Despite the pandemic-induced market conditions, Entrepreneur First—the global talent investor that supports individuals to build technology companies—has seen resilience amongst budding entrepreneurs. “We see the current scenario inspiring aspirants to embark on their entrepreneurial journeys to build tech start-ups that offer scalable solutions to a diverse range of issues across industries,” Esha Tiwary, general manager, India, Entrepreneur First, told FE. “India houses the world’s third-largest start-up ecosystem and Indian entrepreneurs have what it takes to build the world’s finest start-ups.”
Entrepreneur First started India operations in 2019, and over the last two years it has seen a rise of over 100% in the number of applications to its biannual cohorts. “The investor interest in our start-ups has also grown substantially; at our last cohort in February 2021, we had over 200 investor meetings with our entrepreneurs,” Tiwary said.
Entrepreneur First’s cohorts are a paid six-month programme that provide aspiring entrepreneurs with a platform to connect with the best minds in tech as well as in business, along with the right mentorship and financial support. Also, advisors and venture partners help develop the aspirant’s competitive advantage into a viable start-up.
At the end of the programme, Entrepreneur First introduces the cohort to its network of investors, thereby helping them raise their first round of investment. “Our value proposition for entrepreneurs is simple: Join as an individual; leave as a funded company,” Tiwary said.
What differentiates Entrepreneur First from many other accelerator programmes is that an individual can enter the programme at a pre-idea, pre-co-founder and pre-company stage, and exit with a team and a start-up. “We pioneered the concept of talent investing globally—finding and funding talented individuals—pre-company, pre-team, and most often, even pre-idea.”
Starting-up is risky, and Tiwary added that Entrepreneur First encourages founders to “break up as soon as it’s not working,” with none of the awkwardness or hard feelings that commonly hinder progress.
Globally, Entrepreneur First has built more than 250 tech companies since 2011, with a community of over 3,000 entrepreneurs. In India, since January 2019, it has supported 250 aspirants on their entrepreneurial journey and invested in 34 cutting-edge tech start-ups. “In fact, 21 of these Indian start-ups we funded were during the pandemic,” she said.
Several start-ups from Entrepreneur First India have raised follow-on rounds of funding from marquee investors. These include Unbox Robotics, LightspeedAI Labs and Qzense. Others have been recognised in leading accelerator and early funding programmes, like Chiratae Innovators Program, Jio GenNext and GE Edison Accelerator, with two of them also being recognised in the top-100 global start-ups in Enterprise Singapore’s Slingshot 2020. Some have also had their work published in international journals of high repute, such as Nature. It is often argued that, so far as entrepreneurship in India is concerned, the collaboration between industry and academia is still at a nascent stage. There’s massive opportunity to harness the power of academic entrepreneurship to transform the entrepreneurial ecosystem in the country.
Towards that, Entrepreneur First India is collaborating with premier tech institutes to ensure that academicians are no longer on the fringes of the growing network. “We are working with young data scientists, engineers and researchers across the country to help pave their way to entrepreneurial success,” Tiwary said.
The biggest challenge that talented academicians face in starting their entrepreneurial journey is lack of exposure to real-world problems and applications, as well as lack of networks to access business co-founders. At the same time, aspiring founders from industry are looking for the right technical co-founders that can help them with innovation. Entrepreneur First, Tiwary added, bridges this gap—bringing together the best of minds from academia and industry.
Like most sectors, the pandemic has impacted the start-up world also, in both negative and positive ways. Tiwary said that while the pandemic brought challenges in running the programme, but working together with Entrepreneur First’s other global locations (London, Singapore, Berlin, Paris and Toronto), “we have been able to arrive at new means of delivering the Entrepreneur First programme effectively to our aspiring founders, using a hybrid approach of online and in-person initiatives.”
Entrepreneur First India’s mission is to enable a new wave of entrepreneurship in the country. “The success of the first five cohorts has proven beyond doubt the potential of tech talent in India and our ability to help build large global businesses from India,” Tiwary said. “While we regularly hear about start-ups getting funded, there is a much larger pool of exceptional aspiring founders who are not able to get started on their entrepreneurial journey because they don’t have a co-founder or a strong idea of what problem to solve or even an idea of where to get started. We aim to help all these aspiring founders get started, and thus unlock a whole new wave of impactful businesses.”
Entrepreneur First India will start its sixth cohort on August 30, 2021, in Bengaluru.