Most of the time, entrepreneurship is about treading a solitary path. Meeta Verma is among the lucky ones who found support early on. Six months before she turned 40, Meeta received a call to join a one-year Women Startup Programme (WSP) offered by the Indian Institute of Management - Bangalore (IIM-B) with the support of Goldman Sachs and the Department of Science and Technology, Government of India.
Meeta could not have hoped for a better launch pad. Through mentoring and opportunities for networking and industry collaboration, the programme would enable participants to give their entrepreneurial idea more than a fighting chance in the market. To top it all, every participant will take home a stipend of ₹ 40,000 a month.
“I just had an idea when I joined the programme, and did not know how to execute it,” says Meeta, who started Worksera, a freelance jobs platform for Indian women, in 2017.
It was with the network she had forged through WSP that Meeta found her early clients. The stipend helped her pay the rent for the office space she had taken.
Now, Worksera is 150 projects old, and has four employees, all of them women, on its rolls. Around 800 people have signed up on the platform.
Meeta’s success story not only illustrates the value of such programmes, but also underlines how support from large corporations sustains them.
There are two scenarios. One, large corporations support such initiatives, as in the case of IIM-B’s WSP where the programme receives support from Goldman Sachs.
The other scenario is about these corporations starting these initiatives themselves.
Cisco and Shell are among companies that have been running “accelerator programmes” for entrepreneurs who have just started up their enterprises.
Cisco’s ‘LaunchPad’ is held twice a year with eight startups in each cohort. Participants go through a 24-week training programme. The organisation has so far helped more than 40 startups and provided mentorship, grants, investor connects, tech platform, customer partner access and co-working space. It does not stop with this. Some of the “mature startups” move from the accelerator to the “innovation centre programme”, which provides them with a bigger platform to develop their products and showcase them.
Shell has been accelerating energy-related technologies under its programme called ‘E4’ (Energizing and Enabling Energy Entrepreneurs). The start-ups are incubated for six months. In the recent edition, 10 start-ups that had a strong connect with the company’s business, were helped.
Recently, Dell opened its India chapter of what is called ‘Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network’ (DWEN), enabling networking among women entrepreneurs from India.
Before launching DWEN, Dell did a survey, connecting with 300 entrepreneurs, to understand what kind of support entrepreneurs look for. The majority of entrepreneurs said they needed help in expansion, sales strategy and leveraging technology.
Sheenam Ohrie, vice president, Enterprise Data and Mobility Engineering, Dell Digital, says there were two strong reasons for starting DWEN.
Referring to studies, she says 40% of start-ups fail in the first year. And only 2% of venture capital funding goes to women entrepreneurs.
“We need to change these numbers,” says Sheenam.
What do large corporations gain by working with startups?
Saras Sarasvathy, Paul M. Hammaker Professor of Business Administration, The Darden School of Business, says both big corporations and startups can gain a lot by partnering with each other. Startups think they need funding. But they should realise that building a direct relationship with the potential customer is of greater importance, she says.
That is a learning they are likely to receive from their association with large corporations. Large corporations find it difficult to leave their predictable market and therefore work with an inherent handicap while attempting new product development. And this is one area startups are naturally good at.
A ‘matchmaking’ platform
100 Open Startups is one of the largest evaluation and matchmaking platforms for startups to connect with big corporations.
Started by Bruno Rondani from Brazil in 2007, 100 Open Startups works in major countries to enable corporate-startup engagement.
Currently, 2,400 big corporates are on the platform. Ten thousand contracts have been signed up so far.
In India, the initiative has been running since 2015. “We have 190 corporates who are part of our programme,” says Varad Krishna, co-founder and managing director - Asia, 100 Open Startups.
The programme runs through the year and is open to anyone, irrespective of age and sector. Early-stage start-ups are preferred. Participants are shortlisted based on five filters. Problems are defined by the corporates in verticals, numbering around 24. For example, innovative cities, future of education and healthcare. Anybody with a solution for these questions can apply. The programme gets more challenging at every successive level.
“At Level 4, we have the open innovation week where corporates and startups negotiate and contracts are signed,” says Krishna, adding that 90 startups from India have reached this level so far.
“It’s a start of a journey where we begin by mentoring and this goes on till strategic acquisition,” says Krishna.
He says corporates like to partner with the platform as they find this an efficient resource for innovation.
Talking about how the programme has evolved, he says initially the programme was started to rate and rank startups. “Now, we also rate corporates based on how they engage with entrepreneurs,” he says.
The startups with more matches and contracts signed are ranked in the 100 Open Startups’ Top100.
For details, visit www.openstartups.net