Next Stop: The Future
10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5.. and I was on stage. The stage was large (as warned) but I was still unprepared for the expectant sea of faces waiting for us to pitch BabyChakra.
I took a deep breath. In those 5 seconds, the last 4 months flashed by. Getting an email on being shortlisted for Microsoft Accelerator, the top Accelerator Program in India. The flight to Bangalore to pitch for selection to the accelerator. Our team's exhilaration on being selected to be part of the eighth cohort. The workshops that initiated us gently to the 4 months to follow. The gulabjamun fueled parties at night with the sharing of god-honest startup experiences amongst founders & developing a lifelong kinship. The constant drilling in our (initially disbelieving) heads that we were to set milestones & targets for this program that would compress 18 months of typical progress to a 4-month effort. The simplicity yet depth in the ‘Ask framework’ that led to the realization of every stakeholder having an affordable loss. Moving from learning this jargon to applying it and closing one of our largest partnerships with a massive pharmaceutical player. The close interactions & exposure with the ecosystem within Microsoft & the unparalleled access to leverage their AI platforms, bots and Azure services. The shared experience as a team of going through an intense bootcamp and the thrill of applying it all live at BabyChakra and meeting goals we had not thought possible.
It all boiled down to the grand finale: the 4 minutes of who we are, what we do and why we belong on stage at one of the most high profile Tech events in the country.
The Lift Off
So I spoke. Spoke for our vision to ensure every family in India had made critical health and education choices for mothers and children in the smartest way possible. I spoke for my team who was cheering loudly from Bombay, watching our pitch being broadcast live globally on TechCrunch. I spoke for the lakhs of mothers who trust us today as their maternity and childcare companion. I spoke for of all the fellow founders and mentors who had been part of our journey.
The buzzer rung and we were done. I walked off stage and into a sea of people; earlier strangers, now familiar with BabyChakra. Heads of Innovation at Fortune 100 companies in India, CEOs of top retail, telecom and healthcare companies, technology leaders and start-up ecosystem builders. The earlier awkwardness of initiating conversations was gone. Now the conversations went deeper. Partnerships. Contracts. Pilots. Introductions. Offers to mentor. Even interest in joining us to build out our venture. Before I knew it I was out of a box of visiting cards. And we weren’t the only ones, fellow startups from the cohort, Yellow Messenger, Admission Table, Altizon, Locus, Calm.io, Aureus Analytics, Reverie, Tarnea, Strides, ReportBee and Distiman (who did a fabulous launch at the event) were also enjoying this attention.
More importantly, my industry conversations really brought home Nandan Nilekani’s excellent keynote earlier in the day. Nandan had observed just how rapidly new structures were emerging; specifically networks of small businesses built around new age aggregator/marketplace platforms exponentially leading to broad based growth. Critically, Nandan’s observation and my conversations with industry validated this decentralization and the urgency of partnering with models such as these for large businesses. This is the core belief on which BabyChakra’s platform is built as well. Having this theme & interested reiterated in all our conversations was super to see. Listening to Bhaskar Pramanik’s talk on India’s digital transformation journey and sense of being part of something much larger was overwhelming. The Think Next Debate between corporate and VCs was quite entertaining, and educational at the same time.
[also read: India’s Digital Transformation and the Role of Startups in that Journey]
Summer 2016 Cohort (Top), BabyChakra Pitch (Left), Nandan Nilekani and Bhaskar Pramanik (Right)
Along with these chats, MA had arranged for a one on one with the top 30 Venture funds in the country. Literally a speed date, each of us had 5 minutes to chat with Managing Partners, Associates and Analysts of the best VCs in the nation. If there was ever a time to leverage your elevator pitch it was now. In 60 minutes I was up to speed with the investment hypothesis for each of the VCs we met.
Post the networking, media and speed dating sessions, there were breakout panels on healthcare, bots and fintech. Mohit and I were torn on which ones to attend and which ones to skip given the incredible quality of speakers in each. While the 500+ audience were struggling with the same dilemma, Microsoft team was hosting its ‘All India Accelerator & Incubator Meet’ behind closed doors with 34 other startup enablement organizations. This event really had something to offer to everyone in the startup ecosystem!
[also read: How startups are changing the BFSI industry in India]
Clock-wise - BabyChakra's Graduation; The Indian Startup Ecosystem History Timeline; VC Speed Dating; Stalls at Think Next
And the Journey Begins
Finally, with the 'formal' part of Think Next done it was time for the party. All the founders in their de riguer sea green t shirts congregated to celebrate the commencement of our batch. It had been a long day and while each of us was exhausted, there was a deep joy & energy from having been a part of something so special, unique & intense.
Later into the party, in between the 'lungi dance', Mohit and I stepped out to the main hall to take a breather. The main hall was by now quieter with all the guests gone. we could hear the music from the party pulsating inside. A large poster still illuminated by spotlights caught our eye. It was a poster of the Indian startup ecosystem and all the major milestones all the way from 1978. I traced each step with my finger. And just then, it hit us. Being part of MA, being part of something as incredible as Think Next, had just given not just BabyChakra, but each of us in the party room, a strong shot at being a milestone, a pivotal player in the venture ecosystem. The 4 minutes on stage were not just a pitch for each of our companies. They were a way for the overall ecosystem to celebrate the new wave of ventures being created in India today. The commencement from MV was truly a commencement: of the evolution of our company from a startup to a full blown venture.
To know more and apply to Microsoft Accelerator, visit https://aka.ms/acceler8