Offers startups personalized mentoring, facilities and access to potential funding
The launch of the inaugural FLAME Origins Program, the flagship initiative of the FLAME Centre for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (FCEI), took place last week and brought together eight young entrepreneurs looking to grow their start-ups, with experienced mentors over three days of structured interactions and intensive workshops.
‘Embrace falling down - it’s how you learn, but avoid fatal mistakes’ advised Dr. Dishan Kamdar, Vice-Chancellor of FLAME University, while welcoming the participants on the first day of the startupaccelerator program. ‘At FLAME University, we want to support high quality start-ups and take a leadership role in nurturing the local start-up eco-system, definitely in Pune and elsewhere.’
Indeed, under the directorship of Darshan Doshi, FLAME Origins Program is FCEI’s major focal point. Darshan brings his wealth of experience having managed businesses in India and globally, and having been involved in the U.S. and Indian start-up communities. Thanks to this, FCEI benefits from an extraordinary set of advisors and mentors, both generally, and in the Origins Program in particular.
One such mentor is Abhijit Gupta who founded Praxify that was recently acquired by AthenaHealth. In a ‘fireside chat’ with Darshan, Abhijit was wonderfully candid in describing his journey to the gathering of entrepreneurs; sharing insights at all levels from the choice of location of a startups' headquarters to the relationship between co-founders (‘It’s like a marriage - no, it’s more than a marriage’) to those moments of existential doubt which are hard to avoid.
The participants plunged into more hands-on workshops and sessions right after this inspirational discussion. These included sessions on business health and goal setting, conducted by FLAME’s faculty members Darshan Doshi, Niraj Mankad and Bharat Damani; a workshop on strategic partnerships and stakeholder development conducted by Rohan Havaldar, founder of Evok Analytics and iSpirit Volunteer; and a product roadmap workshop by by Amit Mishra, CEO of Pune-based InterviewMocha. Another fireside chat on second day with Akash Sureka, founder of Hoopz who exited to Persistent Systems, where Akash shared an alternative perspective on entrepreneurship and how he looked at an exit for the startup from its initial days.
As to the participants themselves, they had come through a selection process that already established the early viability of their products. Their businesses spanned a range of sectors. Navneet Peri, of Humantelligence, offers Culture Analytics and AI-based ‘recruiting for best-fit’. Sanjana Pai, of CF Ventures, is creating products such as ‘The Pink Box’ and building a community in the Women's Hygiene and Health space, that enable excellence while banishing stigmas. Ankit Tanna, of TrueIn, is improving security and entry management for large companies, with real-time data of visitors, using AI and computer vision. Nisarg Shah of Korebi Coffee is sourcing and roasting single-origin Arabica beans to provide specialty coffee, along with innovative and affordable equipment. Agastya Chopra and Bryan Lee of Krishi Star are working with small farmers to create a highly scalable business that brings them economic transformation. And Devdatta Puntambekar of Sattvarise Technologies, is revolutionizing manufacturing and design using Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality. Balaji Viswanathan of Invento Robotics looks to bring the robotics revolution to automate a range of customer engagement tasks. Debashis Das of Bharati Robotics is working on autonomous robots for industrial floor cleaning and material handling.
Apart from the structured workshops and speaker sessions, the Origins Program will help each of these entrepreneurs to develop an invaluable network of informal support through advisors and mentors. Moreover, the one-on-one element that is built into the Program ensured that nobody’s particular needs were given short-shrift.
Toward the end of the three days, it was clear that the benefits were flowing. ‘I was skeptical before I came’, admitted Devdatta, ‘I have been to other programs in Pune where there was just gyaan being given, it really wasn’t helpful. But here I’ve learned more in three days than in the last four years. Most importantly I now know where to go, if I have a problem.’
Bryan and Agastya were likewise satisfied, picking out one aspect of FLAME Origins Program for special praise. ‘This was holistic. It was about thinking about the business as such. Just getting investment wasn’t the focus, which it usually tends to be. For instance, in the stakeholder development workshop, Rohan (Havaldar) pointed out that if you simply engage with your stakeholders, i.e. your ‘bird in hand’ then you don’t even need a lot of money to grow.’
While for some, like Navneet Peri, customer contacts were the primary takeaway from the program, there was a general sense of thankfulness for strategic insights and mentor connects. ‘Until now I wasn’t getting various perspectives - now through various mentors at this program I do’, said Sanjana. ‘This has helped me narrow down my focus - especially in Pune’, said Nisarg.
Darshan explained: 'In these three days we have been able to baseline all the startups on their current stage, set the goal for each one, and then create a roadmap for achieving these goals over the next 3-6 months with specific action items for the founders and mentors over the next few weeks” .
Not surprisingly, then, the entrepreneurs were unanimous in their decision to return to the FLAME campus in December, for further and intensive interactions. Meanwhile, the FLAME Origins Program continues for them on a five-month, non-residential basis during which they have access to a co-working space at FLAME University, logistical support and most importantly ongoing coaching, networking and mentoring. ‘I’m really looking forward to the months to come’, said Bryan Lee, in a sentiment that seemed shared by everyone, including the mentors. 'There should be many such programs', Amit Mishra emphasized, 'I benefited myself from an accelerator when I was starting InterviewMocha. This kind of work can transform the start-up ecosystem in Pune.'
The Origins Program represents a major step in the fulfilment of FCEI's vision. Previously, in August, FCEI had hosted a workshop on effectuation by Dr. Saras Sarasvathy, Chair Entrepreneurship at University of Virginia - Darden School of Business, USA for entrepreneurs, students and entrepreneurship educators around the country. Director Darshan Doshi reflected on these milestones and on the road ahead:
"FCEI aims to give high potential individuals the opportunity, the encouragement and the incentive to do their best through its various initiatives. The launch of FLAME Origins Program is a positive first step in that direction and what we have seen is engagement from mentors/entrepreneurs who have recently founded and exited startups, who believe in FCEI's vision and want to give back to the startup community through time and guidance. We have seen startup founders believing in the process and with time we will see these startups establish meaningful businesses. These founders have been working hard on their startups for a few years now and through this program we hope to take them to the next stage of growth through decision making frameworks, accountability, mentor interactions, and feedback from prospective customers and investors."