#Asia World’s first digital incubator for students SV.CO aims to connect all of India to Silicon Valley


SV.CO will take up to 50 student startups from India to Silicon Valley every year to achieve its dream of finding the first billion dollar campus startup by 2022

The SV.CO team

The SV.CO team

When a group of veteran entrepreneurs from Kerala launched Startup Village in the suburbs of Kochi in Kerala (south India) with the help of the government in 2012, they had only one thing in mind: to discover the best talents from colleges across Kerala and equip them to compete with their peers globally.

So, they worked 24×7 towards this goal and the end result was amazing. Startup Village created a revolution of sorts, not just in Kerala, but across India. Budding talents got an opportunity to rub shoulders with the likes of Kris Gopalakrishnan, Co-founder of Infosys, and many other key figures in the tech startup industry. Select few got a chance to visit the world’s startup capital Silicon Valley.

Prominent people from as far as Silicon Valley visited the incubator and many engineering students dropped out of colleges to become entrepreneurs, following in the footsteps of their role models such as Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs.

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Close to 800 startups benefitted from the programme, some even went on to set up headquarters in Silicon Valley.

The latest update is that Entrepreneur Magazine has ranked Startup Village as No. 1 among 100 best incubators in India, beating the likes of Microsoft Ventures and Times of India’s TLabs

“Startup Village is a unique public-private partnership (PPP) project which was originally planned for 48 startups over five years. We received over 6,000 applications and over nine states visited Startup Village and requested to replicate it,” said Sanjay Vijayakumar, the key person behind the digital incubator.

“Now, in order to scale up, we need to go digital. By going digital, we are able to reach out to 5 million engineering students across 3,500 colleges in India,” added Kumar, who is also Co-founder of MobMe Wireless, a mobile VAS company.

Why going digital?

It is an open secret that Bangalore, India’s biggest startup ecosystem that is ranked 17th in the world, is actually 15 years behind that of Silicon Valley. Going by this logic, Tier II and III cities — which are 15 years behind Bangalore —- are 30 years behind Silicon Valley.

While India’s startup ecosystem revolves around major cities such as Bangalore, Mumbai and Delhi, smaller cities and towns are always neglected. Students and aspiring entrepreneurs in villages and towns have no mentors or God fathers to mentor them and help shape up their dreams. The ‘elite’ ecosystem people know this truth, but they are unwilling to risk their money and time.

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“This has to be changed. Students across India should get the benefit of incubators and access to good mentorship. Hence SV.CO, the world’s first digital incubator for students,” added Vijayakumar.

SV.CO has developed a fully online platform to deploy a target-based learning methodology where students hit 50 targets or more in six months. By attempting to hit the targets, students build a real prototype and launch to customers within six months.

Drawing an analogy, Vijayakumar said SV.CO is like a Flipkart: “A physical mall is limited to a certain location, while online retailers like Flipkart can serve the entire nation. Likewise, by going digital, Startup Village can now reach all PIN codes in India.”

The digital incubator’s main attraction is its Silicon Valley Programme, where students select an idea, build a prototype and launch it to early customers in six months, with the last week of the programme spent in Silicon Valley. The entire process of admission, learning, mentoring and graduation is online. Students are selected as teams over a three-step process that has a coding, marketing and personal interviews. They form real partnership companies and select from amongst 50 business ideas that are curated through our research partner Tracxn Labs,” he explained.

Kris Gopalakrishnan is the Chief Mentor to SV.CO. It is modelled on a full-time faculty and a visiting faculty. Full-time faculty are people who have built real startups or real products in startups. Currently, Vishnu Gopal, who was the first engineer at Slide Share is the lead full-time faculty. Visting Faculty include Sony Joy and Anoop Sankar of Chillr, Girish Mathrubootham of Freshdesk, Phanindra Sama of Redbus, Sasha Mirchandani of Kae Capital, and Sharad Sharma of iSPIRT etc.

SV.CO runs two batches every year and plans to have up to 1,000 teams each year by 2020.

“For our previous batch, we received 1,000 applications of which eight were selected. We have already received more than 1,000 applications for the new Silicon Valley Programme. Our only criterion is quality,” Vijayakumar notes.

The incubator will take up to 50 startups to Silicon Valley this year. The City of Menlo Park, home to Internet giant Facebook, is the host city for SV.CO in Silicon Valley.

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SV.CO, an exclusive programme for student startups, is accredited by Gujarat Technical University “Minor in Entrepreneurship”. Since students are concurrently studying their major degree in colleges, the need for a physical space doesn’t arise. “We are now supporting many colleges to set up physical incubation facilities including internet within the college premises itself,” he commented.

“What we have seen is that students who get exposure to world-class ecosystems realise that people in Silicon Valley don’t have more neurons in their brains than us. The confidence that comes from exposure along with the world-class learning experience helps overcome the barriers of a remote city,” he quipped.

Looking to raise capital from edtech VCs

The physical incubator, which was handed over to the Kerala Startup Mission early this year, runs on grants from the public and private sector. “There are many limitations to accepting government grants. SV.CO is aligned with the ‘Startup India, Stand Up India’ programme and we are looking to raise funding from social impact investors or venture funds which are active in the edtech space,” Vijayakumar stated.

SV.CO already has some success stories to boast of. ZPay, a fintech startup launched by Varghese George and friends from college, got aqui-hired by Tally. Spenwise, another startup built by Ajmal Azeez, Ashwin R, Kishan Pankaj and Balram P of Model Engineering College, was also part of its six-month programme.

The ZPay team

The ZPay team

While there are a handful of digital incubators like JFDI in the world, a digital programme exclusively for students is the first of its kind. What differentiates SV.CO from other incubators is its partnership with Silicon Valley, which will help students shape up their dreams.

“The biggest Internet companies like Apple, Microsoft, Google and Facebook were all campus startups. Our mission at Startup Village is to find a billion dollar campus startup by 2022, the 75th anniversary of India’s independence,” Vijayakumar concluded.

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