The Next Big Thing(s) - Startups to Look Out For


On August 15, 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi stood at the Red Fort and made a call to “Startup India, Stand up India”. His words echoed the sentiments of today’s Indians, and the flame had already been ignited in citizens’ minds to create remarkable products and companies that will change the world! The PM’s call was a reassurance that the government understands and supports these sentiments. Never before in the history of the country have so many powerful forces come together to enable the Indian startup ecosystem.

The moment is here; India has become a startup nation. Today, the country is a hub for many billion-dollar firms and a hot investment destination that rivals the US, UK and China. India is changing, and so are the aspirations of its 1.2 billion people. But the change did not happen overnight.

In the early noughties, the demand for IT professionals spiked. Being a computer engineer and going to the United States became the goal of many. However, the recession in 2008 reduced the demand for human resources in the US, and many IT companies in India were not hiring because of low demand in this key market. With fewer mouth-watering packages available, a breed of entrepreneurs emerged–especially in the tech space – and this laid the foundation for India’s startup culture.

According to a recent economic survey by the Government of India, the country is home to 19,000 tech startups and the trend of taking the entrepreneurial path is only going to increase. IT professionals are now leaving their well-paid jobs in the US and returning to India to launch their own companies. Indians of the new millennium are strong believers in pursuing their own dreams as opposed to following the instructions of a large multinational.

Today, Indian startups are giving their all to building successful businesses, and Hyderabad is very much in the picture. The city is a thriving hotspot for tech startups, with several of them already making it big. “There is a plethora of resources to help startups in Hyderabad. You have mentors to guide you pro-bono; angel investors that you can reach relatively easily; startup events happening on a regular basis to educate entrepreneurs; startup fests that expose one to the amazing world of entrepreneurship; coworking spaces that promote thriving communities; and incredibly helpful peers who go out of their way to make you succeed!,” wrote Raghuveer Kovuru, co-founder of Co.Lab.Orate Coworking, Hyderabad’s first community coworking space, in one of his columns.
Tamaal Roy, CEO, Biomatiques, India’s first indigenous Iris recognition technology and manufacturer of Iris scanning products says, “In the past two decades or so, Hyderabad has seen rapid growth in terms of infrastructure and modern amenities. With the growing IT, industrial and corporate revolution, it is poised to grow even bigger. There are several initiatives taken up by the State government towards promotion of the startup sector. Thus it is the perfect ground for budding startups who wish to enter this space.”

These are some of the important external factors that can help one’s idea to see the light of the day. But every budding entrepreneur or dreamer must have aninnate ‘never say die’ attitude, a fighting spirit to never give up, because starting and running a company is no mean task. One must stay on top of evolving market needs and continuously reinvent to stay relevant, because there is always somebody right behind you, eager challenge you or take your place.

It might seem that the only hipster thing you ever do is to become an entrepreneur while it is still cool. But whether you’re tapping away at your keyboard, perfecting an internet startup company to take on giants like Amazon, or starting something as simple as renting shirts, you must be prepared to endure years of Lent with no real guarantee of Easter.
“It is well-known that of the many who want to be entrepreneurs, few take the plunge and fewer succeed. While the success stories of entrepreneurs are often chronicled, their hardships and struggles are rarely touched upon,” says Justin Jose, business head of Starfish Exim, an import-export startup.

He adds, “With the media latching onto the entrepreneurship bandwagon and the rise of online content amplified by social channels, today’s successful entrepreneurs get their fair share of limelight. Founders of startups which have become unicorns (a company that reaches a US $1 billion market value as determined by private or public investment) are revered. The buzz around their success often leads to a persuasive perception that life has been easy for them. This belief is also strengthened by the fact that many of them have created unicorn companies in less than ten years. All of these are simply wrong.”

Amid these debates, there are plenty of great startups out there still poised to change the world, and many are from Hyderabad.

Oh’Look!

Seemingly the name has caught your attention already! We are talking about an out-of-the-box startup of men’s clothing headquartered in Hyderabad, Telangana. The radical, male-oriented fashion platform lets subscribers continue with their daily life without having to keep a single shirt in their closet. That’s right, buy no more.  The USP of this particular apparel rental startup is the fact that the subscriber needn’t repeat clothes he wears once. “People can wear handpicked premium brands’ shirts every day, without the need to worry about shopping, washing or ironing. Our monthly package of 20 shirts would cost a user the price of a single shirt. Also, one need not worry about the choice of shirts, because all the shirts are personally picked by fashion stylists for you, and they would hardly disappoint you. With this, we aim to turn the boring streets into fashion runway of men,” shares Arshad Azad, CEO of Oh’Look.in, who’s a filmmaker turned journalist, turned supply chain expert, turned entrepreneur!

