I got “wings to fly” from IBM, says Sandeep Singh Kolhi, cofounder of a patent searching and analytics tool Xlpat. The US tech major mentored the tool, apart from offering infrastructure, training and hosting the platform on their cloud.
“With IBM technology and services aiding us, we could focus entirely on the product. We fast tracked our idea to a product in 15 months, as we could quickly resolve the issues,” said Kohli.
Mentoring start-ups goes beyond offering technological know-how and support. They need hand-holding in streamlining the product, aid in taking it to the market and more importantly help finding investors.
Early bird mentoring
The success rate of mentored start-ups versus non-mentored ones stands at a whopping 70%, says a report by Wasp Barcode Technologies. Indian start-ups too are warming up to the idea of taking guidance from mentors.
“The earlier that a start-up gets mentoring the better it is for them. Apart from training and helping design solutions, we also help them catch any errors early on. That way, they can avoid a lot of time-consuming and costly re-work,” informs Seema Kumar, country leader, developer ecosystem & start-ups, IBM South Asia.
Start-ups at different stages need different kinds of mentors. At the very initial stages, they require tax experts, lawyers and company secretaries while incorporating. The second type of mentorship comes at the next level from more experienced ventures of their kind. “Entrepreneurs who have been there and done that, can offer useful advice. Since they share the start-up mindset, they can guide and steer founders from possible mistakes,” says Ajay Ramasubramaniam, director at Zone Startups India. The firm has incubated and mentor close to 106 technology startups of which, close to 31 has successfully raised venture investments totalling over Rs 60 crores (US $9 million)
Mentoring for money
The most important of all comes in at the third stage when a start-up is finding investors or partners. Founders need mentoring right from preparing a presentation or a pitch meeting to access to the right forums. Mentors convert ideas and products into companies with plans and growth.
LightMetrics, Bengaluru-based start-up working on future-ready telematics solution that captures driver behaviour and analytics, needed a lot more than just help finding investors. They needed to access international boundaries to find clients from mature markets like the US with motor insurance companies.
“Many do not know where to go and find people who would be interested in the products. We participated in IBM Global Entrepreneurship Programme, and were able to demonstrate our product in many events,” said Pushkar Patwardhan, the co-founder, Lightmetrics.
Mentors can also open a lot of doors for companies by association. “A mentor has access to many business circles with financiers. If a successful businessman endorses a company to his peers, it has a good chance of receiving the initial round of capital,” Ramasubramaniam says. Zone Startups has a pool of mentors who work on a pro-bono basis to get start-ups off the ground.
Who’s your mentor?
The former HR head of Infosys and popular investor, Mohandas Pai, has been one of the biggest names in start-up mentoring. He also invests in companies and sits on the board of advisors. Gingercrush, a product customisation platform is the latest of the start-ups he is mentoring.
Joining Pai in the dual role of investor and mentor, is the Chairman Emeritus of Tata Group, Ratan Tata. Tata has already been backing young investors for a decade, with over ten firms in his kitty. Tata is also on the advisory board of companies like LetsVenture, a digital deal-making platform, offering his mentoring services.
Vishal Gondal, who co-founded and partially exited Indiagames.com, is yet another investor cum start-up mentor. His first investment is in Shimla-based Instablogs, a citizen journalist social news website, which he is also handholding.
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