Lead Angels – An Angel for the entrepreneurs

Sushanto Mitra.JPGIt is really strange to think when an individual who promotes entrepreneurship has to go through the same process himself. It is like when an interviewer has to be on the other side of the desk. Mr. Sushanto Mitra, Founder & CEO, of Lead Angels had to face similar situation.

He was associated with SINE (IIT, Bombay) for five years; a platform to support technology startups founded by IIT Bombay community or is based on IIT Bombay technologies. He was involved in mentoring startups in their early stages to help them grow further. When he left SINE, he was saddened to be detached from the IIT family. That’s when the idea about creating an angel investing network for the IITians was conceived. He realized that along with funding, what startups really seek is mentorship and industry connections. To support this initiative he thought of starting Lead Angels, one of the first alumni angel network in India that has been founded by a team from IITB.

While this idea was shaping up in his mind, like other entrepreneurs he too was apprehensive about leaving a fixed income job. Inspite of being a mentor to multiple start-ups while at SINE, he was facing the dilemma of starting this new venture. Finally, during his visit to East Europe he met many angel investors and realized the potential of his idea. He figured, that for a population of 5.5 million in Finland there were over 500 angels providing investment support. So for a country like India with a population of more than a billion should have atleast a hundred thousand business angels. However, currently this market is under tapped.  That’s when he finally decided to start Lead Angel network along with his other ex-colleagues from IIT Bombay.

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The main aim of this network is to provide initial funding to new age start-ups and to provide them the network of investors who can guide them. Lead Angels have a partnership with Techstars, 10,000 start-ups, e-cell at IITB, TIE, NASSCOM  and many other such leading organizations in this domain. This platform helps students and early stage innovators solve problem of capital requirements, so that they can focus better on improving their ideas. Post investment, Lead Angels also helps portfolio companies connect with potential clients and partners.

Due to his past experience with SINE, Sushanto had the right knowledge, connections and experience of over 15 years in the startup ecosystem which helped him with Lead Angels. He had to put in efforts to gather investors and build up trust among them about the feasibility of his idea. However, this challenge was also tackled by gathering a pool of IIT alumni who were willing to invest in new ideas. This strategic thinking by Sushanto gave him confidence to launch his company and made it a success in short span of time with operations in New Delhi, Ahmedabad, Hyderabad, Bangalore and Mumbai. Lead Angels has invested in 10 startups from 2014 onwards and has over 100 plus members majority of whom are successful entrepreneurs and senior executives.

Lead Angels has grown from being a just an angel network of IITians and is now expanding into the area of entrepreneurship education having jointly done some programs with Techstars. Sushanto already had faith in innovative ideas and new ventures thought by various students. However, after the success of his venture, Sushanto advices young entrepreneurs that: no dream is silly enough to throw away, of course, if your eyes are wide open.

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Oston Skates – Roller coaster life of an entrepreneur

A young entrepreneur who started his journey from a small town in Jaipur, has been termed as a young innovator of the city. Sayar Singh, who came from a mediocre family had curiosity and fervor to create new products which can bring change in the society. He started innovating new ideas and products at the age of twelve and founded the company Oston Tech Pvt. Ltd along with other co-founders. By the age of 18 he already had 32 innovations and 5 pending patents in his name. His innovations to name a few range from various technical gadgets like Drone, Measurement Apparatus to security systems like Locks to alert the police department and the owner in insecure conditions, Fuel Management system which prevents fuel filing station from fire etc.

Sayar is a serial innovator and has zeal to keep bringing new idea and products to the market. However, currently he has taken sabbatical from his Oston Tech Pvt. Ltd. due to lack of funds to support his research and production of the products.

One of the most significant and revolutionizing innovation by Sayar Singh is ‘Oston Skates’. These skates are designed so as to take the skates to a next level which enhances the jerk absorbing capacity of the skates. The USP of these skates is the suspension system which is supported by a spring mechanism. It has ability to absorb more than 75% of shock. This enhances speed and mobility of the skates along with controlling balance based on the body position. These can be used for long as well as short distance. What made Sayar think about this innovation is to address the problems faced by many skaters while skating on road or on a rough area.

