05, 09, 07 August 2016

Marketing an established brand in a new place is a not an easy task. Established brands will speak for themselves. They will have a story of success hidden the in their name, colour, logo or other branding features. In a new market place however, consumers would not be aware of the brand’s success story That means, marketers will have to promote the success factors to the new consumers to attract their interest and encourage them to try out the new brand. The success of the brand will depend on it’s reach and popularity in the new market place. By saying this, I am not trumpeting the theory of marketing; but this was the thought in my mind when my team at Amrita TBI took on the task of hosting our very first “Start-up Weekend” in the State of Kerala.

Organised worldwide by Techstars, Startup Weekend was a 54-hour weekend event, during which groups of developers, business managers, startup enthusiasts, marketing gurus, graphic artists and others pitched ideas for new startup companies, formed teams around those ideas, and worked to develop a working prototype, presented or demonstrated their ideas before the end of the event on the evening of the Sunday.

This event attracted speakers, coaches, panelists, and various sponsors and company representatives. The panelist included respected members of the local start-up community and other well-known players in the tech industry. This Startup Weekend event, hosted by Amrita TBI; a non-profit incubator supported by the Government of India and Amrita University; also opened up an abundance of networking opportunities to the start-up aspirants in Kerala.

To provide some background information, beginning from 2014, there has been a tremendous amount of change in the startup and entrepreneurship scene in Kerala. This change can be attributed to The State Government’s, Technology Start-up Policy; the first of its kind in India. This policy smoothly integrated the technological and creative skills of the state’s youths to remove any existing roadblocks and kick started the entrepreneurial culture, which contributed to increased knowledge, wealth and employment in the state. The State's policy places great emphasis on the creation of pertinent and permanent infrastructure, human capital development and capacity building, as a strong and effective tool for developing the “innovation” ecosystem. Using this policy, the State Government holistically engages itself in the ongoing creation and development of a vibrant and world class technology innovation ecosystem in Kerala.

Back to the start-up event, we started the preparations for this event by heavily promoting it online; through social media and emails. We also organized boot camps at many higher education campuses across the state of Kerala and that helped us reach hundreds of youths. Applications started pouring in towards the date of the event. As the numbers grew, we shifted our focus to improving the quality and value of the time participants spent on our premises.

As the event opened on the Friday evening, August 5th, 2016, all services for guests and participants was ready and in place including food, accommodation, volunteers, venues, networks, audio video services, power, safe drinking water, bathrooms, network, cleanliness, transportation and even standby emergency services. After registration and evening tea, Dr. Balakrishnan Shankar, Associate Dean, along with Anurag Maloo, Facilitator for SWKollam and Snehal Shetty, VP of Amrita TBI, light the lamp and announced the Startup Weekend Kollam officially “open”.

The event has brought together people from all across Kerala to share ideas, form teams, build products and launch startups. On Friday; the opening day, the attendees pitched their ideas to inspire others to join their teams. The next two days were spent on debates, discussions and feedback to eventually build a minimum viable prototype of their idea or product. An expert panel of 11 mentors in this event included Roger Kessinger , leading worldwide publisher based in USA; Dr. Arun Lakhotia, Professor, University of Louisiana; KC Jagadeep, MD, Offshorent Real Prad, CEO and Founder of Sayone technologies, and others. The teams showcased their prototypes and received feedback from a panel of experts including Ranjany Sundaram, Director, Amrita TBI, Dr. Krishnashree Achuthan, CEO, Amrita TBI on Sunday evening; the last day of the event.

The winner of the Startup Weekend was a team called "Around Us" Their winning idea was for using technology for all around problem solving actions. "Life Anchor" (An App to save lives by reporting road accidents on the go and notify police and hospital) and "Say Ads" (Providing a platform for the organisations to promote/ advertise their products) became first and second runner ups respectively. Winning teams received Co-working, Incubation and Mentoring support from Amrita TBI plus complimentary free passes to attend The August Fest . All other participants received 50% discounted tickets for The August Fest. The First Prize Winners also received a wild card entry for the “Pitch on Stage” at the August Fest 2016.

In summary, the Start-up Weekend Kollam produced three lead SW organizers, one SW Global Facilitator, more than sixty one attendees, forty four pitched ideas, ten formed teams , fifty four productive working hours, three partnerships, one main speaker, eleven mentors/ coaches, two judges, three winners, more than three hundred cups of tea, seven delicious healthy Kerala meals and a safe working environment!. Compared to an ordinary weekend of watching a movie or going out to dinner or a party the Start-up Weekend Kollam resulted in something remarkable for the sixty one participants, where 10 start-ups were formed within a 54 hour time period; the very first in Kerala’s history. Everyone made long lasting friendships, learned new skills, shared knowledge, enjoyed themselves, and yes, we made a mark in the history of the State.

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