1. Upping the investment game
Name: Hari Balasubramanian (HARI)
Designation: Angel investor, advisor & mentor
Investing since: 2011
Star investments: Mukunda Foods, Style.me, Jigsee & Wow Momo!
Dream team: One that is not risk averse
Invests in: Anywhere from seed funding to growth stage. “Although the earlier I get involved with a company, the better it is, since people like me can do a lot of value addition,” says Hari, adding how he works as a part of the entrepreneurial team without remuneration, and mentors the group, while also helping with networking, liaising and support.
Investments in east India: Typically, makes investments through the Indian Angel Network (IAN). Invested in the popular wanton brand Wow Momo and has mentored Zostel, India’s first chain of backpacker hotels, which was started by four students from IIM Calcutta. While Wow Momo! is valued at $16 million with IAN investing Rs 10 crore in the QSR (quick service restaurant) brand; Zostel raised Rs 5 crore from angel investments last year.
Looks for: A team with a lot of passion. “I want people who are not looking for a safety net and are ready to go through the ups and downs of starting up and are ready to stand up and fight every time they fall,” he says. Hari been associated with the entrepreneurial ecosystem for several decades.
“On a monthly basis, no less than 80-100 teams from east India approach me to validate their plan and to explore angel investment opportunities,” he says.
2. Looking beyond big cities
Name: Dr. Suryanil Ghosh
Designation: Chairman, TotalStart, and a serial entrepreneur, angel investor, intrapreneur, technocrat & educator
Investing since: 2004
Star investments: Little Laureates & 2 Israeli software management companies
Dream team: One that has a strong fire in the belly
Invests in: Ghosh annually scouts for micro/small but scalable district-level entrepreneurs and district-level startups. These entrepreneurs are then mentored through programs on how to make their businesses scalable and are assisted in scaling up through angel funding, VC funding and even financial institutional funding.
Investments in east India: After West Bengal and Sikkim, he set his eye on Assam and Tripura. Ghosh is proud of two recent success stories from West Bengal – Little Laureates (littlelaureates.org), and Ujjeewan Healthcare (ujjeewanhealthcare.com). Little Laureates is a pre-school chain that provides affordable but top-class facilities for children and caters mostly to children from the lower income group.
Ujjeewan Healthcare has been incubated and mentored by TotalStart since January 2014, and provides lastmile medical facility and services through telemedicine services, fair price generic medicines, basic preventive pathological tests, women’s healthcare services as well as education and mentoring through women’s self-help groups.
His Bali Island, a Sundarbans Innovationand Incubation Unit initiative, is focussed on creating an eco sustainable entrepreneurial ecosystem for the Sundarbans. TotalStart is working to create an eco-sustainable entrepreneurial ecosystem in the Sundarbans, uplifting the economy of these remote areas.
Looks for: The venture’s scalable possibility and the people who form the team. “We prefer a team with a strong fire in the belly and a lot of dedication,” he says. Ghosh is optimistic about east India’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, which he says is slowly developing and is much more happening than it was a few years ago.
“But most of the activity is happening in the big cities, and there is hardly any player outside Kolkata. More work needed to be done in small towns and cities,” he says.
3. Focused on viability
Name: Raghav Kanoria
Designation: Co-founder, Calcutta Angels, and an entrepreneur & angel investor
Investing since: 2013
Star investments: Catapult crowdfunding & Klip e-commerce startup
Dream team: One that has relevant experience and a sound strategy for the market
Interested in: B2B businesses that are consumer-related.
Invests in: Looks mostly at early-stage funding. “Not mere a paper plan, the venture should have gathered some customer traction,” he clarifies, “It should have a product that has been developed, for instance, and need help with spreading the word.”
Investments in east India: In the healthcare sector through iKure Techsoft, a social enterprise that works in the rural healthcare space.
Looks for: “We look at the team that is behind the venture – does it have the relevant experience? Have the members been in the business?” he says. Also, does the team have mentor network? Do they have a big enough market? What is their strategy to execute in that market? What is the next round of funding they are looking at having a unique product or service is a game-changer as well.
He believes that the entrepreneurial system needs a lot of work in Kolkata. “Look at Mumbai, Delhi and Bengaluru, they have been nurturing entrepreneurs for so many years; we only started in 2013,” he says. What has made things better is the presence of FICCI, CII, TIE and Nasscom.
“Universities need to have more in-house workshops and invite more speakers to talk about entrepreneurship,” he says, adding how chambers of commerce and other organizations can do a lot by way of creating awareness through workshops and training programmes.
4. Hot on Tech
Name: Abhishek Rungta
Designation: Entrepreneur, angel investor and Co-founder, Seeders
Investing since: 2010
Star investments: Letsventure crowdfunding & cloud telephony company Plivo
Dream team: Passionate, knows the risks involved and has a strategy to mitigate them
Interested in: The technology sector, primarily the Internet and software areas, as well as Internet-enable services. “We also look at SAAS-based companies and firms where technology is an enabler and provides a competitive edge,” he says.
Invests in: Rungta prefers to come in at the seed-funding stage. “The company should have attained some traction, even if it is not profitable,” he says, adding, “But the candidate must have done his homework; it should not be just a dream project, but also have practical elements.”
Investments in east India: Rungta has made investments mostly outside east India, but has mentors a lot of companies in the region. Among these are E-Cube Energy and Tookitaki, which later went to Bengaluru and has raised money there. He defends not investing in West Bengal companies, and says, “The challenge in east India is that most ventures here are under the radar, cater to the services sector, and their scalability is low. Angel investing is needed for specific companies that want to grow quick and fast.”
Looks for: Rungta checks if an enterprise solves a real problem. Does it have a required market size? How passionate is the person/s in the team? Does he know the risks involved and has he prepared himself to mitigate these risks? Rungta is confident about the entrepreneurial ecosystem in east India.
“Five years ago at Seeders, we looked at business pitches of 30 people in three months. Of these, none was worth investing,” he says. In the last three months, out of 30 pitches, he found around 10 of them worth investing. He also feels Kolkata companies are fundamentally stronger since they grow in a tough environment and says, “Once they break out, you won’t find them quitting; they are most sustainable than most other firms.”
5. Capitalising on local expertise
Name: Madhumita Pyne
Designation: Angel investor & business developer
Investing since: 2014
Star investments: Bengali movie Ebar Shabor & Jamdani weave brand Loomiaire
Dream team: The one that shows the promise of returns
Interested in: Sectors like education, entertainment, handloom and handicrafts, IT-enabled services, alcoholic beverages and products.
Invests in: Any stage, be it seed funding or last-mile
Investments in east India: Bengali movie Ebar Shabor, which she co-produced with Reliance Entertainment. She also intends to produce, in a tie-up with a prominent studio in Kolkata, a bouquet of a dozen Bengali feature films in the next two years.
Her company Mundus Services is also entering the education sector by setting up a private university in association with a renowned US university. She is also working with 250 artisans in Shantipur, West Bengal, to restore the dying art of jamdani weave and retails under a private brands on e-commerce sites such as indianroots.com.
Looks for: “For small investors like me, the project needs to be extremely viable,” she says. Also, since she is investing only in West Bengal at the moment, it is imperative for her that the product or service by the venture will work in the state.
Pyne believes that things are improving in the business and enterprise sector in West Bengal. “Also, what can’t be disputed is the immense amount of liquidity in the state, but due to on-ground situations, people have not been investing,” she says, adding how it is changing. She also believes that the state needs work towards a providing more conducive environment for the IT sector.