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The 21st Wharton Economic Forum Day 1 Roundup – an emotion stirring journey through the dynamic Indian Startup landscape

The 21st Wharton Economic Forum with its impressive lineup of speakers and presentations was always going to be a highly anticipated event on any Entrepreneurs calendar, so it was for me too. Plus, the magnificent Taj Mahal Palace at Colaba set a perfect backdrop for this event.

The day was kicked off by a short but amazingly inspiring speech by Kunal Shah, the CEO of Freecharge on the startup ecosystem and what makes a startup a Unicorn.

Kunal, who started as a teenager selling T-shirts and mixtapes and is an MBA dropout, shared his great insights about the Indian consumer-

  • Every Indian household has a CTO – someone in the age group of 12-18, a tech expert, who is also now transforming into an e-procurement officer. However, no brands sell to them!
  • Every transaction in India is laced with mistrust. Everyone checks the restaurant bills, petrol tanks are emptied before servicing, etc.
  • Indians value money over time. They are okay with spending more time to get better value. They would rather spend half an hour more searching for a better deal just to save even Rs.50.

The biggest learning which he shared was how companies who are able to create a delta of 4 and above in buying efficiency are able to change behaviors – e.g. Uber vs regular cabs would be delta 4 but buying shirts online vs offline would be delta 2 so hence they use discounting hack to become delta 4.

This was followed by an investment panel discussion which was moderated by celebrated Wharton Professor & Entrepreneur – Kartik Hosanagar.


The panel discussion majorly revolved around the funding and larger macro economic environment in India and how it reflects the current model in the US. Rehan Yar Khan of Orios Venture Partners reiterated that funding levels were lower in 2016 than in 2015, but growth of transacting users was higher and due to factors like increase in disposable income, fundamentals in place and a higher growth rate, India was right now much more attractive than the US for investors.

Rehan also commented that there are no primary investor companies but only secondary investors. He highlighted that with the smartphone and internet price points falling, the next 100-200 million Indians are now coming online and need new set of products.

Sumeet Thadani of Presto, shared his thoughts that investors today don’t want to stick on and want to exit early. Unlike Chinese companies which are protected against outside cos’ investments, Indian cos will have to compete with western cos and should compete on Western grounds as well.

Sumit Mody of Health Passion Fund also highlighted the India Advantages saying price points are attractive currently and the pain points of investing in India are not dis-similar to the US.

Nipun Mehra of Sequoia summed up the discussion well with his take on the ever dynamic Indian startup ecosystem by quoting that it feels like a bull in a china shop one day and exactly opposite the next!

Post the panel discussion came the first round of 5 pitches by the selected finalists of WIEF – SBI Startup Competition


  • Karma Healthcare kicked off with the presentations on their model of delivering healthcare in remote villages using technology. Around 800 million people don’t have access to healthcare near their homes and Karma Healthcare is using Digital connectivity to provide healthcare in villages. Local nurses in local clinics provide an assisted model to give medical advice via e-connectivity with doctors in faraway places.
  • The 2nd company to present was Help Us Green, a Kanpur based social enterprise that preserves river Ganga by collecting the flower waste from temples and other places and recycling it to produce organic products like incense sticks, boxes etc. They collect 1.5 tons of religious waste daily and are looking at revenues of Rs. 2.2 crores this year. They also provide alternate employment to scavengers in villages and are focused mainly on the export market.
  • Next was Kings Learning or enguru who are striving to provide employability focused English learning through their app based and offline product. They cover the corporate + individual + offline market and have 40% customers based outside India.
  • Myeasydocs then presented their digitally certified document repository for storing and sharing digitally certified documents including payslips, certificates, bank statements, etc. Their solution eliminates the need for physical documents and you can submit the digitally stored documents anywhere.
  • Up next was Greedy Game – an in-content native advertising platform that helps brands advertise their products through in-game placements. They have already integrated over 100+ games and have achieved over 200 million ad impressions / month.

The first round of presentations was followed by yet another short but insightful talk from Sandeep Aggarwal, founder of ShopClues. Some of the gems shared by Sandeep were

  • There is no product based startup culture in India, unlike the US. In India all the rising startups are developed around the Services model.
  • “You can build scale only if you have seen scale” – an entrepreneur needs to be exposed to the kind of gigantic nos if he wants to build a Unicorn company.
  • What is happening in India in Digital is comparable to the Industrial revolution in Europe or the US Pre-WW1 boom.
  • In the US, the entrepreneurship culture is missing unlike India where everyone is an entrepreneur. However, in India the infrastructure required to give these companies a boost is missing and also the Cost of Capital is quite high.


PC: Droom

The tea break was a great opportunity to meet the other attendees including other excited Entrepreneurs, Consultants, investors and even some travel buffs in this economic forum!

Post the tea break, the 2nd set of presentations for the WIEF – SBI Startup Competition kicked off

  • First off the block was NonSpec who are producing a low cost, fully adjustable prosthetic limb system. NonSpec provides pre manufactured prosthetics which drastically reduce the time required to acquire these for patients. This means a low cost and faster solution for these amputees.
  • Cropin was next, who provides farm businesses with farm management software and mobile apps. These tech enabled solutions help farmers and other companies to track the yield from the farm based on real time data. They have already tapped around 5 lac farmers and 1 million acres of farmland.
  • Eckovation is a social learning platform that facilitates social learning by connecting parents, teachers and students. They already have 300,000+ learners and 10,000+ educators on their platform, conducting classes on various subjects.
  • Next was FTcash which is working with micro-merchants and SMEs for payments solution and loans. Their focus is to get offline merchants to accept digital payments. They are already handling 175,000+ transactions and hope to touch payments of Rs. 150 crores by this year end.
  • The last presentation was by Detect Technologies, a Iot based startup that works towards enhancing productivity in industries through AI and NDE. They have already got biggies like Reliance, BPCL etc as their clients.

The flurry of presentations gave a glimpse of the best and most creative ideas that are flourishing in the Indian startup space. The presentations were so impressive that Ajay Hattangadi offered 90-day mentorships to all 10 participants instead of any one winner.


PC: InnoVen Capital


This was followed by a lighthearted but very interesting discussion between Rohan Mirchandani, Co-founder, Drums Food and Kunal Kapoor, Actor and co-founder of Ketto, Asia’s largest crowdfunding platform. The discussion was a back and forth of questions from both and gave us a lot of insight into how both of them founded and grew their companies.

Kunal said he aimed to build a bridge between people who needed help and those wanting to help using technology. He stressed that any social enterprise should be run as a business to sustain. Rohan admitted that Wharton gave him great networking opportunities to start off and the Alumni network helped when moving to India. He also stressed that mentors really help you to think through different lenses and make sure you stay on the right path.

Kunal said that it is a misconception that Indians are not big donors and he moved audiences’ hearts by relating stories of campaigns run on this platform which have managed to change lives of needy men and animals.

The last talk was by Kerry Hilton, an entrepreneur from NZ who moved to Kolkata and started a social enterprise of making jute bags by getting thousands of women forced into prostitution to quit their lives and earn a living respectfully.

Overall it was an amazingly insightful day spent with the established and upcoming stars of the Indian Startup ecosystem and a great learning experience for all entrepreneurs or anybody who harbors dreams of being an entrepreneur one day.

About me: Vishal Hanmattekar – Traveller, Photographer, Co-founder & CEO at The Blueberry Trails, Digital Marketer | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram |Email



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