Category Archives: Start-ups

Indore-born Rajesh Agrawal appointed chair of London & Partners

The British-Indian entrepreneur and philanthropist was appointed deputy mayor of London for business in June

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London & Partners, the mayor of London’s official promotional company, has announced the appointment of Rajesh Agrawal, the deputy mayor, business and enterprise, as its new chairman to help drive tourists, events, inward investment and international students to the city.

Born and brought up in Indore, Agrawal arrived in London in 2001, and grew a two-person enterprise working from one small office into a multi-million-pound business based in London, with offices in Birmingham, France and Spain.

As an entrepreneur he founded RationalFX in 2005, and Xendpay in 2014, both companies utilising technology to reduce the cost of international money transfer for businesses and individuals. Agrawal is passionate about promoting entrepreneurship and creating opportunities for young people. He was appointed chair of Oxfam’s Enterprise Development Programme in 2015 and has been a patron of the Prince’s Trust for many years.

Agrawal, 39, an experienced international businessman and technology entrepreneur, will lead on helping London & Partners attract international trade and investment to London. He will also play an important role as an advisor and champion of London as a global city for business, including spearheading international trade visits. He will also be pivotal in helping the company promote the city as a leading destination for tourism, students, culture and major events, with the overall aim of creating jobs and growth for the capital.

Commenting on his appointment, Agrawal said: “I look forward to leading the London & Partners Board to build on the company’s successful work in promoting London as a leading destination for inward investment, tourism, higher education and culture. Having moved to London to set up my own business 15 years ago, I know how important it is to make sure that London remains open to entrepreneurs and businesses from all over the world. It is vital that we continue to shine a spotlight on London’s talent, innovation and other assets that make it the world’s leading city in which to do business.”

Since 2011, London & Partners has added £1.2 billion GVA to London’s economy while creating or supporting an additional 38,000 jobs in the capital. In addition, the company has also helped 1,244 overseas companies setup or expand in London.

London & Partners work has also contributed to the success of London as one of the world’s most visited tourist destinations, with a record 31.6 million visitors to the capital last year. Additionally, the organisation has helped to bring major cultural and sporting events to the capital such as the Lumiere festival, the Rugby World Cup 2015 and the upcoming UEFA European Champions Final and Semi-finals in 2020.

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How about a suit you can run a half-marathon in? A sweater that uses carbonised coffee to absorb odours?

Indian-American Aman Advani’s fashion start-up Ministry of Supply revolutionising business wear, inspired by NASA spacesuits

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This isn’t your average performance gear—it’s polished menswear that incorporates advanced technology to make your life that much easier. We’re talking about products — ranging from socks and pants to dress shirts and jackets — that use fabrics and manufacturing techniques designed to make professional clothes cooler, drier, and more stretchy, without looking like the wearer just stepped off the golf course.

A suit you can run a half-marathon in. A sweater that uses carbonised coffee to absorb odours. These are the sorts of things that Massachusetts-based fashion brand Ministry of Supply is bringing to the world of fashion. Some of the technology, such as special heat-regulating substances embedded in the fabrics, were developed by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to help keep astronauts comfortable in orbit.

While graduating at the Sloan School of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2010 – which he joined after consulting with Deloitte – Aman Advani co-founded Ministry of Supply, a clothing brand which seeks to reinvent business wear to include the benefits of athletic gear, said Span Magazine in a feature.

He used “phase change materials” engineered by the space agency that regulate body temperatures.

“As an engineer, you’re taught to tinker, which has always been natural to me. With dress socks, in particular, the solution was simple,” he said in the interview. He said he took his favourite Nike socks, sewed them inside the dress he wore to work. “With my mom’s help on the sewing machine, I had an easy route to testing and proving that a simple mash-up was better than the incumbent,” he added.

Advani, who is the chief executive of the brand, met the co-founders of the company at MIT.

“We were introduced to each other since we stood out from the rest of the start-up crowd. There aren’t too many fashion entrepreneurs at MIT. We all saw a near identical picture of a brand that stood for so much more than a mixture of technology and style,” he was quoted as saying.

