Most of this post is still valid learning, however the list of top accelerators and incubators in India has been updated here
While the ambition of a bootstrapped startup is gaining popularity today, most startups, irrespective of how innovative and advanced a product they might have, require some external help to grow from being a cell to a full functional body. Many times this external help is signified only by funding. Other times, quite dependent on the stage of your business, there is a need of an overall structured push to take off. That is where accelerators and incubators come into the picture.
An accelerator and an incubator though different in practice, have one basic goal: To give your (brilliant) idea a chance to make it big in this competitive world. They are, in various forms, a mentor, a guide, a sounding board for your vision, in most cases some form of funding and mostly even additional facilities such as office space, internet, computers, accountants, legal advice and so on. They usually take a small equity in your venture in return or sometimes they settle for a fixed fee but in any case their success lies in your success.
Generally any incubation program can take anything from 3 months to a year. It depends purely on the incubator and their method of working. During this period the startup is taken and molded from wet clay into a sculpture. The incubator uses their experience to first form a vision for the company, in case they believe it lacks one. It is the prime task, to make sure that once you are out of the incubation programme you are not left visionless. There are innumerous examples of great products failing in the market simply because they didn’t really have a vision or a plan. Next comes the refinement of the product and the business strategy. Finally it is time to meet the investors and give you a little financial push. Incubators use their vast contacts to lure investors towards the big idea and you towards the fund to turn that idea into a profitable business. Generally association with accelerators and incubators last even after the programme is over and they function as a lifelong guide for your company.
Generally all incubators have 2 batches per year. The Winter Batch and the Summer or Spring batch. Applications end around July-September for the Winter batch and December-January for the summer batch and it can followed quite effectively on the Facebook page of the concerned program. Generally any good incubation program receives over a 1000 applications for each of its batches, from which it selects around 10-20 applications. So the competition is immense and only the very best ideas make it through. So how are these lucky few selected? The first and foremost consideration is the idea behind the company. Incubators generally like to believe a startup is as good as its idea and although they take into consideration your business plan but the major factor is the potential of your company. The equity that incubators take is different for different programs but it falls in the range of 3%-10%.
Statistics show that startups with no guidance from an accelerator or an incubator have a success rate of between 10-20% whereas it is over 70% for those who do use their expertise for running their business, as per an Inc42 report dated October 2013. The number of accelerators and incubators in India has risen drastically over the last few years. The best part is that this growth has come pretty much equally in all spheres. While there has been a growth in funding and number of global accelerators looking at India to spread their business like Kyron Global Accelerators which plans to fund 300 startups by 2020, a number of industry experts are also now acting as mentors to startups. There are now more colleges around the country with an incubator cell than ever before, with the aim to foster student entrepreneurship around their campus. All the IIMs have them, all major engineering colleges have one and many other colleges have an Entrepreneurship Cell which performs incubator activities in one way or the other for campus ventures from their respective campuses. With such an immense growth of opportunities it is now easier than ever to get your idea funded and guided.
While it is impossible to predetermine which programme is going to suit a company the most, it is always helpful to know where to start knocking. Here is a list of a few great accelerators in the country with a brief history of the work that they have been doing.
GSF: GSF is actually a very special accelerator. It is the only one which has a multi city presence in India- Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore. Founded by Rajesh Sawhney it is one of the most ambitious and innovative startup accelerator in the country with a very intriguing vision of the future of India. With some of the hottest technological startups in the bag, GFS is a true gem finder. Their graduates include RidingO -the car sharing platform voted by Forbes as one of the Global startups to watch out for, ClichPad- a Customer Relation Management system which featured on the Yahoo.com list of 19 Asian Startups to watch out for, Little Eye Labs- a software designing company which was recently acquired by Facebook for a reported sum of $15 million. With GSF recently opening its doors for a third batch of Residential Entrepreneurs, founders throughout the country would be looking for an opportunity of a lifetime. To get a better idea on the impact GSF has on its graduates just read this post by Joel John, a GSF graduate from Oman.
Startup Village– Located in Kerala, Startup Village is the hub of all startups of the most literate state of India. Startup Village is a programme under the Government of Kerela, which aims to provide an environment for student startups to grown and nurture. It plans to provide 1000 student startups with over 100 cr in funding over a span of 10 years.Apart from that it also provides them with tax exemption up to Rs. 50 lakhs and exemptions and grants for their academic careers. It was recently given funds exceeding Rs 150 cr to improve its Infrastructure and it plans to use it to provide for over 1000 startups in its campus. One of the brightest prospects from Startup Village is the Kochi based RHL Vision, which has developed Fin, a ring that converts your palm into a gesture interface. It can be used to control smartphones and all kinds of electronic devices. Fin, truly brings the world to your fingertips.
SINE, IITB– The IITs are filled with brains equal their weights in diamonds and once in a while one of these brains decide, that he/she wants to set out on the journey of Entrepreneurship and leave their mark behind. SINE is the mother of many such figures from IIT Bombay. Pretty much limiting its facilities to innovative ventures by students, faculty and alumni of this famous institution, it is the nurturing ground to Wegiliant-a cloud based security management system, ThinkLabs- offering hands on Robotics and Technology education to schools and college students around 88 countries and IdeaForge- the company which designed the unmanned aerial vehicle used in Uttrakhand flood relief. SINE selects its applicants on the basis of their business plans and provides them with infrastructure to run a business from the center of an academic environment which just adds to the overall environment at its campus.
- Microsoft Accelerator– A Venture of the Microsoft group, Microsoft Accelerator India, primarily based out of Bangalore, is now a major accelerator in the country. A global presence in 9 cities around the world gives Microsoft Venture an edge when it comes to the experience of its mentors and its contact with Venture Capitalists. With the commencement of the spring batch 2014, the total number of startups incubated by Microsoft will cross 50 in a span of just 2 years and in 4 separate batches. Most of its graduates have been successful in receiving some or the other form of external funding after graduating from its programme. Microsoft has been associated with companies such as- Native5- which allows users to build apps on all platforms using a cloud network, Junior and Us- which let parents capture the childhood days of their little ones online, TommyJams- a company that promotes the talents of local Indian artists by giving them a chance to perform life shows by booking shows online, among many others. Apart from being a great fund raiser Microsoft Accelerator is also a great place to network. Frequent interactions with mentors abroad and the use of their networks allow founders to build a web of contacts, priceless for a young company.
There were just 35 accelerators in India in 2011, now if you include college incubators and accelerator programs the list has over a 100 names. The opportunity is all out there and India is a youthful country bursting on the edge of being a super giant. With the number of startups in the country there is a scope for a 100 more accelerators and with the opportunities today, there is now a better reason for young people to become young entrepreneurs. If you have an idea, then make it count because the doors everywhere in the country are now open, wider than ever, for your once in a generation idea.