How This Entrepreneur Smashed a Six in Indian Start-up Networking
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A conference room packed with founders but just a few investors and mentors, a food table serving snacks and tea in a corner, and the people who already know each other indulging in the same mundane conversations. This has become the state of Indian start-up networking.
While the start-up boom has seen the birth of multiple communities in different cities, the craze for entrepreneurship has also resulted in a mushrooming of events, some which are not necessarily helpful for entrepreneurs. The formats of these events too, with panel discussions on the same topics with familiar faces, have made them boring.
Changing things around, SaiKiran Gunda, founder of MemiLog, decided to bring in to these events, the one thing that unites all Indians – cricket. He founded Startup Cricket League in Hyderabad in 2015.
Founders turned Captains
Gunda, who is an active member of the Hyderabad start-up ecosystem and would attend almost every other entrepreneurial event, realised the need for an informal event for mentors, investors, enablers and founders.
“The idea initially was to just make them play something. The most obvious choice was the favourite sport of almost every Indian – cricket. So, we reached out to start-ups and asked them to form teams to take part in the tournament,” said Gunda.
But what he didn’t expect was the reception that the idea got. The first season in 2015 saw 1500 people attending the event with 30 start-up teams taking part in the tournament. Although, it wasn’t just about playing cricket, the event also had conferences, pitching to investors and a start-up showcase.
“We started getting a lot of calls from Mumbai and Delhi, people wanting to take this concept forward. Many started using the same idea, and that’s when I saw the opportunity of turning it into a brand. In the second year, we introduced SCL in four cities – Bangalore, Delhi, Jaipur and Hyderabad,” he said. The 2016 edition had over 200 start-ups participating with a total of 6,000 people taking part from all four cities.
Gunda started travelling to the four cities, reaching out to co-working spaces, influencers and communities. As he met more people, he realised the excitement people had towards this idea and brought in volunteers in different cities to help him out. While Tollywood star Akhil Akkineni is the brand ambassador for SCL, the launch of the third season was done by Pragyan Ojha.
Finding a Common Thread
As SCL grew bigger, Gunda realised that the three parallels of cricket, conference and start-up showcase actually had no connection except for the venue. He also realised that while he wanted to create an informal meet-up for all, he was actually just pitching start-ups one against the other while investors and mentors didn’t even get involved in the sport.
“That’s when we decided to have industry specific teams. In the third edition of SCL, each team will have two investors, two mentors, four enablers and six start-up founders. The investors and mentors are picked by us, while the start-ups apply to take part in an industry specific team,” said Gunda. The six verticals are Business Blazers - B2B, Enterprise, Services , ECom Titans - ECommerce, mCommerce, Marketplace, Front Foot Techies - IoT, AI, ML, AR, VR, Finance Fighters - Fintech, Commerce, Payments, Lifestyle Leopards - Healthcare, Education, Fashion, F&B and Travel Thunders - Travel, Logistics, Hospitality.
This helps investors and mentors to actually interact with start-ups and bring about new connections in the ecosystem. The focus is mainly on letting early stage start-ups get the opportunity to take home notes from seasoned mentors and investors.