Lest we forget

A list of some of the early pioneers in the Indian entrepreneurial ecosystem from my lens

Kartik Reddy (Blume Ventures) recently tweeted about the impact that SIDBI had on the Indian venture ecosystem as a fund of fund, which sorta took me down memory lane (in my short un-illustrious career) from when I first started reading about businesses and entrepreneurship about 15 years back.

I wanted to make a list of some interesting organisations that I feel often get lost and don’t get enough credit for their impact over the years. This is by no means an exhaustive list and I have deliberately excluded some of the more common names who have contextually been given enough credit and focused more on those organisations (or the people / beneficiaries) that I got to work with or see up close.

SIDBI / IFC / CDC: Funds of Funds and Direct Investors in the Indian economy

  • Because they have silently (at least to my knowledge) had more impact on India’s venture and business ecosystem than most people recognise. From being a fund of funds backing pretty much every home grown fund you hear about in the news to making direct investments (in iconic brands like Apollo Tyres, Kotak Mahindra Bank as well as BigBasket and other startups etc)

  • (links to their commitments IFC, CDC, SIDBI, some of the historical data missing here) 

Morpheus: Early stage “accelerator”

  • Because it was an early pioneer in early stage financing (YC model) wayback in 2008 when incubators/accelerators were supposed to just give “office space” and take xx% equity in return.

  • Because for a fund putting in $10,000 (for 5-7%) their investments included Practo, HackerRank, Helpchat, Posist, Commonfloor, iimjobs and many others. 

  • Because more than money, founders often speak of the emotional support they received during their early days from Sameer, Nandini (+ Indus, Sarvjeet for a while) 

Aavishkaar: VC fund investing in rural India. Disclosure: This was my first job.

  • Because it was one of the earliest VCs (2001), being the first investor in extremely risky businesses. Because it viewed “social enterprises” through primarily a risk taking lens, instead of the various other methodologies that existed back then. 

  • Because the Partners (Vineet / Pradeep) didn’t come from a bluechip company or top institutions (though co-founder Anantha was a well known economist).

  • Because it took 5 years to raise the first $1M, and today is > $1B in AUM.

  • Because Aavishkaar took bold bets on a lot of themes that are “mainstream” now, like Fintech/NBFCs (Equitas, BASIX, EPS, Vortex), Agri (Milk Mantra, Agrostar) or Private Labels (Jeypore).

Wipro: ITeS giant

  • Because among all the ITeS companies, it was the most entrepreneurial of the lot. They had tried making their own OS in early 90s, and the outflow from Wipro ended up creating companies like Mindtree (IPO 2020), Happiest Minds (IPO 2020). 

  • Because it gave us operators and investors like Ashok Soota (Happiest Minds/Mindtree), KK / Partha/ Subroto Bagchi & team (Mindtree), Samir Kumar (Inventus), Girish Paranjpe (Exfinity / Advent), Vivek Paul (ex-TPG), Raman Roy (Quattro). 

  • Because even today, the sort of acquisitions Wipro does are very interesting (TopCoder, though I feel they haven’t tapped its potential).

InMobi / Pubmatic / Komli / Burrp / Zoho / Baazee: Early tech giants + founder factories

  • Because of the sheer number of founders the alums of these companies ended up producing. Baazee ended up producing a lot of GPs at VCs (Norwest, Matrix, Nirvana, Nexus, March Capital)

National Entrepreneurship Network: Youth entrepreneurship platform

  • Because NEN was a pioneer in inspiring young college grads to startup. Many of us (including me) that went to college in early to mid 2000s owe a lot to NEN.

  • Because at the time, young entrepreneurs found TiE & NASSCOM too daunting.

  • Because they went to the source of talent: Universities. I had interned here in 2011 and my co-founder Vijay helped set up FirstDot (under the aegis of CEO Laura Parkin), their startup showcase. 

Proto / Knowledge Foundation / Barcamps: Community Organised events

  • Before “networking” was a thing, there were these community driven initiatives. Many from the late 2000s will remember these. Because it was a rage and the closest thing we had to product showcases or a tech community which helped in early stage entrepreneurship, finding early employees and users, getting product feedback and learning new skills (web 2.0 anyone?). Folks like Vijay Anand, Kiruba and many many others were behind this.   

Image credit: Amit Ranjan