Seasia Infotech recently announced their collaboration with MergerTech CEO Nitin Khanna to set up a “Centre Of Excellence” in a move to leverage the start up ecosystem of India. The initiative allows startups to avail the workspace of Seasia Infotech to work and learn at no additional cost. Moreover, the CoE also guarantees financial support to these startups. Animation Xpress got in touch with MergerTech CEO Nitin Khanna, who provides further information on this landmark movement. Can you tell us how did this landmark collaboration materialise? We Punjabis are world renowned for our industrious and entrepreneurial nature. We have all heard inspiring stories of our diaspora who have made it big in the respective countries that they have emigrated to. Even in places like Bangalore, Chennai or Pune, we see a vibrant startup culture. However, I have always felt that there is something missing in the mix – somehow we do not hear of many such success stories from the tech sector here in North India. I feel that the right ingredients are already present, and that youngsters just need to be mentored and supported here, and they’ll bring the next big business idea to life. R.P Singh and I used to discuss this off-and-on, and finally we decided to join forces to create a sort of platform that enables and supports startups in all aspects – financial, technical, soft-skills etc. So ours is a collaboration based on a shared world-view and a desire to share our expertise with the community. Are you targeting any particular sector (like tech startup, food startup, travel start-up etc.) or is everyone an equal beneficiary here? Our goal is to nurture tech startups i.e., companies where a significant value or differentiation is going to be derived from the use of software technology. Another of our selection criteria is that the startups should target the Indian market. Within these two broad outlines, we are quite open to supporting a startup for any sector or domain. That said, we do have certain internal guidelines to avoid over-exposure to particular domains or sectors, but these don’t go to the extent of blacklisting any domain as of now. What measures do you have in place to incubate the start-ups? We will foster entrepreneurship, mentor entrepreneurs, incubate startups and provide all the assistance, support and training that they need to become successful entrepreneurs. With the holistic approach, we will focus on building a 360 degree understanding about startups entrepreneurship journey with different perspectives and connect all relevant startup related topics with links to resources and tools to turn theory into action. We will support them in areas like labs, focus groups, marketing support, media, MVP, etc. I feel that this support, tools and expertise will help them to succeed in the increasingly competitive tech world. How would this Centre of Excellence work? Can start-ups approach you directly? Startups will have to reveal themselves whether they are hard at work or not. Their great ideas and innovations will also be tested by Mr. R.P. Singh at Seasia Infotech. To find out the potential startups, we will turn our experts to have one-to-one conversation with them and select the deserving candidates. They can approach Seasia Infotech to know the schedule and procedure of enrollment. So, while we’d love to support and mentor everyone that approaches us, there’s still a limit to our bandwidth, as our center can support 50 teams at one time. Considering that, each startup will need between 12 – 18 months of support before they can actually function independently. All this places an upper limit to the number of people or ideas that we can support, so we’re planning on doing this in batches and for each batch, we’ll have the aspirants present their case to a selection committee comprising tech and domain experts. Based on their recommendation, we’ll induct a small core group from the team into our program. You’ve said that you’ll be providing training to the entrepreneurs as well. Can you tell us a bit about this training program? Who are the trainers? Entrepreneurs will be given the entrepreneurship, negotiation, leadership, team building, communication, goal setting training to drill their entrepreneurship skills. The professionals at Seasia will prepare the training module, which will finally be approved by me and R.P. Singh. We are planning to offer them a deep support from IoT to beta testing to networking and customer access. About trainers, we have planned to begin with fixing special meetings with the successful and unsuccessful entrepreneurs, as both are equally important to learn from. There would be regular meetups also to evaluate the overall progress of the program. Moreover, there will be site visits too, as people need to actually see the environment and the problems first-hand in order to solve them. Other than this, trainees will be trained by the IT professionals at Seasia Infotech, as our vision is to support the business idea and to bring in the required collaborators, be it financial, marketing or IT. Mr. R.P Singh also spoke about funds. How much funds have you planned to invest in start-ups? Do you also have investors on board? Startups often lack funds and the physical space to host live training, but at Seasia Infotech, the tech startups can work and learn at no cost in its co-working space. R.P. Singh and I have planned to help startups with necessary funding, but the figures cannot be disclosed. The figure can go up or down based on the idea and project type. At present, there won’t be any other board member in this plan. Seasia Infotech and I will be taking care of the whole program. But, with the success of our startups, this program will surely impress other investors too who may be winning to invest. In what all cities do you plan to set up this Centre of Excellence? We are initially starting up in Mohali, but with time we have plans at the back of our mind to roll out this program to other cities also. Where do you think the Indian start-up ecosystem stands today in comparison to that of US? Indian tycoons are often very annoyed of the Silicon Valley startup ecosystem. It is because they feel that seed-stage stakeholders in the America are far more intelligent and liberal. They feel that US angels are keen at taking risks, and are wiser enough to be able to back a founder just on the basis of an innovative and great idea. On the other hand, Indian investors are considered as being far more conservative and traditional, because they are less or not at all willing to support entrepreneur’s dream until they can display their commercial success. Following this collaboration, what change do you envision in the Indian start-up ecosystem? We are the change! On a serious note though, we are not setting out to change the ecosystem as a whole. We are just trying to do our bit to support deserving people and ideas and if our model takes off, and others want to emulate it, then that’s great! It’ll bring in much more scale as compared to what we alone can ever dream of providing; and it’ll benefit the ecosystem as a whole.