Ragini Pillai | December 3, 2018

iPitch laid the seeds, Unconvention bears the fruit.

The newest and perhaps most boisterous kid on the block, based on how frequently the tricolour popped up on your newsfeed in the past couple of months is iPitch - a discovery platform to unearth and invest in social enterprises across India. One might argue that this sounds like a rather fancy way to say “business plan competition” and with pitch competitions mushrooming in every university, incubator and even corporates launching their own - do we really need another one? And even if the answer is yes, what makes iPitch unique?

Let’s navigate it together, shall we?
Promises are meant to be broken kept - iPitch is one of the few competitions that offers seed investment as the award. While most pitch competitions offer prize money to the winner, iPitch offers seed funding and incubation to top companies in the program.
The iPitch promise: guaranteed funding within 3 months. That’s the big differentiator - no “conditions apply” or “upto” a certain amount. The money is committed and tied to a firm 3 month timeline.
This unique proposition is attractive in a climate where most pitch competitions offer the opportunity to pitch to investors during demo day where you could stand the chance to receive your next round of funding but just as easily walk away with nothing because the investors at the table don’t have skin in the game. The short timeframe is another compelling factor in an industry where diligence cycles and contract negotiations can last for 6-9 months. Moreover, along with capital the entrepreneur unlocks a menu of services such as access to networks, talent and mentoring by industry experts.

The case for collaboration - According to a study by British Council most social enterprises in India were established post 2010, hence the ecosystem while growing and evolving rapidly, is still fairly nascent. For this widespread and scattered community, convergence is key to success. iPitch does this in two ways:
iPitch brings together some of the leading incubators in India with diverse mandates but one common thread ie. impact at the core of the business. In addition to Villgro, 7 independent incubators have committed to investing in companies through the iPitch platform. Thus, making this a one stop shop for entrepreneurs to meet and engage with multiple investors.
Unconvention - a forum that brings together stakeholders of the impact community from entrepreneurs and investors to CSR representatives of organisations. This also marks the culmination of iPitch where investees are awarded and entrepreneurship at large is celebrated.

The power of capital - Ultimately, capital is king. Innovation is inherent in any social enterprise and it is this ingredient that demands both time and money to succeed. Which is perhaps the inception of the term ‘patient capital’. The size of the iPitch pot has doubled since last year and the trend shows an inclination to both invest in higher ticket sizes in each company and invest in more companies. iPitch presents a ready pool of capital that allows innovators to take risks and experiment with their products and business models.
In 2017, the promise was to invest 1.5 crores in 6 companies and at the end of 3 months 2.1 crores were committed to 7 companies! In 2018, the promise is to invest 3 crores in 12 companies. We will find out which companies these are at Unconvention on Friday and Saturday.

    What you seek, is seeking you.

iPitch is a national discovery platform that not only supports enterprises from metro cities but also goes one step further to find entrepreneurs in untapped pockets of India. Villgro’s INVENT program already supports over 100 innovators across 8 low-income states and iPitch continues to build on this focus. The good news is 50% of the companies funded through iPitch operate in low income states. Yet, all is not rosy and despite a dedicated pool of capital and a focussed outreach campaign less than 10% of our applicant pool was from Tier II and III cities.

The paradox is that while entrepreneurs in these regions are seeking access to funders and vice versa, our paths rarely cross. In order to bridge this gap, this year iPitch partnered with one of India’s leading hindi news programs on entrepreneurship and saw an application pool from 25 out of 29 states of India. While partnerships with hindi and vernacular media is a start, there is still miles to go. Pitch competitions and custom programs with an explicit focus on low-income states is a crucial start.

The network effect.

In today’s age of digital clutter, it is easy to get lost in a sea of content and arresting an entrepreneur’s attention long enough to inspire them to action is no easy task. iPitch is an entirely digital platform and databases no matter how large, are limited. Thus, partnerships form the backbone of a successful campaign. Partners can be leveraged in multiple ways. Fellow incubators are the most valuable marketing tool and their social media channels sharing our campaign is an endorsement of their faith in the Villgro brand and iPitch. Moreover, being backed by some of the most well-known names in the ecosystem lends legitimacy to the campaign thus inspiring trust in an entrepreneur. Thanks to the power of this network iPitch was able to reach over 1,00,000 people in just one month! Our 74 partners from diverse sectors and geographies were instrumental in helping us get one step closer to the entrepreneur.

As we stand at the crossing mid-way between where it all began and where we will see it come to fruition, it is clear that there is no dearth of enterprises, the challenge then is to systematically seek, discover and find them. As for iPitch 2018, it simply seeks to put together various pieces of the puzzle by leveraging the network to discover enterprises, connecting them to investors and celebrating them amidst a collective of key players in the impact ecosystem.

Witness the grand finale of iPitch and meet the investees at Villgro | Unconvention on 7th & 8th December in Bengaluru. Register now: www.villgro.org/unconvention