In the Lincoln room of Kolkata’s American Center this July, there was a palpable buzz from the city’s prospective young entrepreneurs. The room was teeming with young people, bearing beaming faces eager to listen to the speakers who shared their stories of trial and triumph in a city and state notorious for its anti-industry image.
They had gathered under the banner of the newly formed Kolkata Ventures set up by Chicago-based Avelo Roy, who hails from the city, and the US Department of Commerce to be part of the event “Be UR Own Boss: Starting With ZERO Money”.
Roy, whose firm Kolkata Ventures now provides seed funding for startups and joins the government in building an eco-system of support in the eastern metropolis, has roped in others to share their journeys of braving all odds to be on their own. “You don’t need money to start. All you need is a problem that many people care about to pay to solve,” points out Roy.
Kolkata as a Hub of Startups
Kolkata is increasingly becoming a hub of startups for the eastern region and gradually an ecosystem is emerging, maturing, despite hiccups. In keeping with the new boom of startups in the east, a restructuring is underway in the Kolkata unit of NASSCOM, which in its “10,000 Startups” vision is committed to incubate, fund and provide ambient support to impact 10,000 technology startups in India, by 2023.
“ We are tying up with engineering colleges for setting up incubation centres and those are not just institutions like IITs or IIMs but also private colleges. We want to help them, get them mentors, business thought leaders,” says Kamal Agarwala, NASSCOM Chairman, Eastern Region Council, speaking to The Quint.
The big difference between now and before is that we have investors here now. Earlier investors were missing and it was all about Bangalore. Now Kolkata is a kind of hub to the east with a couple of incubation centres.Kamal Agarwala, Chairman, NASSCOM, Eastern Region Council
CII Eastern Region Innovation Task Force Chairman Aloke Mookherjea corroborates, saying, “the east is always regarded as the storehouse of masterminds and talents. The best thing is that everybody here is realising that startup is a motif which will give a powerful expression of its might and influence.”
Mookherjea says that “CII has started innovation clubs in 16 Bengal institutes, including leading universities and science and technology colleges, which will facilitate the students to be future entrepreneurs. According to Subhrangshu Sanyal, CEO, IIM C Innovation Park, the ecosystem is maturing in Kolkata, owing to the renewed thrust of government.
There are several incubators, including the ones at IIM-C and IIT-K, which are playing a great role in nurturing startups. Building awareness, intervention in preparing academic curricula, the creation of innovation labs and access to seed funds are some of the key factors which will go a long way in creating a strong culture of entrepreneurship in this region.Subhrangshu Sanyal, CEO, IIM-C Innovation Park
The West Bengal government’s IT department now plans a competition to pick up startup ideas and support them.
“We will pick them and solve their problem of seed capital. We will give them an amount and they will be prepared for the second stage funding by the venture capitalists and angel investors,” says Swarup Roy, Advisor at West Bengal government’s Department of Information Technology and Electronics.
“We in the IT sector are also concentrating on the product company, those working on a software product which can bring comfort to public life,” he says.
Wow Momo: A Success Story
Among the startup entrepreneurs from Kolkata, the poster boys are surely the duo of Sagar Daryani and Binod Homagai, two friends from the city’s St Xavier’s College who launched ‘Wow! Momo’ in 2008 with only Rs 30,000 and then went on to script a big success story making ‘Wow Momo’ a chain spread across India now.
This startup has wowed the funders as it clinched over Rs 10 crore from Indian Angel Network (IAN) for expansion.
“I am a Nepali and we used to make momos at home. We know that Kolkatans were sold on good food and on variety and momos in particular. They understand food. So we started like that with Rs 30,000 and now we have 48 outlets across the country including in Delhi, Bangalore and Kochi,” says Homagai.
“We are currently going for automation since we know that in the next five to six years there will be shortage in manpower. We are churning out 80,000 to 90,000 momos every day in different categories and it involves various stages from mixing to preparing them and so automation is the way forward,” he says.
According to Homagai, it is a big joy to start up something from scratch and see it grow.
“Every entrepreneur faces hurdles and Kolkata is no different. You have to come out strong from the difficulties,” he says.
(Sujoy Dhar is a roving writer, a foreign correspondent and Group Editor of news agency IBNS. He can be reached at @sujoydhar)