From incubator partnerships to Indian Internet Day: how TiE Delhi-NCR helped entrepreneurs during the pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has posed severe obstacles for businesses and societies around the world. But the creative spirit will triumph, and a range of entrepreneurship support organisations has risen to the challenge.

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This includes TiE Delhi-NCR, the local hub of the global network called The Indus Entrepreneurs, founded in Silicon Valley in 1992. See also our earlier profiles of resilience activities by TiE Global and the city chapters of Bangalore, Mumbai, Silicon Valley, Pune, Chennai, Kerala, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, and Kolkata.

Support for entrepreneurs

“We have hosted nearly 100 programmes in the course of the last four months. That’s nearly one every alternate day,” explains Geetika Dayal, Executive Director at TiE Delhi-NCR, in a chat with YourStory. Online participation ranged from 150 attendees for focused webinars, all the way up to 5,500 for India Internet Day 2020 on August 7.

The audience composition is generally around 60 percent entrepreneurs, 20 percent students, 10 percent academics, 10 percent investors, and 10 percent of professionals from legal and support functions.

“Our response was swift and incisive, given our understanding of the pain points of startups, as well as the collective experience of our leadership,” she says. This helped scope out the impact of the downturn and the imperative actions for entrepreneurs to take.

At a time when lives and livelihoods were challenged, helping entrepreneurs deal with uncertainty was a priority. In March, a partnership was formed with the government’s Startup India initiative, and TiE Delhi-NCR became the startup advisors for its National Business Immunity Platform.

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The chapter brought elements of resilience to TiE’s core tenets of mentoring, networking, education, funding, and incubation. A one-on-one Online Mentoring Helpline was provided to give founders expert guidance; over 90 individual mentoring sessions have already been held, according to Geetika.

The TiE Gold high-impact mentoring programme was launched online to accelerate companies to growth-stage. A cohort of select startups received in-depth mentorship with a senior mentor from the chapter’s charter member community.

This year’s cohort comprises 25 mentees from startups like Niramai, University Living, and This for That. The lineup of mentors included Saurabh Srivastava (Chairman Emeritus, TiE Delhi-NCR), Rajan Anandan (President, TiE Delhi), Sanjeev Bikhchandani (Founder, Info Edge), Alok Mittal (Managing Director, Indifi Technologies), and Deep Kalra (Founder, MakeMyTrip), among others.

The first webinars were held right from the beginning of the Lockdown 1.0, and provided actionable insights for crisis management. The session — Lockdown Challenges for Startups: Navigating the COVID-19 Crisis — brought together international experts and drew on experiences from other countries who had already experienced lockdowns.

Then, a webinar on Business Continuity for Startups amidst COVID-19 kicked off a series of collaborative events with Startup India. Featured speakers were Anil Aggarwal (Founder, Vedanta), Deepak Bagla (CEO, Invest India), Yashish Dahiya (Co-Founder, Policybazaar), and Sairee Chahal (Founder, SHEROES).

In April, TiE Delhi-NCR launched the TiE Institute online to connect venture builders with experienced industry stakeholders and experts. Their expertise was shared through courses and webinars.

A six-day Venture Accelerator Programme featured 25 industry stalwarts sharing a lifetime of learnings to boost entrepreneurs on the journey of scale. A lineup of over 30 prominent investors came together over two editions of another special programme. They gave real-time feedback to founders on their pitches and ideas.

The Smash-up virtual event for startups was aimed at launching Indian startups on the road to becoming global brands. It was a blend of creativity, showcases, and networking, with startups, angel investors, and venture capitalists deliberating on India’s new economic stances.

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TiE Delhi-NCR organised the ninth edition of the annual India Internet Day (iDay) on August 6-8 – but entirely online this time. With the theme ‘Reimagine and Rise,’ the two consumer and SME tracks featured keynotes and roundtables with experts from India and overseas, including Zoom Founder Eric Yuan.

The event’s 30 sessions featured insights from more than 100 speakers, 50 investors, and 20 unicorn founders. For example, BYJU’S Co-founder Divya Gokulnath shared how COVID-19 led to the edtech startup's addition of 20 million users in less than four months.

The event helped entrepreneurs reimagine and manage businesses in the post-pandemic era, according to Rajan Anandan, TiE Delhi-NCR President, and MD, Surge and Sequoia Capital India. The speaker lineup also included Arianna Huffington, Founder of The Huffington Post; Amey Mashelkar, Head of JioGenNext; Jeremy Liew, Partner at Lightspeed Ventures; Karan Bajwa, Managing Director at Google Cloud; and Puneet Chandok, President, India and South Asia, Amazon Internet Services India.

Session topics ranged from education and ecommerce to healthcare and gaming. Featured unicorn founders included Ritesh Agarwal (OYO), Deep Kalra (MakeMyTrip), Kunal Bahl (Snapdeal), Amrish Rau (PineLabs), Gaurav Gupta (Zomato), and Naveen Tewari (InMobi).

The Investor Lounges and Ask Me Anything sessions helped startups connect to investors. Eight in-depth workshops were held on topics like design thinking, term-sheet analysis, and product development.

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In addition to webinars and conferences, TiE Delhi-NCR held 10 special networking events. Usually, TiE chapters function autonomously, but these unique collaborative sessions featured other TiE Chapters such as TiE Bangalore, TiE Hyderabad, and TiE Chennai.

