The recently concluded Startup Weekend Kathmandu was a real eye opener for me. I have been involved in the startup scene in Kathmandu since I returned from the U.S. in 2010 and have seen the entrepreneurial eco-system grow and interest in starting a business rise among the young generation. Two years ago, if you walked into a BBA or a MBA classroom and asked what they wanted to do after graduation, 80 to 90 percent said they wanted to work in a bank. Today, less than 50 percent say that. The number of hands that went up when asked “who wants to start your own business” went from almost none to at least 20 percent of the classroom in the same two years.
In this context, I was conservatively hopeful that the Startup Weekend event will lead to a new increase in excitement about entrepreneurship, at least in Kathmandu. Walking into the presentation hall in SAP Falcha on Friday evening, I could see both nervousness and excitement in the faces of the participants. While some participants strutted around the room confidently, others were practicing their 60-second pitch in a corner. A total of 47 participants pitched their business ideas. The pitches ranged from hilarious to utterly convincing business ideas. Just seeing and listening to these young aspiring entrepreneurs gave me a sense of energy and hope that all is not lost in Nepal.
After the pitches were over, the 47 participants voted on the best ideas and 14 ideas were selected for the next round. The rest of the participants could join any of the 14 teams.
On Saturday afternoon, as I walked into rooms were the teams had already begun working on their respective ideas, I got a sense that most of the teams were really serious about their ideas and wanted to take their ideas beyond the weekend. The ideas ranged from an online portal to provide agriculture information to farmers to a portal to sell Nepali books online; from a online market place for Android Apps developed by Nepali programmers to an educational game built for smart phones; from a web-based platform to provide information regarding festivals in Nepal to a travel app catered for tourist to help them plan their travel to Nepal. Of the 14 ideas, at least half could be easily commercialized and turned into a sustainable business.
Something that jumped out to me as I sat down with the groups was the talented coders and designers in each team. Even some of the Indian IT entrepreneurs present during the weekend mentioned that they thought the coding and design talent in Nepal was raw but better than talent available in India. However, as the event targeted mostly IT students there was certainly a lack of team members with business acumen in each team.
The three judges for the event were all renowned businessmen of Nepal (Anand Bagaria of Nimbus; Saurabh Jyoti of Jyoti Group and Suman Rayamaji of Beed Management). Additionally, neither of the judges had strong IT backgrounds. Therefore, the teams needed to build a solid business model for their ideas. They had to clearly define the product, show that there is a market for the product and that people will be willing to pay for the product or service the company is proposing to provide. Teams had to talk about revenue streams, startup cost estimation and breakeven point. They had to validate the market and show how their product was different from any existing competitors.
The teams also had to show a working demo of their product and it seemed like most of the teams were working more on the demo rather than creating a sound business plan. As most of the participants came from the IT sector or
college, some of the participants did not even know what revenue stream or startup capital meant. Therefore, most of my time with the teams focused on helping the teams drill down on potential revenue streams, creating a marketing strategy and figuring out all the costs associated with the business.
As the organizers prepared for the final presentations on Sunday evening of the weekend, there was a mad rush to get all the technological aspects of the presentation working. But once the presentations started things flowed seamlessly. Unlike many other events in Nepal, the moderators did a good job keep a check on time, not letting any team take more than five minutes allocated for the presentation. They asked the audience to begin clapping once the time was over. As I had expected, the judges mainly questioned on the ideas business viability then the technological viability itself.
All the four ideas adjudicated as the winners had sound business models. Parikshya, the winner, proposed to build a site to let students give model tests online while also providing results and feedback online. Tied in second place were Nepali Bytes, a company looking to promote Nepali literature online along with Gamification, which plans to create educational games, targeted towards the Nepali market. In third place was Race Your Town, a gaming company looking to create racing games where you can race through the streets of Kathmandu.
I have no doubt in my mind that Startup Weekend Kathmandu brings about a start of a new era in IT entrepreneurship in Nepal. It not only energized participants but gave equal amount of energy to more than a dozen coaches and corporate sponsors of the event. The next Startup Weekend event will be bigger; and the ideas will get even more innovative and crazier. The organizers are already planning another event in Pokhara. Stay tuned!
For additional details about the event, please visit Startup Weekend Kathmandu’s website.