“There is no better place than IIT Cohort for us to be able to scale,” said Ajay Jotwani, co-founder and CEO of i2Chain, Inc., while listening to the panels at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Startups’ mixer event held last month in Santa Clara, California.
Jotwani, an IIT Delhi alumnus, is one of the lucky to receive more than a million dollars to fund his startup. He told indica that he joined the IIT Startups’ cohort team because he has a deep engineering firm but felt that to be able to scale on the engineering side, there is no better place than IIT cohort.“After joining the IIT Cohort, two very good things have happened. One, we have been able to add a significant amount of talent, and the second, we have been very fortunate to have guidance,” he said.
“We have been able to convert some of the conversations that we have with investors into real money,” said Jotwani, though he declined to disclose who funded them, he said, “Yes IIT, cohort helped us and acted as a catalyst and the guidance and mentorship that have been provided by the IIT Cohort has been very valuable to us.”
Unlike Jotwani there were more than 100 IIT alumni who attended the mixer event, most of them had startups and were seeking advice on how they can raise funds or get help.
Standing in a group was Sekhar Chanda of IIT Madras and founder of GreenEye Technologies, talking to serial entrepreneur Krishna Yarlagadda, founder and CEO of Huddl.ai. Chanda told indica his company is just 6-months-old and they are trying to solve the food-waste problem by bringing AI to the smartphone.
Yarlagadda, who has been involved with a lot of startups, told indica he feels entrepreneurs are born, and many people are inspired by their parents, the environment, and school. “And, of course, people from IIT certainly feel more confident,” said Yarlagadda, “Not only here, even in India. I think for the first time we are starting to see a lot
of interest; people want to make a difference, and confidence is very high.”
Monishi Sanyal, founder, board member, and president at IIT Startups told indica, “We are doing very tight screening and then mentoring the best of the best.”
When asked if these people are all from IIT, Sanyal said, “Not necessarily, every startup has to have one IIT co-founder.”
And the mentors, a large number of whom are IIT alumnus and are doing this for the loyalty of the fellow IITians or the next generation of IITians.
Launched in January 2018, IIT Startups, a nonprofit organization, the goal is to help the surging IIT Entrepreneurs wave in Silicon Valley to reach greater heights with workshops and mentoring in conceptualizing products, preparing business plans, fundraising, marketing, and a successful exit.
Sanyal 71, on seeing the response from the IIT Startups, said he himself is surprised.
In 2017, Sanyal had open heart surgery and during this time he said he started to get an idea and doing some surveys and learned IIT.
People are getting venture capitalist funding. But Venture Capitals says they need a lot of help in startup fundraising and marketing.
He said, “I understand because we are techies, and that is the problem clearly defined that IITians want to get this solved.”
The launch in Jan. 2018 was overcrowded with more than 450 attendees, all IIT veterans from the Silicon Valley. In the San Francisco Bay Area alone, there are 11,000 IIT alumni.
“We are the fourth largest unicorns’ builder in the world after universities like Stanford, Harvard, and Berkeley, it’s IIT, and we are ahead of MIT,” Sanyal said proudly.
When asked why he sees a sudden rise of IIT getting into startups, and what age group the entrepreneurs are in, Sanyal said that they are mainly in their 30s and up. American startups here start in their 20s.
“Our IITians, in fact, are old,” he said, with a laugh and added that “by the time they come to the U.S. and are done with their jobs and save enough money they are over 30. So, our startups are old guys by startup standard.”
“I am just saying the market side they are weak players mainly in B2C but B2B is OK. You are dealing with an enterprise. B2C, it’s tough, and it’s like making a movie,” Sanyal said since it launched, they have already launched two demo events (pitching events) and the third one is upcoming on July 25.