Elaborating about the history behind the name of the company, which would remind people of James Bond movies, Advani said: “We love our name’s story. It represents the ’empathetic inventor’; where Q, from the James Bond films, gets Bond ready for anything while always looking sharp.

“Much like Q – whose character is actually based on a real person in the early 1900s’ British government, operating under the cover, Ministry of Supply – we’re in the labs making sure that our customer looks sharp and feels ready for anything.”

“As the lines between work, play, and downtime continue to blur, we need essential garments that keep up with our entire day. We’ve set out to achieve that versatility through capable garments that actually fit the human body and are easy to care for and wear, no matter what you choose to do in them,” the company website says.

This year, the company plans to expand its reach through products, channels and even some in-house manufacturing, reports say.

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Move over Barbie, check out Willowbrook Girls

Indian-American Harvard grad Neha Chauhan Woodward is the creator of a new series of dolls that represent ‘common’ girls with a diverse array of ethnicities and backgrounds

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Each of Neha Chauhan Woodward’s seven dolls has a different story to tell. While Cara, the first doll produced in full, is half-Latina and wants to be a CEO when she grows up; Rory taught herself how to code and finds a similar solace in choreographing dances for her friends.

In addition, Chauhan Woodward has made a concerted effort to create a friend group with a diverse array of ethnicities and backgrounds: Anjali is Indian-American, Maya is Colombian, Mackenzie is African-American, and Perry is Asian-American.

These dolls are providing more than entertainment; they are fighting against stereotypes, and providing girls the tools to shatter glass ceilings. They represent common girls with ethnic diversity and are celebrated for their brains, talents and leadership.

Chauhan Woodward is the founder of Willowbrook Girls, the toy start-up that’s behind the new doll series. Prior to Willowbrook Girls, the Staten Island native built her career in e-commerce, working at companies like Blue Apron, Diapers.com (Amazon), and DANNIJO. She named Willowbrook Girls after her elementary school, Public School 54, which was located on Willowbrook Road in New York.

“The toys I played with had such an impact on me, but they weren’t a great reflection of me or my friends, who were so smart and so diverse in their interests and backgrounds. I knew we needed to do better,” Chauhan Woodward, who now lives in Manhattan with her husband, told SILive.com.

Chauhan Woodward, 29, said the idea came to her while she was a Stanford MBA student — a degree she pursued after studying economics at Harvard and then working as an investment banking analyst at JPMorgan.

“Next door to the coffee shop I studied in was a very popular doll store,” she was quoted as saying, declining to name names. “The emphasis on appearances, with these doll hair salons and doll tea parties that parents were expected to bring their kids to really upset me. If anything, this company had a huge opportunity to empower girls,” she added.

When fully funded, each doll will have a corresponding book about their endeavours. The first one is about the Willowbrook girls starting a business at their school. The stories will give further depth to the characters, Chauhan Woodward said.

Growing up Indian-American, Chauhan Woodward also wanted to make sure the dolls appeared diverse. It was something lacking in the toys she grew up with, and hasn’t gone unnoticed by young people of color, she told SILive.com.

“A lot of girls I spoke to said that they wanted dolls that looked like them,” she said. “They wanted characters that were relatable. You have to see something to know that you can be it.”

Though Willowbrook Girls dolls aren’t for sale yet, Chauhan Woodward is nearing the end of her Kickstarter Campaign to raise money for the first doll, Cara. After that, Cara will be sold online. Chauhan Woodward hopes that sales from that and other sources will enable her to release more of the dolls.

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Here comes ‘the Uber for tutors’, courtesy two Indian American students

University of California, Riverside’s Sultan Khan and Haasith Sanka’s ‘Scholarly’ app connects students with nearby tutors; available as free download on Google Play and Apple App Store

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Say hello to the ‘Uber for tutors’ – Scholarly – an on-demand tutoring service that connects students with nearby tutors. Created by two computer science students at the University of California, Riverside (UCR) – Sultan Khan and Haasith Sanka – the app had won first place at the world’s largest education ‘Hackathon’ in October. It is now available as a free download on Google Play and the Apple App Store.

