The #Kolkata startup ecosystem as seen through the eyes of #tiecon 2014

I had the opportunity to visit Kolkata and judge the #TieCon Kolkata startup pitches last month. As a background, I have been visiting Kolkata for the last 5 years, every year, during January, for various entrepreneur events, at times running a day long workshop on Sales and other times trying to motivate promising startups to apply to the Microsoft Ventures accelerator.

The Kolkata startup ecosystem gets largely ignored since larger and younger cities are making the right moves, quicker, but there are some very interesting companies that come from the city and the greater part of Eastern India. One of our accelerator companies, TookiTaki, is from Kolkata as well.

The city has a very vibrant ad-tech, marketing technology and digital agency market. Over 20 digital agencies and technology companies are based in Kolkata and some of them are doing over $5 Million in revenue each year for the last 5 years. A strong creative, design and literary talent pool contributes to the local startup scene. Check out IndusNet, A1 Future technology, Exactlly and Arun Agarwal for more about the local ecosystem.

The TIECon Kolkata, though surprised me with its turnout. To give you some context, most entrepreneur events in Kolkata, over the last few years, have featured about 80 to 100 attendees. This conference had over 550 paid registrations and nearly 100+ volunteers. I think it is time to start taking them a little more seriously than before. While I did not get the deep technology companies there, I got many interesting companies that investors might want to take a closer look.

The TIECon event had a startup pitch session the day before the event and there were 15 companies shortlisted of about 50 applicants. About half of them were not technology companies with the likes of a speech and hearing clinic, a aloe vera lotion and beauty company and also a women’s high street fashion company, Miss Chase,  founded by Ananya, who previously founded SoSasta (sold to GroupOn a few years ago).

Here were the most interesting companies you should look out for in the next few years, in no particular order.

1. Betaglide: The winner of the IIT KGP startup pitch, this company is fairly similar to Little eye labs, which was acquired by facebook recently. They provide mobile app developers analytics and data from their users and their usage to help get your mobile app ready beyond beta. Good team, little early traction, but I think they need more time to get their product to MVP.

2. FlyMyFood: An interesting eCommerce company, which has already reached INR 20K in revenue per day after 2 months in business. They offer delectable food from various locations – think Hyderabadi biryani from Paradise Food Court and fruit biscuit from Karachi bakery, from the comfort of your home, the same day. Since they feature top brands from various cities, those brands that have a following will help them grow, but this company is a logistics nightmare. Interesting to see if they end up focusing on snacks instead of lunch / dinner though, which was my suggestion.

3. KarmYog: They help bring education to the masses with music, arts and media. They have a partnership with Indian Idol and others as well, to help students and older adults learn via music and arts. Interesting idea, but still a long way to go to prove there’s a business here.

4. Zostel: They are a hostel for backpackers. They have 2 locations in Jaipur and Jodhpur where you can get dorm style rooms for young backpackers who want to travel on a budget. Overnight stay begins at INR 400 per day, for which you get a bed and breakfast with a cool eclectic ambiance and decor. This was too much of an “offline” company for me to get interested, but there are 7 founders from IIM Cal who have all committed to this venture.

5. Quikvisor: Think of this like Uber, but for doctors. If you are in need of a general physician referral or need a pediatrician quickly you go to this mobile app and based on your insurance, location, etc. they will connect you with a consulting physician for $X / 15 minutes, using facetime, instead of a physical appointment. Interesting idea, focused on the US market, but I think the market is possibly bigger for a second opinion platform, than a referral.

6. Chitkara University: Blind-assist glove. This was the most intriguing. This student startup makes a glove (hand glove) which has multiple sensors that helps the blind, using haptic technology to provide sensor based information on whether they are coming close to a stair, are the stairs going up or down, if there is movement around them, etc. The sensors (5, one for each finger) are connected to an Ardunino platform, which is their primary processing engine as well. I saw a video demo, of the product, not a live one and if the video does half as much as the entrepreneur says it does, this one will be a clear winner.

7. SakRobotix: They offer online education and kits to help students and young kids learn to build robots. Not a company that will possibly scale, but I LOVE anyone that teaches something meaningful to young minds to help them appreciate technology.

Overall, I loved being in Kolkata, primarily because I have many good friends there. They are the most hospitable people and they love it when anyone from other ecosystems comes there to meet and learn from their startups. As an added bonus I had a traditional breakfast at my friend Abhishek Rungta‘s home. If you ever go to Kolkata, and want to meet startups give him a holler.

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