GUWAHATI: India Fund Fest which will launch the first ever “North East India Fund Fest” to give budding entrepreneurs of the North East the required impetus to realize their aspirations. After scanning through initial applications, the finale will be held on 28th February 2020 at the Taj Guwahati. Top 20 startups selected from thousands of applications, will pitch in a TV show format, for spot deals of an estimated minimum total value of Rs 5 crores in the day. For the inaugural North East India Fund Fest 20 entrepreneurs will be selected through a rigorous filtering process out of the 1000+ applications expected.
Nalin Singh, Founder of Natio Cultus Consultancy Pvt Ltd., author of the best seller and national honour winning book “Get Funded Now”, and Vijay Sambamurthi, Founder and Managing Partner of leading corporate law firm Lexygen and the Co Founder and Secretary of TiE Guwahati, will be the Deal Masters for the North East India Fund Fest 2020.
The Sentinel caught up with Singh and Sambamurthi to learn more about this inititiative.
Question: Tell us something about the fest and why you are focusing on the North East?
Nalin Singh, Founder and CEO of Natio Cultus (NS): The North East India Fund Fest 2020 (NEIFF) will be the first-of-its-kind event that is completely dedicated to the entrepreneurs of the region where the focus is on getting funding to the deserving lot. It is a distraction free event without speeches, panel discussions, sponsors, sellers, crowds and the usual chaos of a startup event. The only focus is on getting the entrepreneur funded.The registrations for the NEIFF are already open and can be found on the website (www.iffnortheast.com). We, at NatioCultus have successfully organized four editions of a national event called the “India Fund Fest” wherein we have helped deserving entrepreneurs find suitable investors in a single day in a televised event format –the last event in Bangalore in 2019 raised almost Rs. 40 crores of spot funding for more than a dozen companies. We are now bringing this event in a dedicated regional format so as to help entrepreneurs in the region find good quality investors to fund their aspirations of innovation and growth. The event in the same format has had two editions in Indonesia. After my discussions with Vijay, we realized there’d be no better partner than TiE Guwahati to bring this event to the NEI region for the first time ever.
Question: How will it benefit the North East youth?
Vijay Sambamurthi, Co Founder and Secretary, TiE Guwahati (VS): I have always believed that the North East India region as a whole, and its youth in particular, have tremendous talent and drive, and that all this creative energy needs to be channelized suitably through an institutional and structured approach to mentoring in order to help them succeed. That was the driving belief behind setting up the Guwahati chapter of TiE, which is a globally renowned not-for-profit organization that was founded in the Silicon Valley, USA, in the early 90s and has today grow to more than 60 chapters in 18 countries. I think bringing the NEIFF to the region could benefit its youth in a multitude of ways. Firstly, it gives deserving entrepreneurs from the NEI region fair access to seed or growth capital, through a process-driven event whereby they can pitch their ideas to the investors with - the right help and mentoring from TiE Guwahati and Natio Cultus. Secondly, a successful NEIFF which results in some deserving companies getting funded would also provide a tremendous boost to the positive perception on a national level about NE-based entrepreneurs and startups to increase their overall fundability over a period of time. Thirdly, entrepreneurs from the region receiving growth capital would logically lead to increased employment opportunities for youth in the region on account of the growth of these startups being funded.
Question: What kind of entrepreneurial trends you see from the region? Is there any specific field/industry that you are looking for from the NE summit?
Nalin Singh: Our proprietary research on the region indicates that there are three industry sectors that have historically been strongest in the NE region – agriculture/agro products, tourism, and oil & gas. While we believe that these sectors will continue to grow strongly and contribute to the regional economy, I think the interesting trend is going to be centred around new sectors that are emerging very strong –like Technology/Internet, Media, Education, Healthcare, Retail, Infrastructure Projects and so on. As far as the NEIFF is concerned, we are very clear that there is no sectoral/industry restriction and we welcome entrepreneurs from all industries who are looking to raise capital for their growth.
Question: What are the challenges related to entrepreneurship in the region?
Vijay Sambamurthi: First and foremost, the prevalent societal mindset here that glorifies Government jobs (i.e., job security) over entrepreneurship needs to change, and that itself will take a lot of effort and commitment. Risk-taking not just needs to be accepted, but encouraged by family members, Government and society at large explaining the benefits of growth and progress. TiE Guwahati will help address this challenge by conducting periodic awareness events and experience-sharing events featuring successful entrepreneurs.
