Mumbai: For the last half a decade, entreprenuers from small towns are playing a major role in building and strengthening India’s startup ecosystem. Lately many startups from the small towns of the country are not only coming up with disruptive and life impacting solutions but are also making waves as a few of them turn Unicorns this year. While it is a no secret that the startups will play a major role in making India a $5 trillion dollar economy soon, accelerators and incubators have been driving this phenomenal paradigm shift in the smaller towns by backing the early and idea stage startups with funding, mentorship and go to market strategy. One such mentor is Dr Apoorva Ranjan Sharma, whose incubator Venture Catalysts has so far invested in over more than three dozen startups from the non-metros starting from Beardo, MyFitness, CarDekho and Keeros amongst others. Hailing from Kanpur, Dr Sharma has played a pivotal role in making UP a hub for several innovative startups. He has a PHD in Incubation and has so far established over 12 incubators in India. Under his leadership, Venture Catalysts has become India’s largest early stage investor and world’s third largest integrated incubator.
Could you briefly describe how small towns are driving the startup ecosystem.
India’s startup ecosystem has undergone a paradigm shift from just consumer focused startups a decade back to more deep-tech now. India is now home to around 70-odd Unicorns, of which many are founded by entrepreneurs hailing from small towns including Oyo, Zetwerk, OfBusiness and Udaan among others. This change has happened in the last 5-6 years with increased Internet penetration, emergence of quality incubators and accelerators that have not only helped created instil a sense of entrepreneurship amongst the youngsters but also have made small town investors aware of startup investing, and emergence of serial entrepreneurs. The evolution of the VC and angel network has also aided the growth of startups by making funding and growth capital accessible. VCs have been able to create startups as an emerging asset class and this has been a biggest driver of growth as there is no dearth of capital in the market, which was seen as a major challenge to startup about a decade ago.
Could you share some insights about your journey of mentoring and incubating startups? Were there any lessons that you learnt from budding entrepreneurs? Were there any dark horses that went on to become big successes?
I prefer to call myself a mentor rather than an investor. Mentoring is very crucial and also very difficult. It is like advising a young parent on how to raise their kids. You have to be absolutely sure of what kind of advice your are giving to a startup by stepping into their shoes.The mentor andmenteerelationship is verysacrosanct. I have mentored over 200 startups so far and from all these conversations, I have learnt that passion, perseverance and patience is very important for any entrepreneurto becomesuccessful.
Can you share how Venture Catalysts was founded? What sets it apart from other incubators and ecosystem enablers?
We founded Venture Catalysts in 2016. We We like to call ourselves “Startup Developers.”
We help build successful companies by offering the right combination of capital, knowledge & network to passionate entrepreneurs. We have an Integrated approach to Startup Development where we bundle together all the elements that help startups become more successful. We work like a family. We don’t just invest in the company but also in the founder. We intend to create long lasting relationships and walk the journey together with all our stakeholders. Our organisation is built upon the very same principles of “We flourish when you all flourish.” There are many angel network and incubators in the country but what sets us apart from others is the idea of democratising startup investing. We want to break the stereotype that startup investors need to be only from the metros. We started with an idea of democratizing angel investing and making startup investment as an asset class available to investors across tier 2, 3 towns in the country and the globe. Now, we are onto creating the largest community of entrepreneurs and investors globally through education and technology. We want to create the world’s largest integrated incubator.
“Don’t create clones. Create better business then ur precedence in other market.” Can you shed some light on why you believe in the aforementioned ideology?
The current market is filled with “me-too” startups, there are hardly any differentiating factor . Cloning is easy. Rocket Internet does that all the time. They pick up large American startups and replicate those ideas in other markets. Whether it is right thing to do, there is no straight answer because it has created successful clones efficiently and faster. But this can’t be a long term strategy. Instead, startups need to focus and build a company on strong fundamentals and that is nothing but a rock solid business that is sustainable, with strong bottom and top line.
What are the top three things that you look for in a startup before making an investment-related decision?
Passion, persistence and patience are the three Ps that I look for in any founder. If he/she has these three qualities, then success is given. Besides, as far as a startup is concerned the first and foremost thing that I seek is what problem it is solving, it’s scalability and agility of the team to handle difficult situations.
What advice would you like to give to budding entrepreneurs who’re looking to make a mark for themselves in the startup ecosystem?
For all the budding entrepreneurs out there, I want to just say one thing. First identify the problem and create a solution around it and not the other way around. Once you have discovered that, create a business around it and stick to the plan with patience and perseverance.