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Ganapathy Venugopal, co-founder & CEO, Axilor Ventures, takes us through his firm’s accelerator program and the key takeaways for budding entrepreneurs through this program.

Axilor Ventures, an accelerator and a seed fund, was set up by veteran entrepreneurs and senior leaders, S.D. Shibulal, Kris Gopalakrishnan, Srinath Batni, Harvard Business School Professor Tarun Khannaand Ganapathy Venugopal. The main vision of Axilor is to improve the odds of success of entrepreneurs in their first 24 months through its 100-day program and a venture funding model.

Its framework is focused around launching the start-up the right way, access to the right capital at the right stage, dedicated mentorship, access to the Axilor peer community of entrepreneurs, and a series of masterclasses from industry experts to help learn how great startups are built and what mistakes to avoid.

It has three programs – Accelerator, Scale-up and Early Stage Funding programs. The accelerator incubates start-ups operating in the e-commerce, healthcare, life sciences, sustainability and clean technology spaces focussing on scalable, disruptive and technology-led business ideas for budding entrepreneurs and experienced professionals. The first batch of the program commenced in the first quarter of 2015 with 10 start-ups and the venture has recently decided to double the size of its incubator program. In the fourth batch that it completed recently, five out of the ten companies have already secured further funding, two have strategic acquisition offers and one company has a signed up sizable corporate partnership.

In this interview, Axilor’s co-founder and CEO, Ganapathy Venugopal, talks to us about what companies take-away from this accelerator program, how they take the companies from one stage to the next and the flavours of entrepreneurship in today’s ecosystem.

Please share with us anecdotes from three of your start-ups, their first 12 months and the next stage they have reached.

A candidate from the first accelerator batch, PlaceofOrigin, is a consumer Internet company that is creating a market place that sells artisanal food products from its source. It does not store the products that it delivers; instead they’re shipped from the store directly. During the course of the program it solved two things: one, logistics side of the business and established it in such a way that when something is ordered from any remote location, food reaches the consumer safely. Second, during the course of the program, they were able to understand how to reach out to different customer segments.  They got into a scale up program and raised Rs. 25 lakh in angel funding. Eventually, the company was acquired by Craftsvilla.

Survaider from the third accelerator batch was set up by entrepreneurs who were just a year out of Delhi University. They wanted to create a product that allows multi-outlet organisations to gather online feedback available in multiple places, aggregate them and try to understand the actionable part of customer feedback. During the course of the program, the company started to have customer conversations and understood that hospitality was one segments they had to go deep, as that is where they were getting maximum traction.

They got into the scale up program, and have signed up with more than 15 hotel chains, and each chain has about 8 to 10 outlets. While they are developing the product, when they move from accelerator to scale up stage, their product roadmap gets defined.  They were able to create a notification feature that allowed the hotel to take a customer feedback and link it back to the person in-charge so that action can be taken. They are at the scale up stage now.

The third company is Apps fly, a company that came out with a deep tech product that allows in-app purchases. During the course of the program, the company ran a few pilots, spoke to a few people and at the end of the program, they were able to raise a 200K round at a valuation of a million dollars. So the program allowed the company to move ahead at a much faster pace, sign up real customers and made them investible.

How do you coach entrepreneurs? How do you align their thinking to that of yours?

One discipline that we inculcate in them is to not treat capital as a substitute for customer insight. Basically, they need to find proprietary insights, make capital last long and respect organic growth.

What the program does in terms of coaching is help the entrepreneur find and get over the possible blind spots they may have. One, all entrepreneurs are in love with their idea and the program allows them to balance their intuition with evidence at every stage. Two, make them understand the power of small goals.  Three, is to make them better at whatever they are doing – developing customer pitches, how to sell, presenting an idea to an investor, and so on.

You have doubled the intake of start-ups for the accelerator program to 20. What is the reason behind this move and what is the mix of businesses?

We are now focussed on 5 sectors: Consumer Internet and Fintech – in these two we are looking for businesses that will build around India Stack which is about the next 500 million people adapting smart phones.  We are looking at Enterprise Technology which is mostly the SaaS model. The Artificial Intelligence business are those where the businesses have the AI component. And finally, the Healthtech businesses that solve healthcare-related problems using software related products.

So, it is not so much about 10 becoming 20 but is about looking at 5 different verticals and supporting entrepreneurs in these segments.

What are the different flavours of entrepreneurship that you are witnessing today?

When you look at the motivation for entrepreneurs to start something, it could be a spectrum as wide as a personal problem that led to the idea, an interesting idea, working on the idea in their last job and understand the sector well and hence, decided to do something here, or they were working on the idea in their last job and have a better way of doing it.

What I am observing is that from being intuitive, the percentage of people who have worked on the problem before entering entrepreneurship is on the rise. And this helps them move ahead with lot more speed especially when it comes to validation as they have the evidence already. The founding team of two people who worked on the problem, can go a lot farther than the ones who start on it saying it is an interesting idea.

Second, from sectoral perspective, we see a lot more diversity with many Enterprise and Health-tech start-ups coming up.

Your message to entrepreneurs:

Today, the overall funding environment is not that conducive. Entrepreneurs are stuck as investors are slowing on investments and want to make their existing portfolio better. Larger companies are stuck between growth and profitability and have no cash.

When Axilor was started, it started with the goal that you can achieve a lot more even before you raise funds.  Our view is that you can still make a lot of progress and when the environment improves you will be far ahead.

Entrepreneurs can bootstrap, accelerator programs can help them move forward and get access to funds. If you are looking at raising Rs. 6 crores to Rs. 7 crores, raise Rs. 1.5 crore to move from one point to another and reach your next milestone. There are a number of ways in which, one can still make small progress.

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