One school in India has given birth to a surprising number of cool startups
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Photo Credit: Indian Institue of Technology, Kharagpur

Some of India’s top startups are coming out of the Indian Institute of Technology at Kharagpur.

Tech in Asia

What does customer engagement software maker Capillary Technologies have in common with math app Splashmath, used vehicles marketplace GoZoomo, logistics provider Roadrunnr, and online product and price discovery startup BuyHatke?

Well, all of them are technology startups doing well in their playing fields, scaling up fast, raising money, and growing user bases or clientele. That apart, the founders of these successful startups are alumni of the same engineering college – Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur (IIT-KGP).

The initial sparks of entrepreneurship lit up inside these founders when they were students at IIT-KGP, toying with tech ideas, and building enduring friendships. Capillary, for instance, has an all-IIT-KGP founding team. So does Splashmath and BuyHatke. GoZoomo and RoadRunnr each have one founder from the prestigious institution. Venturesity, Traveltriangle, Signeasy, Innovacer, Carbon Clean Solutions, Moengage, Mapmygenome, Stayglad … the list of cool startups that can trace their origins back to IIT-KGP grows ever longer.
“What really got the entrepreneurship buzz going was the success of seniors we had seen closely. Specifically, three startups which emerged during 2008 to 2012 made a lot of KGPians [the alumni of IIT-KGP call themselves this] curious: Capillary, Splashmath, and Minekey. Their success inspired a lot of people,” Arnav Kumar, co-founder of Gozoomo tells Tech in Asia.

IIT-KGP has a 2,100-acre campus. The town outside the campus doesn’t have much to offer the student community. Naturally, this binds them closer. The institute is also the largest in terms of student intake. “More hands, more ideas, more aggregate grey matter,” Arnav says.

He points out that IIT-KGP offers a lot of disciplines that most other IITs don’t:­ agricultural engineering, medical sciences, architecture, energy, economics, and so on, besides the usual engineering courses. “This bodes well for KGP since some of the most exciting innovations are interdisciplinary in nature – think IoT, wearables, medical technology, artificial intelligence, robotics, and so on,” he says. Many of Gozoomo’s early team members are KGPians.

Student-run entrepreneurship cell

The founding team of IIT Kharagpur’s entrepreneurial cell Photo credit: Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur

The founding team of IIT Kharagpur’s entrepreneurial cell Photo credit: Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur

IIT-KGP was one of the first colleges in India to have an entrepreneurship cell. It was established to encourage as well as support students who dream of founding a startup, and it’s entirely student-run. So far, in the eight years since the cell’s inception, it has incubated 50 student startups.

“It was the brainchild of Aneesh Reddy and K.K. Mehra, co-founders of Capillary. The cell was started to inculcate entrepreneurial thinking among students and take some of the ideas in the campus and showcase them to the world. So we wanted to become the bridge,” Subhendu Panigrahi, co-founder of hiring startup Venturesity, tells Tech in Asia. Subhendu was one of the founding members of the cell.

“It took time to inspire the student community to startup instead of taking cushy jobs,” he recalls.

Empresario: Everything begins with an idea

The cell also runs a series of contests, events, and workshops to reach out to colleges in India, find students with brilliant ideas, and attempt to nurture those ideas into potential businesses. Last week, the cell kicked off a global business model competition.

Named “Empresario”, the competition is associated with the International Business Model Competition (IBMC), co-hosted by Stanford, Harvard, and Brigham University. The best entries at Empresario will get a chance to participate directly in the semi-final rounds of IBMC 2016.

The competition is open to college students across the globe. It has two tracks: Product and Service, and Social. College students who want to participate can submit ideas in any of the three categories. Last year, the cell gave prizes worth INR 1.5 million (US$23,000) to the winners of each category.

The student organizers say there’s inherent value in an idea even before it is validated: “Empresario is about recognizing that any new venture is just a guess about the problem and its solution. And the only way to test whether those guesses are correct is to get outside the building and validate the idea with customer feedback.”

At the first round, applicants just have to submit responses to a questionnaire on their business idea. You can find the form here. The shortlisted entries will get mentorship to hone their ideas, and those who make it to the next stage will get to present their business model to a panel of investors.

Last year’s winner of Empresario was homegrown startup Betaglide, a mobile app testing platform. It was founded by four IIT-KGP students – Abhimanyu Dikshit, Amritanshu Anand, Anshul Singhle, and Manan Shah.

The startup was acquired yesterday by news app Inshorts, which too has an IIT-KGP co-founder.

This piece was originally published on Tech in Asia.

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