Demonstrating Innovation

March 08, 2022

What is a strong demonstration of an early-stage startup’s success? A technically sound, commercially viable on-ground pilot. This was a critical emphasis of the mentorship and support provided to startups selected for the Urban Works Innovation Challenge of 2020-2021, a project run by Columbia Global Centers | Mumbai and the Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science. 

Three of the selected teams showcased their credentials and field implementations on a Demonstration Day organized by the Center on March 8, 2022. This showcase event had an exciting Shark Tank-like format where the three Urban Works startups pitched in front of a panel of investors and industry leaders. Panel moderators, acting as champions for the startup teams, posed questions to the panelists in a reverse-pitch format to discuss important issues surrounding each startup’s theme. 

The first panel featured Mr Sharad Sanghi, Founder, MD, and CEO, Netmagic Solutions and Mr Varun Varma, Vice President of Investment Operations at Lightbox Ventures, and was moderated by Ms Ivy Schultz, Director of Entrepreneurship at Columbia Engineering. Persapien’s solution for chemical-free sanitization sits inside an air handling unit (AHU) and creates a nano-mist that eliminates bacteria and viruses in a room within seconds. This Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) approved technology that had been piloted in Bengaluru was hailed by the panelists as an important intervention to ensure safe workplaces. The discussion focused on how sanitization of office spaces has become a priority during the COVID-19 pandemic. Mr Sanghi noted that the team had ticked all boxes of product development. 

The second panel consisted of Mr Pirojsha Godrej, Executive Chairman, Godrej Properties and Mr Shiva Shanker, Vice President, Ankur Capital Fund with the moderation duty handled by Dr Ravina Aggarwal, Director, Columbia Global Centers | Mumbai. The panelists spoke about the difficult problem of water scarcity and low water tables across India and how Urdhvam’s solution, a water conservation innovation piloted around Pune, is giving hope in the form of recharging of dry, defunct bore-wells. Mr Godrej highlighted the timely nature of this technology and cautioned about using only those innovations that are truly sustainable given the issue of indiscriminate water abstraction. Mr Shanker, through his venture capital lens, chose to focus on the importance of the right distribution and marketing strategies for such solutions to see wide-scale adoption. 

The final panel of the day was composed of Ms Swati Salgaocar, Director, Vimson Group and alumnus of Columbia University, and Ms Kanchi Daiya, Regional Head – West India, Indian Angel Network. This was moderated by Professor Ioannis Kymissis, Department Chair of Electrical Engineering at Columbia University and featured Bandhu’s migrant worker portal. Both panelists recognized the importance of the work but agreed that there are numerous challenges in scaling up Bandhu’s portal, given the geographical, lingual, and socio-economic disparity in India. On the occasion of International Women’s Day, Ms Salgaocar urged Bandhu to see how they could contribute to increasing the participation of women in the labor force. 

In conclusion, the Demo Day provided the teams with a strong platform for future investments and opportunities for strategic partnerships with private sector organizations. This will help them build sustainable businesses that meet social, environmental, and economic objectives.