Former Reliance Entertainment President Rajesh Sawhney has launched the GSF Accelerator, a startup accelerator which he calls “Y-Combinator on Steroids”, which will provide 12 startups with personalized and intensive mentoring over a seven week period, as well as access to funding and business networks. The initiative includes advisors like Inmobi Founder Naveen Tiwari, Matrix Partner founder Avnish Bajaj, Saul Klein, Partner at Index Ventures, co-founder of TAG and Seedcamp, Dave McClure, Founder-500 start-ups, Atsushi San-Softbank, Ashish Gupta, Founder-Helion Partners, Sharad Sanghi, Founder-Netmagic, Fred Demopoulos, an investor in many successful Chinese start-ups, Steven Lurie, GM-Zynga, Vijay Shekhar Sharma, Founder-One97, Phani, Founder-Redbus, and Sid Talwar, serial entrepreneur.
The program also has an Entrepreneurs-in-Residence (EIR) Program across each of the cities, with ten serial entrepreneurs to work with startups as mentors. This is in conjunction with Sawhney’s GSF Superangels network, which has made 3 investments so far, Autowale (radio tuk-tuk service), Biosense (non invasive haemoglobin measurement) and Chottu.in (a specialist e-commerce logistic company). Excerpts from our conversation with Sawhney:
MediaNama: Why is there a need for your accelerator? Why another accelerator?
Sawhney: The way I thought about this is that in India, the biggest problem is that we’re not able to create product companies, which can scale to global audiences. How do we kickstart it? Venture Capitalists in India have so far backed e-commerce like businesses, which are led by execution-led teams focused on the Indian market. We’re looking at mobile, social, local and cloud, for the global market. The second thought is that you have to do it in a way that it creates maximum impact.
Accelerators have so far not been every impactful. My philosophy is that you create impact by 3 things – the first is to create intensity of learning. It’s not just collocation and giving free space. The experience has to be lifechanging. I have personally created 25 workshops. Each is a 3 hour workshop, and what startups require mentoring and coaching with. We have 3 mentors who are co-Founder level people in startups to help them. It’s like Ycombinator on steroids. The accelerator has been architected it like Linux: collaborative, with 75 mentors in each city, in 4 cities. It is being hosted in Bangalore in Redbus’ office, in Mumbai in One97’s office. Mentors will be hosting dinners for startups to meet other founders. In the way it is funded, it is like the Mastercard of early stage. 30 founders and 5 funds are collaborating with me for this.
The other problem we find is that product startups lack the tools to plug into the global ecosystem, and they’re struggling to get to the (silicon) valley. I’ve created some key relationships. Dave McClure is a partner and an investor in this program. There is Seedcamp, which runs a program in 19 cities in Europe. We are creating intensity of learning, collaboration with the ecosystem, and we’re creating global springboards for startups. We’ve brought on board 10 Entrepreneurs In Residence, who are buddy mentors for these companies, and running the program. They have entrepreneurial orientation, and launched or launching their startup. They’re my partners, not employees. I don’t believe in the employee model.
Between October to December, we would have funded 15 companies. This is the largest concentrated exercise of funding startups.
MediaNama: Secondly, your selection criteria and what kind of equity you take from startups in exchange for the accelerator program? How are you differentiating yourself from other accelerators?
Sawhney: I’m in line with global practices – in terms of terms sheets and equity. I can’t give you the exact amount, but it’s between $25000-30000 in funding, which we give for single digit equity. That’s not the key differentiator. The key differentiator is going to be the intensity of learning.
We expect most of the startups that come here to get funded. Should there be those that aren’t, they can always be acquired by the founders who are a part of this, as talent acquisition.
The primary selection criteria: through founder networks and a referral based system. We’ve been meeting people for the last 1.5-2 months. Our goal in each city is to make a shortlist of 10, then we’ll engage with them, and by the first week of October, we’ll reengage, and in second week, we’ll announce 4-5 companies per city.