The team further flaunts experience in other domains too, with Armaan Azaad - CMO, bringing to table his years of experience in advertising and social media marketing, while, Veera Shekar - COO, has over 12 years of experience in project management and inventory planning.

Explaining the concept, Arshad adds, “Customers will receive a set of five shirts chosen by the stylists, every weekend, which will be exchanged for a new box of five the later week. The fashion stylists will also get in touch with the customers for detailed information about their personal styles and tastes.

“Unlike women, men are not very interested in shopping. And their hectic lifestyle is an added excuse to not include shopping, washing and ironing on their ‘to do’ list. Thus Oh’Look helps to throw away these tantrums of life. And the real deal is that we get our clothes from premium brands at a very pocket-friendly rate.” The company has raised $30,000 in seed fund and is currently being accelerated by European accelerator Spark 10.

Banyan Nation

Taking his journey from Silicon Valley to the garbage-laden alleys of Hyderabad, Mani Vajipey started thinking deeply about the nationwide garbage problem. “Banyan, in its initial avatar, was a waste management company. We wanted to manage an entire city’s waste and bid for several city contracts. We were even the lead bidder in one such contract to convert a city’s waste into energy,” shares Mani, CEO of Banyan Nation.

“But it was the government’s lack of will that made us realise that if we were to solve the garbage problem, we had to start by working outside the government, leading to our first pivot: recycling,” he adds.

Banyan went on to become an award-winning recycling venture that used a combination of information technology, polymer science, and engineering techniques to root out inefficiencies in India’s recycling value chain. “We wanted to help brands across FMCG, automotive, consumer electronics, pharma, agriculture, and consumer durables sectors (to name a few) design and develop sustainable products and packaging through closed-loop recycling. Our product, Better Plastic, is recycled plastic granules that rivals virgin plastic in quality as well as in price, and can be used in a wide variety of applications across several industry sectors,” he says.

“Our vision is to change the way businesses and consumers perceive plastic. We wish to empower brands to design and manufacture sustainable products and packaging through Banyan’s responsibly-recycled granules, and also encourage people to make sustainable choices,” concurs COO Raj Madangopal. 

Driven by You

Biking is something very personal, driven by a finely-tuned passion. But bikes, on the contrary, are diverse. They are also expensive, especially if you have your eyes laid on something like a Triumph Daytona, a Ducati Monster, or to the extreme of a Triumph Rocket III.

“Consider this scenario: you start saving up from your graduation and three years into a job for a 10 lakh rupees bike, would you at the end of the day be able to buy that dream bike? But now there are many more responsibilities you have to cater to,” shares Ashwin Jain, one of the founder members of Driven by You, a single shop integrated self-mobility startup. “That is where we come in, why buy when you can rent,” his partner Karrar Ahmed Taher adds.

Driven by You has it all, from a Tata Nano to something slung as low as Rakhi Sawant’s IQ – a Porsche 911. And that’s not all, from the people-friendly Honda Activa to the almighty Triumph Rocket III,all these are part of this startup’s fleet.

“The enthusiast doesn’t have to be worried about buying the bike, its maintenance, oreven the depreciating market value,” Ashwin says. “All you need to do is walk into Driven with your helmet, sign up for a ride and voila, you are ready to roll on that abso‘flipping’lutely awesome ride.”

The company takes biking and safety very seriously, “If you need a bike, you will have to walk in with your helmet. If you don’t have one, you can rent it from us. We give out jackets, knee pads and even gloves.” Safety is one of the key philosophies of Driven, even in cars. “At Driven, you will only get the top of the line safest spec variant of that particular car. For instance, if it’s a Swift, you will only get the ZDI. So if tomorrow, some manufacturer comes with a 12-airbag version of its car, you would be only given that,” Ashwin says, adding, “We will put you in a car we wouldn’t hesitate to put ourselves or our family into. How many people can say that? I don’t see many.”

To support its growth, Driven plans to expand its fleet to 3,000 cars and 1,500 bikes over the next three years, in two phases. These expansion plans will be funded through internal accruals and strategic partnerships. The company has also initiated dialogue with potential investors to raise funds.

Wisdom Jobs

Started in 2010 by Ajay Kolla, and headquartered in Hyderabad, Wisdom Jobs is one of India’s leading job portals, providing end-to-end recruitment solutions to organisations, and career opportunities to individuals. It is India’s first job portal with an integrated online skill testing and rating system, and has a stated goal of simplifying hiring for all its users. Within a short span of five years, Wisdom Jobs has developed a database of over 30 million profiles spanning all experience levels, skill sets and industries, thereby providing a huge pool of relevant candidates to various organisations.

Speaking about its inception, Ajay says, “As there were gaps in the services of the recruitment industry players, I identified it as a business opportunity. I started a job portal, Wisdomjobs.com, to address these gaps that were prevalent in other portals. Being a part of three distinguished companies previously gave me a good perspective on the industry. This further helped me analyse and understand the industry thoroughly, and that ultimately led to the birth of Wisdomjobs.com in 2010.”

