO Peyush Bansal and Namita Thapar, executive director of Emcure Pharma, make up the full roster of judges—the ‘sharks’ of the show. Each episode has three startup teams pitching their business ideas: the ongoing season features 198 startups selected from over 60,000 applications received from small businesses across India, Sony Entertainment Television has said.

While viewers like Goel (and the hundreds who have commented on his post in agreement) feel that the show’s tone is demeaning, many others believe that it is entirely in keeping with its premise—to provide pointed feedback and a realistic assessment of their potential to the aspirants.

“We got to-the-point and real feedback, which was quite fair. We didn’t want, and neither did we get sugar-coated feedback. The judges pointed out potential blind spots in our business that we should work on, and that will actually be helpful to us as a young startup," said Raghav Himatsingka, founder of Raising Superstars, an early learning platform for children between the ages of 0 and 3, who was featured in the seventh episode of the show.

Watching the show, it becomes obvious that some contenders were chosen for pure entertainment value—the way an Indian Idol, for instance, would choose to air the audition segment of a hopeless singer whose five minutes of fame come from making people laugh with bad singing and delusions of grandeur.

Supporters argue Shark Tank India is a primetime show, replacing the mega-hit Kaun Banega Crorepati at the 9pm slot, and it is not something only those interested in entrepreneurship will watch. It’s a mainstream, entertaining family show, they say—one that will generate arguments and discussions in drawing rooms and WhatsApp groups across India.

“I am not surprised by the drama I see because it is a mainstream show, and creating good content means you need drama. I did notice that sometimes the judges can sound a bit egoistic—like saying ‘we have done our bit in the industry’ when a particular contestant asked for some help—but overall, their feedback is fair and honest," said Viraj Sheth, co-founder and CEO of influencer marketing platform Monk Entertainment.

As someone who works in the influencer and creator economy, Sheth also points out that the exposure startups get when they are on the show is unmatched. “They will become influencers and celebrities in their own circles, irrespective of whether or not they get a deal," said Sheth.

Are Indians too thin-skinned and easily wounded by harsh criticism? After all, the judges on the US or Australian versions of the show are not known to mince their words either.

“Look, there is a reason it is called ‘Shark Tank’ and not ‘Boring VC Pitch Circle’," said a startup entrepreneur who did not want to be named. “The people who are participating in the show are well aware of this, and I don’t think anyone expects to be pampered or treated with kid gloves. If they go to any VC pitch meeting, they can expect a similar level of grilling."

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