IIT alumn’s non-profit helps scale startups


Mukesh Goel, President IIT StartUps
Mukesh Goel, President IIT StartUps

Ritu Jha-

It was the IIT Startups Bay Area spring mixer that brought in IITians to network, connect, and reminisce about their yesteryears on the rooftop of the Hewlett Packard Enterprise at America Center Dr, San Jose held in Santa Clara, on April 25.

IIT Startups is a 501c3 non-profit accelerator, launched in Jan 2018, to support and coach aspiring Indian Institute of Technology entrepreneurs.

Mukesh Goel, the IIT Startups President, in an interview with indica shared what to expect in his  two year term that started in January this year. “We are setting up these mixer events where we can bring out the past founders, the past cohorts, and the current co-founders, along with the investors and other ecosystem players, mentors, and coaches, so that they can have those informal interactions and figure out those connections,” Goel said.

“This is a phenomenal program, “Goel said, “What I do want to do is to strengthen the connection between startups and the ecosystem. Funding is one aspect of it, I think we are doing very well in presenting people on the Demo Day. But the startup founders need help day to day, in terms of connecting with the customers. They have questions regarding the legal setup and other related things. We want to strengthen the ecosystem part where startups can find answers and help.”

Goel is a graduate of IIT (BHU) of the 1993 batch. “IIT Startups is a good way of giving back based on my skills, that’s why I joined. It is a very demanding program, but the interactions that we have with startups are rewarding. What we learn from them, what we are able to impart to them, and how we change that is rewarding. The changes that I want to bring about are to build a stronger connection with VCs and angel networks.”

IIT Startups hosts two cohorts annually and will host the Demo Day on June 26. “We get a lot of applications and we choose the best and most scalable.” Explaining why only two cohorts are organized every year, Goel told indica: “It takes considerable effort to run startups through the program because most times we get early-stage startups and first-time founders. The people who are starting out need our help the most. It takes considerable effort from when they first show up at the door to enable them for success,” Goel added.

IIT Startups does not take money from anybody other than sponsorship for the programs. “At this event, we have not taken sponsorship. The expenses were met from our past collections. But, we do want to bring sponsors, and some of the events that we had initially during the pre-COVID time. We used to run a mixer, and system integrators and had some companies involved with the startup ecosystems. I want to bring that part, talk to the corporate incubator side, and accelerate that. The challenge for a nonprofit incubator is that we are resource-strapped in terms of what we can do.

There are so many startups looking for funding. We had around 170 plus applications this year for the US and India. It takes 14 weeks of effort to organize such an event. It takes a few weeks before that to get the pipeline going. And then, IIT Startups is a volunteer-run organization. IIT Startups doesn’t make investments, we are a non-profit organization. But our coaches and mentors and anybody else who’s working with us can develop those connections with the startups and can figure out mentorships, board membership, or investment arrangements. That has nothing to do with us. We are just bringing people together in that regard.” The organization’s cohort for 2024 started with 17 startups in the US. The India cohort is also going to start up with a similar number of startups soon,” he said.

When asked about the change in the trend of startups, and AI taking centerstage, Goel said: “AI was always there really, even in 2018. Then it became more and more about that. And now obviously we see a lot of ideas around generative AI, and its applications in pharma and other industries.”

“If you are thinking about startups, this is a place to get started. Here you network, and meet folks from different IITs. It’s become a pan IIT kind of an event and they can guide startups, and connect them to the VCs, and other employees too. It’s a good place to get started,” said Deepak Bhagat. “I participated in the event to network because I just launched my own startup, SiVa Access, about a month ago. We are also doing some work in the AI space, cloud computing and, EDA space. I’ve got six partners. All of us have been in the industry for the last 45 years in Silicon Valley. We are bringing in very experienced product development skill sets and strategy skill sets and we want to help the startups to scale up.”

Sunil Grover, Managing Partner at True Blue Partners, is a sponsor of IIT startups. “We’ve deployed capital in companies that have graduated from IIT startups. I think for any startup, what it takes to succeed is a combination of very significant technical expertise and domain knowledge. It can’t be at the ordinary level. We have got a strong enterprise software focus. The companies that come from IIT startups, we run through a screening process, and the ones that pass the bar we invest in. Our bar is that the startup should have a working product, and at least two to three customers in place. But if you can’t get those two, then we can’t help you,” Grover told indica.

“If you’ve not gotten a product market fit done, we’ll help you navigate that, because that’s where companies make or break. The point at which product market fit has been established is a 10 million ARR. So, we push them through 10 million ARR. Then at that point, many other investors come in, and the growth phase starts. For those companies that graduate from IIT Startups and fit that mold, we are happy to invest. We have invested in four,” Grover added.

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