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Judging Merit

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In Category B of the Businessworld Hottest Young Entrepreneurs contest, nine companies came up for evaluation by the four-member jury. Some of them were less than three months old. The criterion for applying in this category was that the company had to be less than two years old as on 31 March 2011. Startups from sectors as diverse as sports consulting to rural infrastructure to mobile software solutions made it to the finalists' shortlist.

Given the nascent nature of both the ideas and businesses represented in this category, the jury consisted largely of venture capitalists. The three venture capitalists on the jury were Vineet Rai, founder and CEO of Aavishkaar, Niren Shah, managing director of Norwest Venture Partners, and Sandeep Singhal, co-founder and managing director of Nexus Venture Partners.

Aavishkaar is a social and rural sector-focused venture capital firm and Rai is one of the pioneers of micro venture capital investing in India.

Singhal and Shah represent more conventional venture capital firms that invest in sectors such as technology, consumer Internet, cleantech and financial services, among others. All three bring over a decade's experience each in investing in and dealing with entrepreneurs. Singhal has also been an entrepreneur himself — he co-founded healthcare outsourcing start-up Medusind Solutions back in 2002. Shah has several years of operating experience leading eBay's global marketplaces strategy.











THE JURY (From left)
NIREN SHAH: Managing director, Norwest Venture Partners
VINEET RAI: Founder and CEO, Aavishkaar
SANJAY AGARWAL: president and business head, Business Banking, Yes Bank
SANDEEP SINGHAL: Co-founder and managing director, Nexus Venture Partners

Adding a different dimension to the jury was Sanjay Agarwal, president and business head, business banking, at Yes Bank. Agarwal has 18 years of experience in commercial banking.

This jury had a tougher job on its hands than the one that deliberated on the winners for Category A (see page 66). "The idea will have to be the most important factor in the evaluation," said Singhal, during the discussion on the parameters that should be used to pick winners. The jury finally agreed on five parameters — idea, team, market, business model and execution.

The innovativeness of the idea, it was decided, would be the first and most important one. Next they would assess the founder team's credentials and commitment. Under the parameters of market, business model and execution, they would evaluate the potential size of the company's addressable market, the revenue model and its ability to scale. The methodology was similar to the one chosen by the jury in Category A. All companies would be scored on each parameter and the average scores would be used to come up with a smaller short-list.

Out of the nine companies, Greenway Grameen Infra and MobileMotion Technologies, both winners, elicited the longest discussions. Greenway Grameen, which makes low-cost products for rural consumers — for instance, energy efficient cooking stoves — invited almost opposite views from each of the jury members. One of the venture capitalists thought that the founder Ankit Mathur's IIM background may not be the best fit for this kind of business. "You need to have a rough edge," he said. However, the jury finally chose the company as a winner ranked second because, "the sector needs to be highlighted".

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The discussion on MobileMotion was of a different nature. There was initially a bit of confusion about what exactly was the company's business. It was mistaken for a mobile applications developer by one of the jury members. "They help you make your website mobile-friendly," clarified another jury member. MobileMotion's product, called MobStac, converts a conventional website into a mobile website that can also be monetised. However, once the business was clarified, concerns were raised on how the startup company plans to make money.

A phone call was made to founder Sharat Potharaju who revealed that he was in the process of launching a paid version of the software and would also be getting into ad revenue share model with publishers. Once those details came in, the jury was unanimous in its decision to rank MobileMotion at No. 1.

engage4more, the winner at No. 3, also initially did not fly through. The jury's chief concern was that the company had some nature of a family-run business. "The two founders, who are related to each other, hold 100 per cent. There should be something for employees," said one of the jury members. However, the company went through to the list of winners on the strength of its idea — innovative employee engagement solutions.

Among the finalists that did not make the winners' list, Tatsam Sports and Witcraft, both Delhi-based companies, came closest to the finish line. Both companies piqued the jury's interest in terms of the ideas behind the businesses. Tatsam, founded by Bipul Kumar, provides best-in-class sports consulting and management services to schools, colleges and local sports clubs. The company's objective is to promote sports at the grassroots level. Witcraft engages the community to come up with witty one-liners. The highest voted one-liners go on T-shirts, mugs and other merchandise.

snigdha(dot)sengupta(at)abp(dot)in 

(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 06-06-2011)