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Entrepreneur First: Unlocking A New Wave Of Tech Entrepreneurship

Global talent investor Entrepreneur First has supported more than 200 Indians on their entrepreneurial journey and invested in 27 tech startups since its launch in India in January 2019.

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India’s Union Budget 2021 had a sharp focus on boosting small and medium-scale startups as well as strengthening the investor ecosystem in the country. The pandemic has reiterated the key role of Indian startups in reviving economic growth and backing India’s mission to become a $5 trillion economy by 2025.

“Despite the global challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic, we are seeing a steady influx of aspiring Indian entrepreneurs keen to build their dream start-ups,” said Esha Tiwary, General Manager of Entrepreneur First (EF), India. “We launched in India in January 2019 and have supported more than 200 exceptional individuals on their entrepreneurial journey and invested in 27 startups,” she added.

As a tech talent investor, with a presence in six global markets, EF has built over 250 deep technology companies and created more than 3000 jobs worldwide since its inception in 2011. “The world’s third-largest startup ecosystem, India has the potential to become the global leader in tech entrepreneurship. At EF, we believe that the next decade’s core tech giants will be built in India,” asserted Tiwary.

Unique model 

Positioned as “the best place in the world to meet your co-founder and build a technology startup from scratch”, EF pioneered the concept of talent investing – finding and funding talented individuals – pre-company, pre-team, and most often, even pre-idea. It provides a unique platform to aspiring entrepreneurs by connecting the best minds in tech to the best minds in business and supporting them with the right mentorship and financial backing.

For each of its cohorts, EF selects around 50 potential founders and helps them find co-founders among themselves. There is a balance of technical and business backgrounds in every cohort - people who have research expertise in specialised areas, such as computer vision and machine learning, stellar product hackers, dynamic industry experts and keen business minds.

The first part of the program lasts for three months and involves individuals identifying the right co-founders and ideas to work on, market validation and building the business case. EF invests pre-seed in selected startups and those founders then move to the second stage of the program, which involves building the product, expanding the team and deploying with early customers. Finally, once the founders are ready, they meet early-stage investors for their next round of funding.

The value proposition for entrepreneurs is simple: join as an individual; leave as a funded company. The company’s focus is on building startups that have innovative and cutting-edge technology at their core, and are solving compelling real-world problems. “Our unique model also gives investors early access to the most impactful companies of the future. It’s a win-win proposition,” noted Tiwary.

Indian impact 

“Over the last two years, we have seen top-notch quality of founders and startups at EF India and the applications to our new cohorts every six months have been growing significantly. For our last cohort, we received 1800 applications for just 50 spots!” said Tiwary. The company sees immense opportunity in the Indian market to create world-class, innovative, technology-led startups.

Of the 27 tech startups that EF has helped create and invested pre-seed in India, six have already raised next rounds of funding. “Additionally, many of our startups have been recognised in leading accelerator and early funding programs in the country, like Chiratae Innovators Program, Jio GenNext, GE Edison Accelerator; with two of them also being recognised in the Top 100 global startups in Enterprise Singapore’s Slingshot 2020. Many of them are working on cutting-edge technology and have had their work published in international journals of high repute such as Nature,” informed Tiwary.  

It’s not great ideas that the talent investor is looking for. EF is looking for people with exceptional skills – either in a field of technology or product, or in business. Talented people who are outliers – not satisfied with the status quo and hungry to make an impact.

According to the Global Innovation Index 2020, India tops the list in innovation economies ranking in the Central and South Asia. EF is keen to invest in startups across industries, such as fintech, retail, video streaming, agriculture, healthcare, edtech, logistics, shipping, insurance and more, to create a robust, sustainable structure that supports early-stage tech entrepreneurs in the country.

Pandemic push 

The pandemic has changed consumer behaviours as well as preferences, and an innovation-led entrepreneurial ecosystem can help cater to these changes. The Prime Minister’s recent announcement of the launch of INR 1,000-crore ‘Startup India Seed Fund’ to support startups is an encouraging step in the right direction. The Union Budget 2021-22 also offered some impetus, by way of tax holidays and lowering compliance burden for startups and exemptions for investors.

“What India needs to build on is an ecosystem with much increased avenues for advice and mentorship, platforms for budding entrepreneurs to engage with successful early-stage entrepreneurs, and our education systems becoming more and more focused on the power of impact that entrepreneurship holds,” observed Tiwary. “We need to help our young professionals and research students think about market-led innovations using cutting-edge technology to solve real-world problems across industries,” she maintained.

EF’s vision is to unlock a new wave of entrepreneurship in the country, by building a strong platform for aspiring entrepreneurs to overcome barriers and start tech companies. Esha’s advice to aspiring Indian entrepreneurs is to deeply understand their customers’ needs. “Spend most of your time in the early days talking to customers. Sell first and build later! That’s the secret to building something that customers really want. And don’t be afraid to take the hard decisions. The time to start up is now,” she urged. 

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