For me, it is always exciting to meet youngsters, especially those passionate students who are dreaming of their own venture. So when the organisers of Startup Weekend Chennai invited me through TiE Chennai’s secretariat for being one of the event judges I readily agreed. The event was in the College of Engineering (CEG), Anna University, Chennai. I was happy to be on the same duty as veterans Dorai Thodla and A J Balasubramanian, both of whom are also the alumnus of the college.

I learned that the “Startup Weekend” is a grassroots movement of entrepreneurs operating globally who help those founding startups. It is the largest community of passionate entrepreneurs with over 1800 past events in 120 countries around the world in 2015. The 2017 event in CEG was a 3-day hackathon-type event, where anyone with an idea can present, attract like minded to form a team and then build a presentation and/or prototype. On Day 3 evening they present their startup idea to a panel of experts who decide on winners and offer them advice on how to take it forward.

Startup Weekend CEG – Feb 2017

Today we had over 14 ideas presented, each of them being at various levels of maturity. It was fascinating to see what was achieved in just 60 hours by motivated individuals. The ideas presented to us were:

  1. PING – A travel bot
  2. Daily Idly – Breakfast delivery service
  3. EAM – E-waste management
  4. SEED – Education startup and learning courses
  5. EzzPay – Crowd Sourced Lending for student community
  6. Divot – Aqua Dog/Underwater drone
  7. Dr Portal – Health startup and Blood donation community
  8. Project Inception – Virtual Reality for home improvement
  9. Travis 7 – Travel recommendation community
  10. WebGuides – An online presence for Small Businesses
  11. Green Crap – Generate energy from Human Poop. Special mention is due for them as it requires a lot of conviction and courage to speak about Human Feces on stage. 
  12. Highered – Online Student verification and hiring portal
  13. Drop Buy – Sharing economy startup, who connect travellers from abroad/another city with those who want some item from there to brought with them to city they are travelling to
  14. Indian Farmers Market (IFM) – A dynamic marketplace to connect the grocery stores with the producers (farmers)
Based on the presentation quality, customer demand analysis and business plan we ranked the top 3 to be Highered (First), Drop Buy (Second) and IFM (Third). Special mention was made to Green Crap and Inception.

14 teams presented their ideas

(from Left) A J Balasubramanian, Dorai Thodla, Pradeep Kumar, Venkatarangan Thirumalai

If you have a jury duty in these events it’s customary you share some piece of wisdom (?) and suggestions for improvement. On behalf of all the judges, I listed three:
  • Startups, please DON’T present lengthy preambles on the problem domain. Judges may not be the smartest people but they are certainly not stupid/ignorant. No long talk on India’s problem with corruption, pollution, low banking rates and so on. You are wasting precious little time that has been given to you, which you can use for talking about your idea.
  • You were required to do basic customer research or talk to potential users. That shouldn’t be limited to doing Google Forms survey to your friends and family in social media. You should take the time to speak with “real” customers who will open their wallets if you convince them.
  • Invest a lot of time in researching – researching the space, competition, pricing power, value you bring to table and planning.
Overall, it was a fruitful Sunday evening for me where I learned a lot and met interesting people on and off the stage.

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