The service is simple: tutors create profiles, which can be viewed by students looking for help in a particular subject. Users can view tutor profiles, set meeting locations, and get help with their studies at the click of a button. Most of the app’s current activity is generated by the UCR community, but the creators plan to grow their tutor network and expand the service to K-12 students and their parents in the coming months.

The team developed the android version of Scholarly at HackingEDU, which was held in San Mateo, California, in October last year and drew more than 1,000 hackers from universities around the world. The competition challenged students to turn their ideas into functional software that would improve the education system—and they had just 36 hours to do it.

For Khan and Sanka, that meant working through the night to create their app. After placing in the top 10, the Highlanders were invited to present Scholarly to a panel of judges, which landed them in first place. Khan, a senior in UCR’s Bourns College of Engineering, said courses in software engineering and technical writing prepared them to develop professional software and pitch it to a wide audience. Since winning the competition, the students have been working to improve the android app and create the iOS version.

“One of the challenges about developing apps is that even when you’ve done a good job there is always room for improvement. That’s one of the things I love about creating apps and the reason I want to work in the field of software development when I graduate,” Khan told UCR Today.

For Sanka, a freshman, the reward will be seeing how the app helps other students.

“We both believe that one-on-one tutoring is beneficial, so we are proud to have created something that will contribute to students’ success,” he told UCR Today.

Khan and Sanka developed the iOS version of the app with Amanda Berryhill, a senior in computer science.

Pic courtesy: UCR Today

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Exclusively.in founder creates a new ‘Bond’ – a start-up that lets users send ‘handwritten’ notes from any device

Indian American entrepreneur Sonny Caberwal is also the founder of Sher Singh brand (acquired by Myntra); he was also the world’s first Sikh supermodel to be featured in top fashion magazines including GQ in 2009

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Sonny Caberwal is a man of many talents. While working as a business developer for IT companies and running his own tea firm, the San Francisco businessman was discovered by Kenneth Cole, the American fashion designer, early in 2008. He featured in a video called We Walk in Different Shoes and was signed up by the American and South African model agency Boss.

In 2009, the 37-year-old Indian American was picked by GQ’s Style magazine for its spring-summer spread, thereby becoming the first Sikh supermodel to be featured in a top fashion magazine.

More recently, Sonny co-founded and sold Exclusively.in and Sher Singh. Founded in June 2010, Exclusively.in offers a variety of ethnic wear products including apparels, jewellery, handbags and accessories for the US and the UK markets. In contrast, launched in 2011, Sher Singh specialises in sports-inspired lifestyle apparel for men and women.

These businesses were e-commerce pioneers in India when they began, and were backed by some of the world’s leading investors, including Accel Partners and Tiger Global Management. The companies were acquired in November, 2012 by Myntra.

Caberwal’s latest venture is Bond, a tech start-up that lets users personalise greeting cards with their handwriting, written by a robot though.

Bond, headquartered in New York City, mixes the traditional with cutting-edge technology: it harks back to a time of fountain pens, creamy sheets of writing paper and wax-sealed envelopes. Plus robots to deliver the personalised message.

Caberwal, founder and chief executive of Bond, describes it as “the opposite of Snapchat,” as per a report in The New York Times. Started in 2013, Bond has about 50 full-time employees and several high-profile backers, like Gary D Cohn, the president of Goldman Sachs, and the rapper Nasir Jones (known as Nas).

Although handwritten notes and cards may seem like artifacts of the 20th century, greeting cards are still a strong business. As per the Greeting Card Association, Americans purchase about 6.5 billion cards a year and annual sales are estimated to be $7 billion to $8 billion. Despite a culture awash in digital communications, the greeting card and stationery industries have not declined precipitously but have remained largely flat, said Patti Stracher, director of the National Stationery Show, an annual trade show and business event for stationery, greeting card and gift companies, said the Times report.

Bond built its own writing machine, which can produce personalised notes for every customer. Designed by the company’s chief technology officer, Kenji Larsen, the machines have robotic arms that can hold a pen, a paintbrush or a marker. The paper is moved around using static electricity — rather than a roller — so it stays pristine, with no wrinkles or marks. Bond also seals each envelope with wax, adds postage and mails it.