The second challenge I see is the lack of appropriate, structured mentoring for entrepreneurs. To be sure, several of the successful entrepreneurs from the region do spend time to mentor budding entrepreneurs, but such efforts tend to be more individualistic and largely unstructured. The way TiE Guwahati will address this problem is by onboarding a very strong group of successful and experienced entrepreneurs, professionals, investors, bureaucrats and so on as “Charter Members” to mentor the budding entrepreneurs with a focussed approach. We have already onboarded around 10 such high-achieving and highly-respected Charter Members (whose details can be seen on the TiE Guwahati website).
The last challenge of course, is access to a reliable and reputable pool of growth equity capital. Despite its immense talent and potential, the NE remainsone of the most underfunded regions in India. This is why it gives me a lot of pride that we are making a resounding start to help address the problem by bringing a prestigious, top-quality event like the NEIFF to Guwahati.
Question: How has been the response to similar events organised by Cultus across India?
Nalin Singh: Firstly, I want to highlight that this is the first ever dedicated regional fund fest that we at Natio Cultus are organizing, and we are very excited that our regional fund fests journey would commence with the NE region! Having said that, we have organized four consecutive annual national “India Fund Fest” events which have been hugely successful and widely appreciated. On an average, we receive more than 10,000 applications every year for the India Fund Fest, with eventually 25 finalists being shortlisted to pitch at the Grand Finale event. This consistent success with the India Fund Fest got us thinking that there is a lot of pent-up need for a similar funding event to be organized on a regional basis in addition to the national event. We are very confident and hopeful that in partnership with TiE Guwahati, we will able to deliver a very successful NEIFF such that it can become a regular annual event that is much-awaited and respected in the NE region. We are also very excited about the role these regional fund fests would play in grooming and showcasing some great startups from the region to the rest of the world.
Question: Do you plan to hold more such events in the region?
Vijay Sambamurthi: When Nalin and I drew up the blueprint for the NEIFF, our vision was for Cultus and TiE Guwahati to collaborate to create an annual event. Our goal most certainly is to make the NEIFF an annual event that progressively achieves higher and higher levels of success. TiE Guwahati’s objective is to create more reliable and wider-reaching source of high-quality capital to startups from the NE. We want this event to not just result in a healthily increasing aggregate funding amount each year, but to create a culture of entrepreneurship and innovation. While the NEIFF is meant to be an annual event, we at TiE Guwahati will keep organizing regular events to provide the other pillars of entrepreneurship – mentoring, experience-sharing, networking access etc.
Question: What kind of investment interests do you anticipate?
Nalin Singh: When we first announced our intent to a few people to conduct the NEIFF as our first regional-format event, we faced a fair amount of scepticism, primarily because an event of this type and focus on funding had not been done before in the NE, and also because many people felt we wouldn’t be able to onboard adequate number of investors. However, I am pleased to say that many of our investors from the India Fund Fest have expressed keen interest to participate in the NEIFF as well. We are also talking to a few local investors who have shown interest.
As regards the quantum of investment, we do not place any restrictions on the funding amounts sought by entrepreneurs or on any sector or stage of companies that could participate. We openly welcome entrepreneurs running business across industries, stages and locations (as long as they are from the NE). Given that this is the first such event taking place in the region, we believe that we should still achieve a minimum funding amount of Rs. 5 crores of spot funding commitments at the Grand Finale, though of course, we will be working tirelessly to ensure for even better outcomes.
Question: Can you mention a few examples of success stories from such initiatives by TIE?
Vijay Sambamurthi: TiE Guwahati is barely a year old now, so these are very early days yet for us to claim any “success stories”, though of course, our bringing the NEIFF to Guwahati in such a short period of our existence is something we are proud of. The way we see it, we hope for the NEIFF to be a big success and for its success to create more awareness and enthusiasm in the NE region about the value that we at TiE Guwahati can bring to the entrepreneur ecosystem here. As for TiE globally, it would suffice to say that it is by far the most influential organization committed to fostering entrepreneurship amongst the South Asian community. TiE Chapters in India, especially those in Bangalore, Delhi-NCR and Mumbai, have played a huge role in mentoring a number of startups and in helping them find the right mentoring and funding resources, and which have eventually grown to be hugely successful startups.