It takes a lot of nurturing for any fledgling sapling to bloom to fruition. So is the case with young start-ups. Which is why Technopark-Technology Business Incubator (T-TBI) renders support to start-ups in Kerala to tide over their teething problems and drive entrepreneurship in the state.

“Technology incubators are the greatest revolution of the 21st century.” These words of the Chinese premier, Jiang Zemen, so correctly underline the contribution of incubators to the entrepreneurial eco-system, across the globe. India too has witnessed the emergence of a framework of such supportive organisations, which are providing most of the necessary help required by young entrepreneurs to translate their vision into successful businesses.            Picturesque_locales_of_Technopark

Technopark-Technology Business Incubator (T-TBI), Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, is also one such initiative that has been inspiring the young talent of the state to transform themselves into job creators rather than job seekers, says K C Chandrsekharan Nair, chief finance officer, Technopark and secretary-cum-registrar, T-TBI. Set up in 2006, the incubator is a joint initiative of Technopark, Trivandrum and the Department of Science and Technology (DST), government of India, aimed at the economic development of the state.



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The support framework
T-TBI helps generate in-house entrepreneurs by providing incubatees with all the necessary resources and support they need to evolve and grow as mature businesses. The incubator offers furnished air-conditioned office modules in varying capacities, from 4-seaters to 20-seaters, along with all the latest office facilities.

A few more initiatives to support start-ups

Apart from T-TBI, Technopark has launched several initiatives to create an eco-system that nurtures and supports entrepreneurs. These include the National Centre for Innovation, Incubation and Entrepreneurship (NCIIE), Technopark- TePP Outreach Centre (T-TUC) and Technopark Software Engineering Competency Centre (TSECC). NCIIE, the training arm of T-TBI is ready to launch E-learning courses in entrepreneurship and software engineering.

The incubator also offers virtual incubation to companies located outside the T-TBI. It provides them total support, expert advice and the networking opportunities needed to create enterprises. “Innoz Technologies, a virtual incubatee from LBS Engineering College, Kasaragod, recently hit the news headlines for representing the finals of DFJ-Cisco Global Business plan competition,” says Nair.

Apart from this, T-TBI has set up extension centres in engineering colleges and B-Schools, across Kerala, to help wannabe entrepreneurs from these institutions start up their ventures. “The last one of the lot is the extension centre established at the Garden City College (GCC), Bangalore. Two companies Dataway solutions, founded by Vikas Srivastava, a TePP Phase-I funded innovator, and Catalyse technology solutions, set up by Biju Jacob, are working out of the GCC Incubation,” says Nair.

T-TBI also provides pre-incubation facilities to premature entrepreneurs as well as students who wish to launch their technology ventures through Technopark-TBI.

Apart from providing the best infrastructure to set up operations, the incubator arranges to provide technical know-how and assistance related to other fields too. There are mentors to provide assistance and advice on matters related to the law, finance, tax, R&D, networking, IPR issues, making presentations to venture capitalists, etc, says Nair. “We are able to tap into the vast network of experts available from the companies operating in Technopark for mentoring purposes. The training needs of the incubatees are taken care of by the National Centre for Innovation Incubation and Entrepreneurship (NCIIE)-another initiative of Technopark,” he adds. Besides, T-TBI is financially supporting the budding technopreneurs through a seed support system.Technopark_entrance

Being part of the T-TBIframework
That’s about the infrastructure and mentoring facilities that the incubator offers. We also tried to explore the factors that make a venture eligible to be taken in as an incubatee. “The selection of entrepreneurs for membership in TBI is based on the recommendation of an expert committee specifically set up for the purpose,” says Nair and goes on to enumerate the various parameters for selection. “For example, the company should be a technology-based venture and the business activity proposed should be in the advanced technology area; the venture proposed needs to be a corporation, partnership or sole proprietorship, and must demonstrate a need for incubator services as well as the capability for business viability and growth; the business plan submitted by the entrepreneur should be sound, etc.”
Performance is the key
Once a company is part of the T-TBI, it is subject to two formal performance reviews every year. A committee of experts monitors the progress of the company against its objectives. The committee also evaluates the quality and impact of the business assistance provided by T-TBI. Any further assistance in the form of mentors, consultants, service providers or resource centres is identified during this review. A company is made part of the incubator through a licence that is effective for 11 months. An extension for an additional term of 11 months is considered on a case-to-case basis, if the entrepreneur submits a formal application to the expert committee, highlighting all factors that resulted in the delays in the plan. The entrepreneurs also need to share strategies that they intend to implement to overcome these problems in the future.
Start-up Speak
“MobME has developed its technology and honed its marketing skills under the active guidance and mentoring of some brilliant minds at Technopark. At every point when MobME looked for advice, it has been guided out of ‘inexperienced decision-making’ towards greater growth.”
–Sanjay Vijay Kumar, CEO, Torque (now named as MobMe)

“I am deeply indebted to Technopark and all the visionaries who foresaw the importance of innovation and supported incubation in India… I am sure Technopark will be the cradle of many future successful Indian companies.”
-Dr P T Ajith Kumar, CEO, Light Logics Holography & Optics

“T-TBI should be considered a role model, especially when it comes to helping a start-up reach its goal-be it in terms of guidance or facilities.”
–Nelvin Joseph, CEO, Artin Dynamics

“Technopark-TBI is giving us the best working environment and guidance in all possible ways. We have great regard for the team and its support is really making a big difference to us.”
–Deepak Ravindran, CEO, Innoz Technologie

Time to move on key
On being part of an incubator, a start-up goes through different phases of growth, until the business takes off to a mature level, where it becomes a financially sustainable venture. But how does the incubator decide when it is time for a start-up to exit or graduate? Nair states: “There are a few criteria to determine that. When any of these conditions is fulfilled, the venture graduates from the incubation programme. These conditions could be any of the following-if the revenue stream of the company is adequate for self-sustenance; if the entrepreneurs have been able to sign on investors to finance the expansion plans of the venture, making incubator support unnecessary; if the entrepreneurs have sold the venture to a larger company; or if the period specified in the licence agreement has expired.”
So far, only five incubatees have dropped out of T-TBI yielding the incubator a success rate of around 93 per cent, says Nair. But what made T-TBI part ways with these five incubatee companies? Nair explains: “The reasons for the failure of these companies include lack of funding, technological obsolescence, lack of marketing skills by the start-ups, etc.”

A few success stories
Sharing a few milestones that T-TBI has crossed, Nair says: “We have incubated 74 start-up companies so far. Out of these, 43have graduated and moved into larger spaces in the campus, and 26 are still continuing their operations in the incubator. Altogether, these companies have created 2000 job opportunities. That is indeed a creditable contribution to the nation,” Nair adds. T-TBI also bagged the national award for the best technology business incubator in 2007.

Moving ahead, T-TBI aims to continue with its endeavour to help hone and encourage entrepreneurship in the country, says Nair. The aim is to “…emerge as a centre of excellence for entrepreneurship development and a leading R&D centre for the commercialisation of innovative technologies,” he adds.

It will be great to see T-TBI realise this aim, as that would mean more innovations emerging out of the state of Kerala-for India and the world!