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The Times They Are A-Changin’


Kunal Upadhyay, CEO, CIIE


Circa 2007, a decade back, at CIIE we were just getting started. Back then, we spent significant time understanding the needs of the entrepreneurship ecosystem, defining our approach and strategy, and conceptualizing our key initiatives.


That year, we decided to steer away from being a “traditional academic incubator” to following a cohort-program based approach with active partnerships with corporate and other organizations, across areas like information technology, healthcare and energy. From being a mere knowledge and network provider, we decided to start putting our skin in the game and made our first startup investment. From being a “we are there to help you” centre for IIMA students, we conceptualized a trendsetting “placement holiday” policy to help aspiring graduating students take the plunge. From merely sensitizing aspiring entrepreneurs through talks, we took a leap to commissioning a book to evangelize entrepreneurship amongst the masses. From being a mere centre within IIMA, we started the process of incorporating ourselves into a separate legal entity.


In hindsight, 2007 was a defining year — which laid the foundation for our work through the last decade.


One key aspect of our stated strategy in 2007 was to be a market maker. We kept pivoting and course-correcting multiple times over to find gaps in the market and meet the needs of a fast-evolving ecosystem. We pioneered accelerator programs in India — starting with information-tech focused ones and then eventually shifting our focus to areas like healthcare, agriculture, energy, tech-for-impact, and water; supporting over 500 startups through them. We created an active mentor network when there was a need. We have been catalysts in setting up incubator and co-working spaces in under-served areas like Gujarat, Rajasthan and Jharkhand. We became an active provider and facilitator of catalytic risk-capital. In risky sectors like cleantech, we created India’s first venture fund (through Infuse Ventures) supported by our effort to build an ecosystem for cleantech startups. Overall, we have provided grants to over 200 startups and catalytic investments to over 100 ventures. We feel pride in the fact that we have been the first capital provider for most of them, and for every rupee invested by us, these ventures have been able to leverage it 26 times over to attract additional external capital. While that has not been our raison d’être, we have had over 25 profitable exits — with returns as high as 25x on some of our investments. Our partners, entrepreneurs, and well-wishers have contributed significantly towards these experiments (which we want to eternalize elsewhere).


Unfortunately, while at times we do bask in the glory of what we did over the last decade, a lot of what we pioneered is passé and inconsequential today. As Bob Dylan put it, “The Times they are A-changin”, and we need to stay current. The private sector and the Government’s enthusiasm to support entrepreneurship continue to be at its peak. Amidst all the action around us, our goal as the market maker should be to keep moving the boundaries — and prepare the next fertile ground for entrepreneurs and market-forces to come and operate in.


In our starting note in 2017, we stated some of our resolutions for the year. Just like 2007, while 2017 was a relatively quiet year — we think in the year we have laid foundation for our next decade.


  • Our 2017 resolution to back IP-driven ventures from India was bolstered by significant progress that we made in bringing together corporates, financial investors, business leaders, and team-members for our Bharat Innovation Fund, which we hope to unveil in early-2018. The Fund will invest at pre-Series A and Series A stages in IP-driven ventures in areas like agri, energy, healthcare, fin-tech, semi-conductors/electronics, etc. We also partnered with the India Innovation Growth Program — and provided training to 50 IP-driven innovations and seed-grants to 10 of these innovations.


  • Our 2017 resolution to provide intense support for entrepreneurs focused on solving deeper problems has paved way for us imagining a unique partnership and seed-fund that shall focus on incubating and creating digital inclusive solutions for India’s poor. We are very excited to unveil this in the coming months, and deploy our multi-pronged approach for seeding transformational ideas for Bharat.


  • Our 2017 resolution to be a tech and knowledge platform rather than a implementer (and program manager!) made us initiate a few new experiments. For the mushrooming incubators across the country, through a partnership with Niti Aayog/Atal Innovation Mission and GIZ, we open sourced some of our learning through the Incubator Handbook. We felt the need to disrupt the “accelerator model” (which we had incidentally pioneered in India a decade back), and democratize the learning and services typically provided in an accelerator through an on-demand online-platform that we call Innocity.


  • Our 2017 resolution for deeper synergies with IIMA received further boost, as we on-boarded senior team members to focus on research and student/alumni ventures. We launched an EIR program for IIMA alumni, unique courses for evangelizing entrepreneurship on campus, and are working on creating some unique cases and case-lets for teaching various aspects of starting-up.


We hope 2018 and the next decade will be very exciting and thrilling for us, our partners, our entrepreneurs and the ecosystem in general. Wishing everyone the very best!

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