The USP of Wisdomjobs.com is the Pragnya Meter, “a competency and skill assessment tool which clearly differentiates us from other players. The tool helps the recruiter a lot in first level screening of candidates, and saves the productive time of a recruiter,” he adds. Compared to traditional industry players, this pioneering in-house testing tool covers over 6000+ job skills through a repository of around 50 million IT and non-IT questions.

The skill tests include pre-defined and customisable IT and non-IT skill evaluations, language skill tests, aptitude and cognitive ability tests, psychometric and personality tests, programming tests and more. These tests provide an edge to the job seekers over their peers through the ratings on their stated skills and aptitudes.

Music4thought

You really need to hear them out before you draw conclusions and know that this is not an app-based platform or a studio facility. Music4thought is an easy-to-access, affordable one-stop lyrics to high quality song and music production facility for individuals, short film producers, animation filmmakers, and gaming title makers. Here one can create original custom songs, written, composed, and sung based on your feelings. For passionate writers, aspiring singers or hobbyists, the facility offers recording original songs of top label quality.

Founded by young professionals turned first-generation entrepreneurs Preeti Sinha, Rohit Shrivastav, and Parikshit Sharma, the bootstrapped startup has already created about 37 original content pieces, and hopes to expand the number andthe experience tomany more people.

Introducing her startup, Preeti Sinha, co-founder and CEO, Music4thought says, “It is the perfect platform to try out new ideas. For individuals wanting to convey their unspoken feelings, gratitude or love for someone, or for lyricists, singers, and hobbyists to record their original songs and for short film makers and animation film producers wanting to produce original scores and sound effects and looking to collaborate with the best in the industry.”

“Our greatest differentiator is our ability and methodology to understand and map feelings and messages to be conveyed through music and song,” Preeti says, citing an example of their services “We had a customer who wanted to perform on a song to present her excitement, joy and emotions of getting married to her love, a song that tells her story and about the most important decision she had made in her life. Post-production, it became the Signature Wedding tune.” Music4thought has roped in Hindustani and Western music exponent Zoheb Ahmed.

“I am close to music since my childhood. Aspiring singers can find resources to record albums and release their works through Music4thought. And if you make short films or video games, here’s your cue for original tracks,” she added.

“We want people to be the soul and hero of their songs. And when we have such immense musical talent in our country, why not tap into it?” Sinha concludes.  At present they are focussing on the wedding season and have a slew of initiatives to make brides/ grooms make the best of it with a personalised touch.  

Nuevosol

Headquartered in Hyderabad, Nuevosol Energy Private Limited is a startup established in 2011 by five friends: four IITians and a BITS Pilani alum. These include Sriram Dasari, Director – Strategy; Himamsu Popuri, CEO and Managing Director; Srinivas Maganti, Director – Operations; Harish Krothapalli, Director – Projects, and Nikhil Babu P., Director – Design. The venture was conceptualised with the vision to provide efficient solutions for the challenging, yet rapidly growing solar industry.

The firm is a one-stop solution provider for all solar module mounting needs, and DC-side optimisation of solar power plants. The USP has been its design capabilities, combined with robust supply chain and execution teams that are in line with the solar-specific requirements. Its cybernetic design philosophy takes the entire value chain’s efficiency into consideration.

“India had to have a more diversified setup for solar resources to really take off,” shares Himamsu. “We used to have long discussions and debates over these uneasy facts, we wondered how we can, with the acquired experience in the field for the past few years, help ease this dilemma. The country has a very robust and innovation-driven steel infrastructure market. In the midst of this knowledge bank, we felt that importing solar mounting structures from Europe was not sensible; these were bulky structures that were developed keeping in mind the climatic and soil conditions in Europe, and they were quite expensive too. But again there was no choice for the industry. We wanted to give that choice, to cater for fast growth and betterment of our solar industry, thus the idea of Nuevosol germinated.”

He adds, “As in any field or industry, change is always resisted. Welcoming change with open arms is a very rare happening; the same happened with us. Though we proposed structure designs that were customised to site condition, with multidimensional optimisation to reduce tonnage, resist higher loads, which were easy to manufacture and install; the industry was unsure of this new designing language. Our designs were way ahead of time in the Indian context.”

“It took us a lot of convincing, long hours of meetings, and plant simulations to convinceour very first client to trust our designs. After completing of our first project, we had its success in our arsenal to approach newer clients, apart from word-of-mouth about Nuevosol and its designs in industry circles. Over the past five years we have reduced the mounting structures cost by over 300%, thanks to our triumvirate design philosophy of customisation, optimisation and standardisation,” he says.

-Augustin Kurian