Customers can choose from a variety of handwriting styles, or they can have their own handwriting copied and digitised for $500. Each customer’s original signature is uploaded to Bond via smartphone, to be used on cards and notes. Customers also upload recipients’ addresses. If an address is unknown, the service will send an email or text message to the recipient asking for it. An invitation-only premium service, Bond Black, costs $1,200 a year and provides clients with a personalised mobile app to send notes in their own handwriting on custom stationery, the Times reported.

Many of Bond’s biggest customers are commercial, including Fortune 500 companies, nonprofits, and small independent businesses like professional services firms and real estate brokers.

“Companies spend $23 billion on customer relationship management tools to understand and have a more personal relationship with their customers. We are the physical implementation of that,” Caberwal, who studied corporate law at Georgetown Univeresity, was quoted as saying by the Times.

Earlier last year, Fast Company, in a story on Bond, quoted Caberwal as saying, “We think there’s a lot of friction points when it comes to doing something nice for someone else. Nobody has ever said, ‘You know what’s awesome? I had the best experience at American Greetings.’”

Bond wants to bring the romance back to letter writing with a more modern experience.

“We have really set out to reimagine what that would look like—how we can create a truly personal experience that lets people deliver that personal touch that is truly theirs, but let them do it from anywhere,” he added.

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Pics courtesy: Sonny Caberwal’s Facebook page, NY Times

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This Indian American woman’s first startup was barely out of the gate when global markets crashed. Her latest venture defies all traditional definitions of success

Rohini Shah’s Blu Salt combines fashion with function to create sustainable products – handbags made from organic and recyclable materials

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Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania-based Rohini Shah runs a successful design company focused on combining form, function and fashion – an idea that was born in 2013, motivated by the sheer lack of utility in women’s luxury accessories.

But success can be a tricky affair. The Michigan State University graduate’s first startup, Bacche Inc — a line of organic cotton children’s clothing that featured Indian-inspired colours and designs — was barely out of the gate in 2008 when global financial markets crashed.

“It took us about two years to educate ourselves about the market and get the product ready for market,” she told India-West, adding that the timeline brought them right into the heart of the recession.

The business was just getting traction, she said, when consumers stopped spending, retailers faced a liquidity crunch, and many of the independent boutique owners who had enthusiastically placed orders called her in tears to say they could no longer carry the clothes.

By 2010, with all the financial restraints, Shah and her partners decided to close the US operations and transferred the day-to-day operations to their partners in India.

The 39-year-old Shah, however, doesn’t regret the experience. “I wouldn’t have gotten here and I got to learn because of things that went wrong [in the economy],” Shah, who is originally from Andhra Pradesh but was raised mainly in Singapore, told Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

This time around she’s marketing a line of handbags made from organic and recyclable materials. The bags are targeted primarily to women who want a luxury look combined with durability for daily use and travel.

Blu Salt – “Blu” meaning indigo, or a major export of the British Raj; “Salt” meaning the salt tax that Mahatma Gandhi opposed and used to galvanise India as a nation – offers wallets, tote bags, handbags, lunch bags, drawstring bags and even laptop sleeves, ranging in price from $18 to $610.

Besides sustainable materials, Blu Salt produces its bags and packaging at fair-wage factories in Vietnam and India, and donates part of its proceeds to the Chinmaya Organisation for Rural Development, which supports women and youth in India.

“Business is a way for me to fulfill my responsibilities to society,” Shah, who also has a postgraduate diploma in marketing and finance from the Indian School of Business in Hyderabad, and an MBA from Yale School of Management, told Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Pic courtesy: http://www.post-gazette.com

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These three start-ups by Indian women are creating quite a buzz in the Bay Area. Here’s why

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Yosha Gupta
Founder, LafaLafa

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Yosha Gupta started Lafalafa out of Hong Kong in 2014. The premise was simple — to create a seamless experience for shoppers looking for a platform offering them a range of ways to save money. Today, the e-coupon aggregator has tied up with 500 plus online brands, including all the top brands like Flipkart, Paytm, Snapdeal and Shopclues. Companies like MySmartPrice, CouponDunia, Grabon, Cashkaro, Pennyful are her competitors.

