Most of the tech businesses today, look at a global reach and expansion. However, it is difficult to achieve this without a strong network, and finances. Also, it does not help if you are an early stage technology startup from India, with a limited customer base – no matter however great the product is. The Next BIG Idea Contest provides an opportunity to tech startups from India, to tap into the most tech-savvy economy i.e, North America. While the US is always the big dream of several entrepreneurs, it is difficult to get there. At the same time, Toronto, Ontario, Canada presents an easier gateway to the larger North American market – being at the heart of the 300 Million strong Mid-West region. Being multi-cultural at heart, Ontario, Canada is open to businesses and entrepreneurs. Also, the cost of doing business is much lower. Abundant with talent, and having a strong pool of tech companies and startup incubators in the Greater Toronto Area, the region provides a great support ecosystem for tech startups to scale.
The Next BIG Idea Contest is a joint initiative of the Government of Ontario, Canada and Ryerson University, Toronto. The contest was conceptualized in 2013, with the objective of identifying promising tech startups from India, and showcasing them in Toronto; largely to provide a platform in North America for these startups, as well as to change the perception that India produces only IT services companies.
The contest is an application based process, where entries are evaluated on the basis of clarity of concept, innovativeness of the idea, development feasibility and the marketability of the product. The winners get selected based on 2 rounds of screening, further to which they are provided a soft-landing in North America, by spending 2 weeks at the DMZ, Canada’s No.1 startup incubator. The winners get exposed to Toronto’s startup ecosystem, get to meet potential partners, do corporate visits, interact with the investor community, business development support, and of-course a lot of startup meets.
The first year saw a minimal outreach, which led to only 23 entries coming in. While the competition was meagre, the winners we got were really good. CitrusPay was then a 15 member team, and was yet to raise its first round. Today, they stand at 180 employees and have raised a couple of rounds of venture funding from renowned firms. The other winners included Sokrati, an ad-tech startup from Pune (which incidentally chose not to go at the last minute), and Digital Ingenuity, a video-indexing startup from Ahmedabad. So, CitrusPay and Digital Ingenuity spent We didn’t even have a back-up for Sokrati because the entries were so poor! This was a massive learning for the contest, going forward.
In the 2nd year, having realised shortcomings from the previous edition, the contest adopted a strategy to work with partners. After all, it is an initiative for the ecosystem – so, collaboration was the way forward. We got great partners in CIIE-IIM Ahmedabad, Kyron Accelerator (Bangalore) and InvestoPad (Gurgaon). Additionally, IBM Global Entrepreneur Program coming on-board as a sponsor partner and the alliance with the NASSCOM 10,000 Startups Program & YourStory, made it a very strongly branded contest. The contest was launched in Mumbai, and roadshows were held at all partner locations. The results were there to see – 227 applications! A 10X jump over the previous edition. After 3 rounds of evaluation, we were left with the top 20 startups, and it was extremely difficult to choose the top-5. The ones that eventually made the cut were AdSparx (Pune), ShieldSquare (Bangalore), Konotor (Chennai), Flip Technologies (Kochi) and Vidooly (NCR). A really great bunch of promising startups. Vidooly recently raised $2.2Million from Bessemer Venture Partners, while AdSparx, ShieldSquare and Konotor have jointly raised in excess of $1.5Million. Flip Technologies went on to get selected by a hardware accelerator in Abu Dhabi. They are fantastic ambassadors for the Next BIG Idea Contest.
In 2015, Next BIG Idea Contest is back bigger than the last year. From 3 partners in 2014, the contest will be launched across 9 cities, with 7 city-based accelerator partners this year. The city-partners are CIIE (Ahmedabad & Pune), Microsoft Ventures (Bangalore), PayPal Start Tank (Chennai), IIIT-H (Hyderabad), Startup Village (Kochi), CIBA (Goa) and 91 Springboard (NCR). NASSCOM 10,000 Startups continues to remain the ecosystem partner, and YourStory as the startup media partner. AWS has replaced IBM as the sponsor partner.
This year, we look forward to an even stronger response from the startup ecosystem in India, and a multifold increase in the entries coming-in. We are excited to showcase the great talent and products emerging from India’s startup ecosystem, to North America; and become the contest to look out for, to startups wanting to enter the North American market.
Oh yeah, and by the way, the contest and the winners trip is fully sponsored. You just need to apply, and show up for the visit, if your startup is selected as a winner.
Guest blog post by Ajay Ramasubramaniam, Zone Startups