On the funding front, TiE Delhi-NCR and Indifi Growth Debt Capital partnered to help provide debt capital to entrepreneurs to enable business continuity, over and above guidance and mentorship. TiE Delhi-NCR and the Indian Angel Network launched a Fastrack Funding initiative to complete startups’ cycle of application for funds in 45 days.

Knowledge partnerships were forged with IIITD Incubation Centre and Nidhi Accelerator by Indigram Labs Foundation. For student entrepreneurs, the TiE BiRAC webinar shared inspiring stories of pioneering entrepreneurs. Originally planned as an offline event, it was moved entirely into an online format.

The chapter also held the TYE programme (TiE Young Entrepreneurs) to teach high school students about entrepreneurship. The TiE Delhi-NCR team of students Team WhyQ won the Best Elevator Pitch and Best Execution Awards at the TYE Global Finals.

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The TiE Delhi-NCR team describes the key challenges faced by entrepreneurs during the pandemic – such as funding, sales and team engagement – and how solutions were provided. While many entrepreneurs faced challenges with respect to retrenchment or hiring, TiE Delhi-NCR collated a list of organisations that were hiring and profiles of people who were looking for jobs.

In addition to the above-mentioned initiatives on the funding front, TiE Bangalore and TiE Delhi-NCR came together to launch the B2B Sales Academy. The workshop series offers case studies, frameworks and expert tips for entrepreneurs.

Even in the face of challenges, some sectors actually gained in the last few months. “Education, gaming, and healthcare are going to see a lot of tailwinds. In fact, our next set of unicorns would be from healthcare or telemedicine. A number of SaaS entrepreneurs are also building for Indian small businesses,” TiE Delhi-NCR President Rajan Anandan explains.

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“The government is increasingly looking to make the startup ecosystem more conducive,” Geethika observes. There are moves to position Delhi itself as a leading destination for startups, and the government convened a meeting with industry leaders and young entrepreneurs advance plans in this regard.

At the meeting, the TiE Delhi-NCR report from September 2019 was cited, according to which the region had over 7,000 startups, Geetika adds. The report added that Delhi-NCR is set to become one of the top five global startup hubs with 12,000 startups, 30 unicorns, and a cumulative valuation of about $150 billion by 2025.

Geetika also points to a number of ways in which India’s entrepreneurs are developing and promoting homegrown apps in line with government moves for economic repositioning. For example, Kaagaz Scanner has developed an alternative to Camscanner. Startups can also work with the government in areas like solutions for testing, sanitisation, and vaccine research.

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Tips and advice

The TiE Delhi-NCR offers tips for entrepreneurs on business issues like cash management and pivoting. “Re-evaluate your business model and strategy: do not waste vital time and resources on a channel or product line that is hard hit by the pandemic,” Geetika cautions.

“The balance sheet should be minutely dissected to reduce cash burn and curtail expenses. Keeping cash in the bank is important for survival,” she adds. It is important to observe consumer behaviour closely to evaluate relevant strategies.

“Pivoting may be required so that you conserve cash and stay relevant in these changing times by adaptation to new technology and business contexts,” Geetika says. As examples, she points to food delivery startups who pivoted to deliver essentials, or apparel and innerwear manufacturers adding masks to their product line during the lockdown.

Confidence-building measures and clear internal and external communication are also key during crises. At the same time, entrepreneurs need to not let a challenge go waste and should utilise it. “Some of the best companies are built in a crisis or downturn,” she observes.

5Mental health

Mental fitness is a key priority for entrepreneurs during and after the pandemic. “Have a well-regimented schedule that features not only professional goals but also a requisite amount of self-care activities like meditation and exercise,” Geetika advises.

“Reading, learning new skills, and activities that can elevate intellectual prowess are highly recommended. Stay connected with colleagues through fun activities, while also spending time with family,” she adds.

Entrepreneurs should also regularly reflect on factors that keep them motivated and energised, which can vary across the board. “Each person has a unique and individualistic method of dealing with change,” she observes. Some may prefer being connected, others may want time off.

“Be prepared to adapt working styles and schedules when confronted with business or medical issues. Maintain an inner strength and mental balance to take one step at a time and face each day with gratitude for what you have,” she adds.

“This too shall pass and everyone is dealing with pressure. Hence, there should be no sense of isolation. We are a community and will stay strong in the face of challenges,” Geetika says.

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The road ahead

Since its founding in 1999, the TiE Delhi-NCR chapter has spearheaded a number of entrepreneurship support initiatives in the region. It has also won awards for best TiE chapter.

Upcoming initiatives include the launch of the Delhi Chapter of TiE Women, a Healthcare 2.0 panel discussion, the next batch of TYE, and a joint report with Zinnov on the startup landscape.

“TiECon, our annual flagship event, is planned for the end of this year. StartupExpo 5 is planned early next year,” Geetika says. In previous editions, there were 20,000 attendees for the expo, which included panel discussions, elevator pitch contests, and free stalls for startups.

Though TiE Delhi-NCR has a modest team size of 18, it clearly has a packed schedule ahead. “We are resilient and action-oriented. We have maintained our full team and are committed to nurture them and ensure their safety as well as continuity,” she proudly says.

Expenses have been trimmed, budgets redrawn, and new partners roped in. “Commitment to the ecosystem has kept us thriving and surviving. There is constant reinvention to find new partners, and ensure value to existing ones,” Geetika signs off.

(Edited by Saheli Sen Gupta)

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