Decoding the DNA of Darshan Doshi, the man behind the FLAME Origins Program, a startup accelerator for early stage startups
While there may be serious debate worldwide over whether entrepreneurs are born or made, in the case of Darshan Doshi, Director of FLAME University’s Centre for Entrepreneurship & Innovation, there is absolutely no doubt. It’s a bit of both, a combination of nature and nurture.
Born into a business family in Pune, Darshan’s passion for entrepreneurship was fuelled at an early age watching his father and uncle manage their family business in fertilizers and engineering. He always knew he would take over the reins of the business from them one day. After completing a Bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering from the Vishwakarma Institute of Technology - ranking third - he ran the business successfully for nearly four years. It was then that he had an epiphany. He realised that this was not what he wanted to do for the rest of his life. “The fertilizer industry in India is license controlled,” says Doshi simply. “I had bigger goals. I wanted to reach out and help more people.”
It was during his time as an MBA student at Babson College in the US that the entrepreneurial bug really bit him. Babson is one of the leading schools globally for entrepreneurial education and Darshan was part of the Babson College incubator program and also worked at MassChallenge, one of the largest startup accelerators in the US. He won the Babson College Next Big Idea competition, pitched his startup to billionaires Mark Cuban & Daymond John at the Babson Shark Tank and was part of the Startup Chile accelerator program.
“I guess I’ve always had an innate need to help people,” reflects Darshan. When he was a child, he noticed his mother always offering a helping hand to those around her with a smile on her face. “I think that’s what really influenced me.”
At FLAME University, Darshan is building the Centre for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (FCEI) ground up to foster an entrepreneurship culture and practice. It is the desire to help people that has brought him here. “Leadership development is all about helping people and businesses be more productive,” he says. The Centre’s FLAME Origins Program is a startup accelerator program that is sector-agnostic for early stage startups.
The Centre for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at FLAME University supports high potential early stage startups across all sectors through a structured and personalized mentoring program. Between 10-15 startups are selected twice a year that receive go-to-market, strategic and technical mentorship through an intensive program to set them on a growth path with a refined pitch for customers, partners and investors.
Right from the very beginning of their journey – be it ideation, product development, team building, developing a differentiated product to branding to effectively pitching to investors; the Centre helps startups through it all via Centre’s various initiatives.
The five-month-long non-residential program is designed to help entrepreneurs receive feedback on their products from prospective customers and get guidance from people with relevant experience. The equity-free programme, which also does not include any participation fee, does require entrepreneurs to work full time on their early-stage startups.
The FCEI team works closely with participants to ensure that they derive maximum value from the program. They connect entrepreneurs to business mentors, subject matter experts, prospective customers and investors throughout the duration of the programme, in addition to providing access to a co-working space and the FLAME library resources on its beautiful campus in Pune. Click here for the application criteria https://www.flame.edu.in/research/centres/centre-for-entrepreneurship-innovation/the-application-process
At the moment, there are eight startups going through the structured startup accelerator programme. These are:
- Invento Robotics uses Artificial Intelligence powered robots to improve productivity, customer engagement and sales for organizations.
- Krishi Star, a social enterprise whose vision is to build a highly scalable business that brings economic transformation for small farmers in India.
“We have been part of many accelerators but what is different with FLAME Origins Program is that it focusses on growing the business. We gained a lot of information, insights and access to customers. Rather than being investment focused, the FLAME team chose to work with our business, work on the different metrics and follow-up us on clear, measurable targets over the last few months” says Bryan Lee, founder, Krishi Star
- Sattvarise Technologies is revolutionizing manufacturing and engineering businesses with Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality solutions.
“FLAME Origins Program has been really amazing. What I have not learnt in last 4 years I have learnt in this accelerator. The biggest takeaway from sessions was that every business should focus on only 1-2 customer acquisition channels which was an eye opener for me. The stakeholder management session actually engaged us in practical implementation showing results in 2 hours. I am sure that the program will take us to the next level of our business” said Devdatta Puntambekar, founder, Sattvarise
- Truein improves security and entry management for large companies with real time data of visitors using AI and computer vision.
- Earth Souk is a contemporary lifestyle products company showcasing India's handcrafting traditions.
