Some very interesting #startups at the Wharton India Economic Forum #wief14

I am at Philadelphia this weekend, participating at the Wharton India Economic Forum 2014 with Sanjiv Bikchandani, Alok Kejriwal and Rajesh Sawhney. The forum brings together about 100+ students, local entrepreneurs and investors together for a day long session. It is hosted by the the Indian students who study at the Wharton school of business.

This year they hosted 10 startups (5 in the idea stage and 5 with some traction) to pitch to us for both investment and feedback.

It was great to see some very interesting companies from both India and the US. The 5 idea stage companies had 3 women founders as well and some very compelling ideas.

Here is a summary of the companies.

Idea stage companies. This session featured companies founded by Penn or Wharton students.

  1. AmbitionI: Neha and her cofounder are building a product that uses algorithms to help career counselling for young professionals. Imagine you are working at a large company and always wanted to be an Investment banker. It will connect with your Alumni network and LinkedIn to find out who are the folks that have a similar background as you and have already become investment bankers. Then you can learn how they became an investment banker and figure out how to get some advice to make a career change.
  2. Level Counsel: Aditya and his cofounder are targeting Indian and Chinese XI and XII grade students who need advice on which colleges to apply and which major to pursue. These students will be matched with students who are currently studying at the colleges they want to apply to and connect them so they can get mentorship and advice. They are trying to disrupt the existing career counselling services offered who charge a lot of money to help students make choices on college applications.
  3. Travel Gourmand: If you are travelling to a new location and would like to taste local food but don’t know where to eat or if the restaurants are hygienic or not, this app is for you. They pair you with a local “food guide” who will take you on a 1-3 hour “food tour” and take you to some local hot spots and places to eat. Sayeed Banerjee has a team in Delhi who can help you with food tours in Delhi currently. They plan to expand beyond Delhi soon.
  4. Vhelp: If you are looking for some advice from a lawyer, or a doctor but are not able to get a person at the location you are at, then Kushboo and her team can help. VHelp gets you experts at your fingertips. This is a platform that will help you get advice if you are a rural location but don’t have experts available locally.
  5. WishGuise: This app won the Idea stage competition. Tanvi Chopra’s company helps you rent high street fashion and Ethnic Indian wear. Indian women spend a lot of money on ethnic wear, and they end up not using them too frequently. I think they will have a challenge to prevent perception that they are renting used clothes, but if the top designers are willing to sign up and offer their latest, then I can see how this can scale. It is similar to a company called Rent the runway in the US.

Later stage companies. This session featured many companies from India who applied to the program directly.

  1. Qlicklet: Vivek and his team help monetize Wi-Fi Hot spots at various locations in India using advertising. They are currently running at Delhi airport. If you as a consumer want free Wi-Fi and are willing to watch an ad before you get access to free Wi-Fi for 45 minutes, this app is for you.
  2. Targeting Mantra: Saurab’s company provides analytics and tools to eCommerce companies to help them increase their conversions. They currently have 10 eCommerce companies in India including Yehbi using their product to personalize the website for users and increase customer conversions to purchase.
  3. Sammaan: Ifran’s company provides a mobile van that reaches out to remote villages and rural locations which have no hospitals. This mobile van makes money by charging patients Rs. 25 per visit and also makes money by offering discounted prescription drugs and referrals to diagnostics providers. The cost of each mobile van is about $50K and they are currently operating 1 van in Patna.
  4. ZoomCar: David and his cofounder are building the ZipCar for India. They offer self-driven cars for folks that would like to rent a car for a few hours or a day. They currently offer 6 types of cars currently from Reva’s to Scorpios. Operating currently in Bangalore, this company is currently in the Microsoft Accelerator in Bangalore.
  5. Zostel: This company with 7 founders, some of whom are currently studying in IIM Kolkata offers hostels for backpackers. I met the company before in Kolkata and they are currently operating 2 hostels in Jaipur and Udaipur. They offer a very edgy brand and great value for money at Rs. 400 per bed per night. They are currently seeing 60% utilization at their 2 hostels, and are primarily catering to international travelers. They plan to expand to Goa, Mcleod Gunj and other locations. They won the competition for later stage companies.

I absolutely loved meeting with local entrepreneurs and was part of the VC and entrepreneur panel where we talked about the investment scenario in India and the challenges faced by Indian entrepreneurs worldwide. Wharton accepts about 850 students each year for their MBA program and nearly 50 of them are from India, so they have a lot of knowledge about India and problems faced by Indian entrepreneurs.