Gupta says she wanted “to create the best savings platform for customers in India and later Asia as well, to leverage all my experience across markets like Indonesia, Vietnam, Myanmar, and Hong Kong, where the scope for this proposition is also huge,” as per Forbes.

In September last year, she got picked up by Silicon Valley angel investor Dave McClure’s incubator, 500 Startups, which has offered her an initial investment of $125,000, apparently because her business was focused on mobile and the adoption was growing rapidly. Seventy percent of Lafalafa’s traffic came from the Android app. The company is also moving into offline business models, where in-store coupons and cashback will be a natural evolution.

“While we first thought of launching with just a web presence, within a month of launch we realized that more than 70 percent of our customers were accessing the mobile optimized version of our website,” says Gupta, “that was a clear indication of the power of mobile in India,” Gupta, a Lady Shri Ram College, Delhi University, and MDI Gurgaon alumna, was quoted as saying by Forbes.

 

Trisha Roy
Founder, Barn & Willow

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Trisha Roy launched Menlo Park, California-based Barn & Willow – a vertically integrated home décor brand — with a simple idea to make window treatments more accessible. “I had never thought I would leave my comfortable job to start my own company. But my utter disappointment with the painful process of getting custom-made draperies for our home led me to start Barn & Willow,” says Roy, a Punjab University and University of Arizona, Eller College of Management alumna.

Her first order for Barn & Willow was fulfilled in December 2014. Now her company does monthly revenues of $50,000 and the business is growing by 45%, as per reports. Roy, too, was picked up by 500Startups with an initial investment of $125,000.

“We are questioning the obvious and disrupting traditional retail. We travel to cities to find the factories and the craftsmen producing the finest fabrics and build strong relationships with them,” explains Roy, who worked with several online tech companies like eBay and PayPal before starting Barn & Willow.

 

Rituparna Panda
Co-founder, Fulfil.IO

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Rituparna Panda, along with co-founder Prakash Pandey and CEO Sharoon Thomas, says they are preventing spreadsheet abuse, one company at a time. They offer a bundle of software services that helps small businesses manage their inventory, accounting, manufacturing and purchasing.

Fulfil.IO was born in July 2015 to help small businesses migrate to cloud and mobile technology. In 2012, Rituparna finished her engineering and started work in a boutique consulting firm, before realising in 2014 that small and medium retailers, all over the world, do not have the platform to manage their inventory when selling on multiple channels. She went about building a system that could replace the old ERP systems and could use the cloud to track inventory and orders on multiple platforms, both online and offline.

“I grew up around different cities in India, which led to my love for travelling. My parents thought I was rebellious as a kid, but I liked to be independent. I was always attracted to new ideas and my curiosity to learn and explore landed me at my first start-up,” Panda, who studied at Jaipur Engineering College, Kukas, before working with companies such as Convergent Technologies and Openlabs and eventually co-founding Fulfil.IO, was quoted as saying by Sheroes.in.

Panda and her co-founders initially bootstrapped and had a revenue model from day 1. Later they raised their seed funds from 500 Startups.

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Meet 15-year-old Trisha — innovator, social entrepreneur, advocate and inventor of ReThink, an app that attempts to stop cyberbullying

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Trisha Prabhu says 52% of adolescents online in the US alone have been cyber bullied. She told Mail Online: “In the spur of the moment or under peer pressure, many kids post offensive messages online without realising the extent of the damage they are causing. But, as my research shows, if they are provided a chance to pause, review and ‘ReThink’ their decision to post this message, kids change their minds and decide to not post a hurtful message.”

Fifteen-year-old Prabhu is an innovator, social entrepreneur, advocate and inventor of ReThink — an app that attempts to stop cyberbullying. She is currently attending Neuqua Valley High School as a sophomore in Naperville, Illinois, US. Deeply moved by the silent pandemic of cyberbullying and passionate to stop it in adolescents, Prabhu created the patented technology product ‘ReThink’ that stops cyberbullying at the source, before the bullying occurs, before the damage is done. Her research has found that with ReThink, adolescents change their mind 93% of the time and decide not to post an offensive message.

