This past weekend, I have been through an experience most fascinating, rewarding and humbling.
I was asked by my cycling buddy Kumar, to come in and be one amongst several Mentors in a program called “Start Up Cup Challenge Extreme – Build – A – Business Weekend”.
This is a first in India, and is a partnership between TIE (www.tiemumbai.org), eBay Foundation and GriffinWorx. This was such a privilege, especially because, for the last couple of years, I’ve grown a bit tired of the routine around the corporate world (bring me something challenging), and find myself inclined to teach, to coach, to mentor, and participate in causes that have social and environmental impact. My role as strategic advisor to the Smart Commute Foundation, does give me such a sense of fulfillment. Give me more.
The Startup Cup Challenge, was a two-day event, very intense and fast paced. This is how it panned out. TIE invited applications from startups from almost any field or domain, but its special emphasis was on the “underserved” startup community. This is a community of underprivileged, not affluent, but hardworking people and groups, who have novel ideas to do business, some commercially, some socially inclined. Therefore there was a very diverse mix of applicants, somewhere 200+ in number, of which 105 were selected to participate. Rather than steal their thunder, I had best reproduce verbatim, what the program is all about.
The ebay.StartUpCup.com Challenge is open to anyone, with any type of business idea and from any background. This internationally recognized seven-month acceleration program is proven to grow businesses and accelerate the development of revenue. Through a highly experiential and mentor driven process.
Select business teams will be invited to an Extreme Build-A-Business Weekend, which will take place on 27-28 May, where the Top 25 business teams will be selected to advance into the competitive process.
The rather intense weekend started off on Saturday at 8. 30 am, when we were given the lay of the land by Sean Griffin of GriffinWorx.
He’s a fantastic, charismatic fellow, and has oodles of experience at this, having run such programs in some 60 odd countries. Turns out we have both worked in several common locations globally, and had some amazing stories of our escapades to compare over dinner.
Now despite having been quite a successful mentor myself, I have never really used a standard methodology and Sean exposed us to and trained us on his patented methodology. Fascinating, to say the least. I really benefited from this approach, and all my skills, tools and techniques, saw themselves falling into various buckets within Sean’s methodology, and I even picked up some cool new tips and tricks along the way. Just when you think you know a lot, someone comes along and teaches you something new!
So this went on until 10 am on Day 1, and then we were let loose to play our mentor roles to about 105 startups. Some merely at an idea stage, some a little beyond, some with a little business already in flight, some more advanced. In the mix, were technology startups, most notable amongst them an enterprising young man, who is on the cusp of launching a ring, a wearable device that can do much more than just payments. Then there is this For Profit Social Enterprise founded by 3 charming and dedicated girls providing consultancy in the CSR space. There were housewives too with small businesses, all catering to the underserved market. Did I not mention the waste based manure business, others in analytics, and what have you. One even planned to hire eunuchs in their workforce, to serve those underprivileged human beings.
Mentoring such a diverse set up people (some unable to communicate in English), diverse business models, was quite a task, and a clear case of overload. But what was really exciting was the level of energy in the room and the sheer enthusiasm amongst the mentors, the mentee, Sean and Erin, and the TIE team who provided such superb facilitation. I came away with quite a few learnings, especially as this was the perfect opportunity to compare attitudes, behaviours, business, technical and marketing acumen at one go. I found some promoters simply full of themselves, some so glued to their ideas and ways of doing things, others who was a bit overwhelmed (and that’s an understatement), some simply unable to give responses to pretty basic questions. Yet I found others, willing to be mentored, to learn, to listen and move forward.
The challenge then, was to navigate all these attitudes, etc, cut to the chase, and compel self discovery based on the methodology, not with a view to run anybody down, or undermine them or their ideas, but to urge them to think things through based on a tested model.
What was really neat was that we put our votes basis several parameters into an application, and thank God for that! Imagine remembering the interaction with so many groups in such a short span of time! Actually, that may have been fun, come to think of it, come up with unique business models, by mixing up stuff amongst several businesses 🙂 I think I mentored about 40 participants, on day one itself, and added a few on day two.
Day 2 started off with some advanced techniques, basis the experiences from our Day 1 interactions, and we were let loose once again. A bit more relaxed, a bit more structured, both the Mentors and the Mentees, and at around 3 pm, we were ready to wind down.
Votes all case, now it was time to collate, score, debate and discuss on the final shortlist of 25 business builders who would go through the next steps.
That done, the next item on the agenda was to break the news to the participants, issue certificates to the participants, the shortlisted business builders, the Mentors and do the photo sessions. The outcome was joyful faces of the ones who made the cut, and disappointment from those who didn’t.
And with that the festivities came to an end, and we all parted ways….two intense days, well spent, several new connections, some new friends, and promise of more interactions in the days to come.
I came away particularly pleased when asked to play the role of Judge in future interactions, since the program will run till September. I hope to write about how things pan out as we go through the rounds of eliminations, and arrive at the three final winners, and log further experiences as we go along this journey.
I’ve been fortunate to have some great mentors, some international luminaries…the then Deputy Managing Director of State Bank of India – P V Subba Rao (God Bless His Soul), Rumi – my Boss and CEO of HSBC’s Global Technology Centers and his successor and my next Boss – Ignacio Vera from Argentina. On the personal front, I’ve been extremely fortunate to be blessed by my Spiritual Master (now departed) His Holiness Sridhar Swami, and receive mentorship at the hands of my father, a most noble, kind and patient teacher.
This experience has only served to add to lifelong learning, and yet, my insatiable appetite, leaves me yearning for more…..