- CF Ventures is a startup in the Women's Health & Hygiene space that has created a product called ‘The Pink Box’, a subscription service to meet female hygiene needs at the doorstep.
- Korebi Coffee produces specialty coffee paired with innovative yet affordable equipment.
- Humantelligence, a US-based startup that leads culture analytics space through its product and service including an AI-based recruitment platform to help organizations identify the right candidate to fit in the organization culture.
The programme has over 25 mentors, advisors, partners and investors to help startups achieve the next stage of growth. The advisory board includes names such as Kuntal Shah (Partner, Oaklane Capital Management LLP), Amey Mashelkar (Head – Reliance Industries Limited Jio – GenNext), Sashi Chimala (serial entrepreneur), Prasanna Krishnamoorthy (founder, Upekkha), and Suhas Kadlaskar (ex-VP Mercedes-Benz India).
Darshan was previously an advisor at the Wadhwani Foundation, helping the Foundation launch its Venture ScaleUp early stage startup accelerator program in Pune. Launching the program included sourcing high-quality startups, creating and managing the programs, onboarding mentors, business leaders, prospective customers and investors.
“More recently, I helped Wadhwani Foundation launch its Small and Medium Enterprises (SME) accelerator program by forming a partnership with MCCIA Pune with focus on Automotive and Engineering SMEs with revenues between INR 5 – 75 Crores,” he adds.
Prior to his work with the Wadhwani Foundation, Darshan was Head of Programs at Reliance Industries Limited Jio-GenNext. As the Head of Programs, he led operations and program management for 5 startup accelerator programs from Fall 2015 cohort till Summer 2017 cohort. The focus was technology startups and 52 startups were mentored through the five programs. While all of them were technology startups, some of the sectors included e-retail, logistics, automotive, healthtech, HR, fintech, edtech, energy, hospitality, media and advertising, and sports. Some of the technologies included iOT, AI, ML, DL, Blockchain, AR, VR, Predictive Analytics, Last mile delivery optimization, social messaging, gamification, content analytics, enterprise security, lending solutions, aggregator, DOOH solutions and analytics, on demand delivery, among others.
Darshan has also led digital services at JumpShift; a New Zealand based leadership development startup and expanded its operations in the US.
“Launching a business is one of the riskiest things to do in the world,” he explains. “There are so many questions that one has to be prepared for. Will the market be ready for this? Can I build a team capable to build this business? Will the government be supportive?” According to him, it is a big challenge to be able to help startups scale and be sustainable. “This is what drives me,” he says.
Over the years, he has helped a significant number of entrepreneurs find their bearings in the business world. His work has impacted many entrepreneurs and businesses directly and indirectly. At the Wadhwani Foundation, sixteen companies were directly mentored under programs he managed while over 50 companies were indirectly impacted through program creation and support. At Jio-GenNext, the numbers were higher. Around 75 companies were directly supported in programs under his leadership while a staggering 111 were indirectly impacted. No small numbers, these.
With India being tagged as the youngest startup nation and the third largest hub for technology startups in the world, there couldn’t have been a better time to be an entrepreneur than now. “The current government’s initiatives such as #StartupIndia, #DigitalIndia and #MakeinIndia has expanded the ecosystem for entrepreneurs in India,” says Darshan. “The startup ecosystem has done extremely well between the years 2014 and 2018. With over 40000 startups in the country today, Indian startup ecosystem is on the brink of maturity,” he adds.
Darshan explains how the government’s policies such as creating 1 lakh digital villages in 5 years and schemes such as Ayushman Bharat Yojana has given a significant push to startups in the country. “Not just that, there is a quantum improvement in the quality of startups coming up in various sectors and industries. India is on its way to becoming an important part of the global startup ecosystem.”
Things couldn’t have been at a better place for entrepreneurs in the country. As for him, Darshan says he is happiest when he has the ability to impact someone positively. “That is my return of investment,” he sums up.
His work at FLAME helps him do just that – make an impact on hundreds of lives positively.
For more information about the FLAME’s Centre for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (FCEI), click here: https://www.flame.edu.in/research/centres/centre-for-entrepreneurship-innovation.