“ReThink is a simple, innovative, transformational solution that changes bulIies’ behaviour and helps develop sound decision-making skills on and off internet,” says Prabhu, who invented ReThink when she was just 13 years old.

The alert appears as a pop-up window on the screen. “We’re giving them a chance to rethink their decision, at which point they can either hit clear, ‘Maybe I do want to think about this,’ or they can go ahead and decide that they want to post the message,” Prabhu told ABC News.

The app is built with a growing database of trigger words and phrases that could be offensive and the sophisticated program is intuitive.

The idea for ReThink was born when she learned about 12-year-old Rebecca Sedwick, who committed suicide after allegedly being cyberbullied by two classmates.

The research won her a coveted spot as a Google Science Fair 2014 Global Finalist.

Prabhu was also invited to the White House Science Fair to be a featured exhibitor of ReThink. She was selected as Global Teen Leader 2015 by the We Are Family Foundation and was awarded the ‘Global Anti-Bullying Hero’ award from Auburn University, ‘Anti-Bullying Champion’ award by the Princess Diana Awards, UK, and Upstander Legacy Celebration award from Tyler Clementi Foundation. She is also a proud recipient of several other awards including the ‘Daily Points of Light’ awarded by the George H W Bush Foundation for extraordinary social volunteering and service.

Pic courtesy: cyberbullying.org

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She could not find a ballet class in New York City, so she created one – a platform that gives customers access to thousands of boutique fitness classes in their area

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Indian-origin entrepreneur Payal Kadakia was named among the most promising businesswomen of 2015 by Fortune magazine

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Randolph, New Jersey-based Payal Kadakia was all set take her beginner’s ballet courses to the next level. But as luck would have it, she tried but failed to find a decent ballet class in New York City where she could enroll herself in.

“I didn’t know if the classes I was finding online were the right level for me, if they had the right teachers, or if I had even brought the right clothes with me – and all that intimidation sort of made me not go,” she told Business Insider.

“In that moment, I realised the pain point that most people must experience in staying connected to their hobbies and passions,” Fortune magazine quoted her as saying. Thus was born ClassPass, a start-up that gives customers access to thousands of boutique fitness classes in their area.

“ClassPass is only two-year-old, but it has already booked more than 7 million fitness class reservations at gyms and studios across the US, plus Canada and the UK,” Fortune magazine quoted her as saying.

The 32-year-old CEO and co-founder of ClassPass was named among the most promising businesswomen of 2015 by Fortune magazine in its annual recognition of 10 women innovators, groundbreakers and game changers in September last year.

Each year, Fortune crowns 10 innovators, groundbreakers and game changers as ‘Most Powerful Women Entrepreneurs’. “From drones to metal alloys to snack foods — that covers the range of innovation coming from Fortune’s newly anointed Most Promising Women Entrepreneurs,” Fortune said.

Fortune said Kadakia’s idea tapped into a fitness craze. Now live in 39 cities globally, her $400-million start-up has changed the way people are choosing to work out. What’s more, her company makes its first move toward global expansion by opening up the service to Australians, reports Elite Daily.

The monthly membership allows users to take their pick of classes at various gyms and studios, exploring a variety of workout options throughout their city. The membership varies by city, but ranges from $79 to $125 a month for unlimited classes users can book directly on the app.

“We wanted people to walk into a studio with no prior experience and feel like they can do it – taking all the friction of picking and choosing a fitness program away,” she told Verve magazine.

“No matter your age, leading a company is both challenging and exhilarating. With ClassPass it’s particularly rewarding since we are making a direct impact on people’s lives. I think the most important thing is to always be you, regardless of your age, sex or race,” added Kadakia, who graduated from MIT with a degree in Operations Research in 2005, before picking up a career in consulting at Bain & Company.

Pics courtesy: Andrew Eccles

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