Accelerating start-ups, the Ryerson-BSE way

N Ramakrishnan | Updated on October 06, 2014 Published on October 06, 2014

Ajay Ramasubramaniam, Director of Business Development, Zone Start-Ups, Mumbai. - N. RAMAKRISHNAN

The joint venture helps entrepreneurs develop their business

Phiroze Jeejeebhoy Towers, Dalal Street, Mumbai 400001, is a well-known address. The 29-storey building stands out in the Fort area. It is home to the BSE (or, as it was known earlier, the Bombay Stock Exchange), where companies list and get their shares traded, where millions hope to make their fortunes.

As you enter the building, you are photographed, a visitor’s pass issued and bags scanned. As you ride up the elevator to the 18th floor, all the conversation in the lift is about how the markets will behave that day.

You are ushered into the spacious 18th floor office, where the view through the glass windows is breathtaking. On one side, you can see ships berthed at the Bombay Port, a few small boats are bobbing in the near-placid waters. You can see the majestic Gateway of India and the Taj hotel. On another side, you get a panoramic view of the Marine Drive at a distance.

Helping start-ups

The nearly 3,000 sq ft of space is just filling up. There are a handful of 20-somethings busy, either on their laptops or their smartphones. Welcome to Zone Start-Ups, an accelerator for entrepreneurs set up jointly by the BSE and Ryerson University of Canada. Yes, the BSE, which you probably thought was meant for large companies, is home to an accelerator for start-up ventures.

An accelerator helps ventures with validated ideas and products scale up their operations. Zone Start-Ups has a diverse mix of entrepreneurs – engineering graduates, MBAs, chartered accountants, commerce graduates – all using technology to build products or develop services. Take the example of Ritvvij Parrikh, 29, founder of Pykih, a data visualisation company. Pykih helps journalists with visualising data sets, collecting public data, organising them and even creating visualisation apps.

An engineering graduate, Ritvvij worked in a telecom IT firm in Pune, moved to Israel and the US, before quitting his job and coming back to India to start this venture.

Or, Nishant Ranjan, Founder, BreezeTrader, which is building an algorithmic trading tool.

Nishant, who graduated in mining engineering from IIT-Kharagpur, is probably the oldest at Zone Star-Ups, at 35 years. He worked in a couple of IT companies handling international clients and threw up his job, because he felt he was not going anywhere, and started this venture that is less than a year old.

Sandeep Laxman and Archana Lal are the founders of BookStreet, a venture that helps undergraduate students prepare for their examinations in a much better and focused manner. Sukhada Tendulkar is the Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Shirsa, a brain training platform for children.

Industry connect

What is it that they get out of being in the Zone Start-Ups? “There is a lot of industry connect. When we started, we were like babies. Being a banker, I did not have retail connect. And, being technology people we did not have a business mindset,” says 24-year-old Prateek Chaturvedi, Co-Founder and CEO, Focus Analytics, which is into indoor navigation.

Zone Start-Ups provides all this and more, he says. “When we go somewhere and say we are in BSE Zone Start-Ups, a lot of people recognise it. That is something nice. There is also the access to the North American market, which is something Ryerson is good at.”

That is the point that Ajay Ramasubramaniam, Director of Business Development, Zone Start-Ups, also makes. Ryerson University has an 85 per cent stake in the accelerator with BSE holding the balance. The Toronto-based university has a strong entrepreneurial focus with its own Digital Media Zone in Canada. It is using the Zone Start-Ups brand to spread in other countries, especially Asia and Europe.

According to Ajay, Ryerson University had a programme with the IITs in Chennai, Mumbai and Delhi and the Indian School of Business-Hyderabad, in 2012 on student-entrepreneurship. The success of that programme made Ryerson realise that it cannot be a one-off affair in India and prompted it to team up with the BSE for the accelerator.

“What we offer them is, yes, physical infrastructure. But we typically don’t look for someone who is looking at a shelter. We need to add value to these start-ups. We offer them mentorship. We have a pool of mentors who are industry experts, domain specialists,” says Ajay, who previously worked with the Canadian Government, with the province of Ontario, in the Ministry of Economic Development and Trade, in Mumbai.

“There is a strong industry connect. With BSE’s connections, we are able to forge relations with CTOs, CIOs and get them to come on a regular basis and interact with these young guys.”

Typically, the start-ups, which already have paying customers and have either raised their first round of external funding or are close to doing so, will stay in the accelerator for four to six months.

Ajay says the accelerator actively takes part in the ventures, in developing their business, creating networking opportunities and getting investors to visit them. The ventures to be housed at the accelerator are selected based on various start-up events that are held across the country. The BSE’s role as a top stock exchange in the country plays a large part in the success of the accelerator.


According to Ajay, the accelerator is spread over about 3,000 sq ft and it plans to expand by another 2,000 sq ft before the end of the year. Zone Start-Ups does not charge the ventures anything now because it is more interested in creating success stories; it does not also take any equity stake in them.

However, Ryerson University, through a sister concern, is setting up a $5-million seed fund, which will invest in start-ups and also take equity stake in them. Initially, the seed fund will look to invest in 15 start-ups a year, with a first cheque of $50,000 with a follow-on round in high performing companies of $150,000-500,000.

Published on October 06, 2014
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