As Northeast’s first early-stage investment platform in Manipur, Imphal Angels hopes to set the stage for the growth of tech entrepreneurship in the far Northeast region of India.
The Indian startup ecosystem has come far in the last 10-15 years and it would not be wrong to say that it has found its feet. But being an eyewitness to the formation and launch of the first angel investors’ platform in Manipur on November 18, 2018, showed how much more ground remains to be covered.
A band of intrepid entrepreneurs from Imphal, Manipur, launched the Imphal Angels, a first of its kind in the far northeast of the country, on a beautiful Sunday evening in the city. As the town and probably the rest of the country was calling it a day, these passionate individuals had gathered a group of more than 60 high-net-worth local businessmen to sell them the startup story of India.
And boy, did they succeed. It could not have been a better story. Consider this. A group of local boys growing up together but having to go their separate ways to pursue their big dreams and ambitions outside as their small hometown was incapable of making it come true. The boys return home as successful men and reunite in an attempt to make their hometown big enough to hold the aspirations of thousands of other young girls and boys.
Rajesh Sawhney, Gurgaon-based early-stage investor and serial entrepreneur, who was one of the guest speakers at the launch, tells me,
“There is a big, vibrant market primarily of youth in Manipur in particular and the Northeast in general, who want to spend.”
Commenting on the launch of the Imphal Angels, he remarked that it brought back memories of the early days when he was part of the Mumbai Angels. “It shows how tech entrepreneurship is reaching all nooks of India.”
Imphal Angels has been put together by nine entrepreneurs and professionals, who have relocated to Imphal, to drive tech entrepreneurship in their home region. They include Chingakham Priyobrata Singh, Fisher Laishram, Lairenjam Niranjan Singh, Rajkumar Devkanta Singh, Prasenjit Laikangbam, Nongmaithem Jiten Singh, Dr Yengkokpam Budhachandra, Dr Arambam Athouba, and Loken Laishram.
Says Nickson Sharma, Investment Analyst at North East Venture Fund, and an advisor at the Imphal Angels,
“There is this perception that the Northeast means only tourism and agriculture. But there are some tech-based companies from here who are expanding to the Philippines and Vietnam, like one of our portfolio companies, Parking Rhino.”
He feels that because of its location, the Northeast has remained isolated from the other startup ecosystems in India, but people are trying to bridge the gap with technology. “People like the governing members of the Imphal Angels have come back from the US and other countries and that is a good sign,” he says.
A dash for a home run
Besides the launch, the main purpose of the event was also to introduce the concept of angel investing to HNIs in Imphal so that they have the opportunity to be part of India’s growth story. “When I tell them about success stories like Ola’s and how the early investors, who put in as little as Rs 30 lakh, have gone on to make crores, there’s always the remark, ‘Oh! Wish we had known this, we could have put that money,” says Rajkumar Devkanta Singh, entrepreneur and member of the governing body of Imphal Angels.
In his talk, he explained the concept of how startups were a new asset class for investors and that it was time to do some smart investing.
Incidentally, Devkanta runs the last-mile delivery for Amazon in Imphal. He has had a successful career in the corporate world having travelled across India and the globe and is now back in his hometown. “I was quick to grab the opportunity of setting up the warehouse and putting in place a fleet of delivery boys,” he tells me.
Interestingly, online shopping is big in Imphal and on an average, Devkanta’s startup has 600-800 packages to deliver in a day.
Terming it as a promising start, Vipul Saini, Head, Partnerships at Nasscom 10,000 startups, tells me, “Because of its geolocation and easy access to South Asian markets, which have a robust startups ecosystem, startups here can act as nodal centres for startups wanting to work for those markets, plus becoming development centres for existing startups.”
Yasuhiro Seo, Partner at Spiral Ventures, who was also a guest speaker at the event, says he was keen to explore opportunities in Imphal and also help in setting up the ecosystem in the Northeast.
The Imphal Angels have chalked out a year-long activity calendar where they will hold workshops on angel investing and introduce startup batches to potential investors. Looking at the successful launch event, the members are confident they will have more than 20 signups from potential angel investors.
Fisher Lasishram, an entrepreneur and member of the governing body of Imphal Angels, says they have a lot of work ahead of them and he hopes with the launch of the Imphal Angels they have set the stage for the growth of the startup ecosystem in the region.
Fisher runs an enterprise software company and a foodtech company in Imphal and has been profitable so far by keeping his unit economics in check. “The cost of running a business from Imphal is much less than if I were to have started out in Delhi or Bengaluru,” he says. Fisher worked for a few years in New York and is now back in Imphal to share his success with the people in the region by creating employment for local talent. “I was surprised to find tech talent on par with Bengaluru and Delhi, the two cities that I have worked in,” he says.
There are three engineering colleges in Imphal and Fisher hopes as the startup culture grows the young graduates will not have to settle for government jobs or go outside the state. “They can be the talent pool for startups here,” he tells me.
The die is cast
Describing the benefits of becoming a member with their platform, the Imphal Angels members told the audience that it is not only about finding untapped opportunities, access to better deals, reduced risks, high-return potential, but also a way to give back to society and an opportunity for continued learning.
“All this is good,” said a member of the audience voicing what some others were perhaps thinking as well, “but what if the startup fails?” Commenting that failure is part of the startup journey, Rajesh connected with the audience when he said the Vaishnavite (Krishna worshippers) majority of the region will need to embrace Shiva, the God of death and destruction if they were to turn angel investors. “Failure is a part of a startup journey. As an investor, you lose some and you win some,” he said.
The wisdom behind the wit went down well with the audience, but one of them still thought it worthwhile to ask, “In that case will I get my money back?”
Clearly, the band of Imphal brothers has a big task cut out for them. And this is just Day Zero.
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