They came & left: Entrepreneurs unable to find keen investors at GES Summit

Niti Aayog CEO Amitabh (centre) with USAID Administrator Mark Green (second from left) and others at a panel discussion during the closing ceremony of the Global Entrepreneurship Summit 2017 in Hyderabad on Thursday. (Photo: PTI)
Aditi Balbir, founder of resort management company V Resorts, was keen to meet Kalaari Capital managing director Vani Kola at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Hyderabad. Balbir, whose company has so far raised $7 million, sat through the Wednesday session where Kola was a panelist.

"The investors came and left. There was no way to talk to them. Some of them got busy with media interactions after their sessions. The Summit did not have a format where start-ups could connect with the investors," said Balbir, who manages 100 resorts.

Apart from Kalaari, some of the prominent investors whose representatives attended the event were Carlyle, TVS Capital, Helion Advisors and Bloom Ventures. Investors from countries outside India were also participating. The GES is said to have brought together 1,500 entrepreneurs to Hyderabad, the first venue for this event in South Asia. The 2016 edition of GES took place in June last year at Stanford University in Silicon Valley, California.

Some said they were luckier than Balbir. Revathi Krishna, executive director of media technology company Suyati, said she was also able to discuss her pitch with a couple of investors. "I attended the event on the suggestion of one of my friends, as I was looking for funding. I had no other expectations but the summit has been a very valuable experience," said Krishna.

Delegates from African nations pose for a photo on the last day of the Global Entrepreneurship Summit 2017 in Hyderabad on Thursday. (Photo: PTI)
Business Standard spoke to some who had also attended the 2016 GES. Rahama Wright, founder and chief executive officer (CEO), Shea Yeleen, a Washington-based producer of butter products, was one. She said she was happy at the element of Indian culture and tradition at the Hyderabad event. Adding that the Summit could create more opportunities to intentionally put entrepreneurs and investors together. "It has been harder to know who is an investor here. There should have been a match-making session or a speed networking session. The last one had a lot more investors."

Start-ups do look for investors at such gatherings and this is a time when the funding environment is not so bright. "Last year's GES was a very good mix of entrepreneurs, government and investors. Here, it is a little off-balance. There are definitely less investors and a lot of government presence. Stanford was very spread out. One of the lawns had start-ups making their pitches. It was easy to meet people and have access. People were more forthcoming," said Nupur Mehta, CEO of California-based RigPlenish, a start-up making software for ambulances to reduce paperwork.

Jonathan Orthmans, founder and president of Global Entrepreneurship Network, a Washington-based platform to help new firms start and scale up, said Silicon Valley had a lot more of the investor community. "We had a lot of investors and entrepreneurs dating and I would have liked to see more of that here. Maybe investors could have been invited as mentors to start-ups."

"There was a pitching set-up but it was not very well set-up. So, that part was left informal. This event was more about sending a message of collaboration and entrepreneurship to the world," said Upasana Taku, co-founder at mobile wallet company MobiKwik.

Some do not see the GES as a platform to match investors with entrepreneurs. "The government and people here did an amazing job to put up a warm welcome. This might not be a platform to connect investors with entrepreneurs. The best thing entrepreneurs could get from investors here is how to better approach an investor," said Folabi Esan, partner with Adlevo Capital, a Lagos-based investor.

Niti Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant said the summit had been a major success, particularly in allowing networking between Indian and foreign entrepreneurs and investors. At least 40,000 contacts had been established and 11,000 meeting requests were shared on the GOQii app that was made available for the delegates, he said.

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