Oston Skates Features

Oston Skates Features

There are around 12 features of Oston Skates which make them unique and innovative. Few of them can be listed as below:
• It can run anywhere on rough and uneven surface.
• It has got shock absorption capacity of around 75%.
• It has well designed balancing system and brake system which helps in maintaining the balance.
• In ordinary skates person has to bend his knees and legs for higher speed. This causes joint pains, however in Oston skates it has oscillation point in the wheels which helps to maintain comfortable position.
• Spring mechanism and the brake system allows to do skating in decline position.
• The overall mechanism helps to enhance speed and it can also cross hurdles in 90 degree position.

These skates mechanism has many applications to improve the performance and efficiency of emergency vehicles. The concept is applicable in automobiles and the first implementation for the same is skates. The jerk free or shock absorption mechanism can be used in motor vehicles to reduce accidents in case of sudden brake application. For ambulances, with jerk free technology, treatment inside the vans could be more effective saving time at those crucial moments in the patient’s life.

Currently, Sayar and team has filed for patent application in European Patent Office for their unique innovation. The patent grant is still awaited and the team is working on developing or improving the design further. Marketing team is working to chalk out marketing strategy which can help to position these skates in right market segment and can beat the competition.

What Sayar and team plans next is to produce these skates on a large scale so as to achieve economies of scale to bring down the costs and make it available to as many market segments as possible. For this he requires funding of around $225,000. A good idea with a perfect marketing strategy in place is useless if it is not fueled with appropriate funds.
Many entrepreneurs and innovators like Sayar has to face hardships in order to make their idea worth. Backing by proper fund managers and investors can make their idea worthwhile and help contribute to the GDP of the country. Otherwise their life will be a roller coaster ride as on the skating wheels!

Contributed by my colleague, Snehal Mahajan

Building Industry-Academia partnerships

Right from my Engineering days, I have wondered why does the Industry not engage more closely with Academia and create win-win scenarios!!

After years of experience interacting with both sides, I have realised that both sides have not taken enough efforts to understand each other and therefore have not been able to appreciate each other’s strengths and limitations. So just like any other relationship, it needs to be nurtured before you start seeing results.

Some of the common sense advice which I would like to share to help strengthen Industry-Academia partnerships are as follows: –

1. Academia should either have a business minded faculty or a business manager to deal with Industry so that things move beyond talks and translate into action

2. Academia should clearly identify areas of strength and expertise by defining focus areas, skill sets and expertise available, infrastructure and equipments so that Industry have a fair idea of what to expect even before they decide to engage with a particular Institute. This will help both sides save a lot of time and effort which is wasted when they decide to engage and eventually realise there is no match between them

3. Academia should upfront state the commercials involved in dealing with Industry be it a project, technology sale or conducting trials. I have known Institutes who charge a nominal flat fee for technology sale since they dont want to get into the complexity of evaluating the value of a technology which will always be subjective and then getting into endless negotiations with the prospective Buyer.

Also factor in the paying capacity of the buyer since an established company have far more deep pockets compared to a start up!! 

4. Academia should not over state or over claim what they have achieved. This is one of the nightmare a company has to face when Academia promise them the moon but when the company actually verifies the claims, the company realises that the product is a long way off before it can be taken to the markets

5. Industry should clearly articulate what they are looking at or expecting from the engagement. Often a company states that they are looking at something new or innovative in their area without specifying what it means.. Are they looking at lowering manufacturing cost of the product, replace the materials used or a new application for an existing technology

Unless one is clear and able to clearly articulate the direction in which you want to move, Academia will find it very hard to comprehend and eventually such discussions just taper off without resulting into anything meaningful

6. Industry should spend enough time understanding the ecosystem and work culture in an Institute so that it can ascertain whether there is a fit between the two. Just like a company would invest enough time and resources in qualifying a business lead, it should invest sufficient time in understanding the Academia partner before they decide to work together

7. Lastly both the partners should be willing to take failures as a stepping stone to success!!!

Despite the best of intentions, it is very likely that the relationship does not gets off to a great start but if both partners are determined and willing to help each other out, then they can expect to succeed sooner than later.

With a surge of Entrepreneurship on campuses and Governments across the board interested that Academia creates meaningful impact and start generating revenues and most importantly time to market becoming a more crucial factor than ever before, we will see newer ways and models in which Industry will engage with Academia.

rajeev surana