The 20th of August 2016 marks a milestone for the Mumbai chapter of Headstart Network Foundation as it hosts its 100th Startup Saturday. It is the greatest moment for a parent to see their child succeed, I feel the same for my child, Headstart Mumbai, for having reached such a key milestone.
I joined Headstart as a Volunteer in 2010 and since then I’ve nurtured my child to grow and contribute towards growth of the startup ecosystem in India. I am proud to say that Headstart has impacted more than 50,000 aspiring and existing entrepreneurs and helped many fulfil their dreams in one way or another.
It has indeed been an exciting journey and I would like take this opportunity to share my journey with Headstart taking it from 0 to 100.
In 2008, on returning to India after completing my Masters in the U.S, I started working on a Gaming Rental startup but could not compete against piracy, other complexities, recession, and lack of startup ecosystem support in India. After few months of research and struggle, I decided to join the corporate world to repay my student loan.
While working at the corporate, I was actively looking for a community to network with entrepreneurs. One of my friends informed me about Startup Saturday Mumbai and recommended that I attend the event in 2010. I was highly inspired by the spirit and passion of the Volunteers at Headstart and their vision to ‘Change the World through Entrepreneurship’. I immediately joined the team in 2010 to grow the startup ecosystem in Mumbai with the vision of making our city to grow as “Startup Gully”
*Pun intended towards Silicon Valley*
“Doing something different is what’s truly good for society… The best projects are likely to be overlooked, not trumpeted by a crowd.” – Peter Thiel.
You must have heard that Entrepreneurship is a tough and lonely journey, but being a Volunteer at Headstart and keep helping budding entrepreneurs achieve their goals is even tougher.
I will articulate my journey as a Volunteer at Headstart with 3 Ps:
Derived from “Romil”, of Sanskrit Origin, a name meaning “With Heart and Soul”. You know you are truly passionate about something when you are willing to do it for free and take on a significant amount of risk. I always followed my heart and passionately worked towards the growth of startup ecosystem in Mumbai in order to help people achieve their dreams.
I have dedicated almost all Second Saturdays of the month for Startup Saturday Mumbai for the past 6 years. Call it madness or passion, I continued working for Headstart when I was on my Hospital bed in critical situation and my craziness forced our Headstart Co-Founder, Aditya Mishra, to write few kind words of appreciation:
“Work hard until you no longer have to introduce yourself”
Today, many people say ROMIL = “Result Of Marketing Is Love”. You must be wondering why!
I was passionate about Marketing, especially Social Media Marketing and Digital Marketing. In 2010-2011, when Headstart was struggling with Marketing, I grabbed this opportunity and inspired all cities to start Marketing and create campaigns with beautifully designed mailers. I was also able to create substantial impact in Mumbai with my creative marketing and branding ideas.
Today, we have an amazing team of content writers and creative leads.
Headstart Network Foundation is a non-profit organization, driven completely by passionate volunteers and entrepreneurs whose collective efforts have impacted many entrepreneurs across the country.
One of the best moment was my mentoring session to inspiring Young Innovators at the Innovation Conclave at Orchid School at Baner, Pune.
It was a proud moment to be part of a Headstart Higher Initiative to contribute towards generation of employment in our country and get recognized by international media.
Volunteering at Headstart Network Foundation required strong commitment, dedication and perseverance. From 2010 to 2012, Headstart Mumbai had a bull run, but there was a sudden slowdown from 2013 as startups migrated to Bangalore. Our founders and key leaders soon became busy with their startups, Volunteers started leaving one after another and there was a great lack of startup ecosystem enablers in Mumbai.
There were many instances where we didn’t have support for venue except for SPJMIR. The fire within us prompted us not to stop and made sure the show goes on even, be it from a Hospital Hall or a Startup’s office (For a matter of fact!). This was because of our vision to see the ecosystem grow by leaps and bounds.
In this roller-coaster journey I lost many friends due to unavailability of time. The most important, I lost my love as I had to choose between Headstart and her. My choice was Headstart!
People often ask me questions: Here’s a few listed below:
- Why do you work for free? Why don’t you charge for mentoring?
- Why are you wasting your time?
- Why don’t you start up instead of being a volunteer?
- Why don’t you do social work? Why don’t you work for charity?
I started asking myself: Is it worth this perseverance? Is it worth continuing when everyone is trying to nudge me to give up?
My answer was: You need to ask yourself what you want out of life. If you want something different, you need to act and be different. I always wanted to make a difference in people’s lives and Headstart aided me in fulfilling my dreams.
Over the last few months, Headstart Mumbai has inspired many aspiring entrepreneurs, helped startups to find right employees through Headstart Higher, motivated women entrepreneurs through Headstart WE and facilitated many startup to gain global exposure through international tie-ups with 1776 and others.
It was a proud moment for both myself and India to be selected as one of the Top 10 Challenge Cup host amongst 90 other startup communities across the world and being invited to join key policy makers at Washington, DC, USA.
The Top 10 Challenge Cup Local Hosts:
- Accra, Ghana – Akua Baning, iSpace
- Cairo, Egypt – Ramez Mohamed, Flat6Labs
- Casablanca, Morocco – Omar Agodim, World Bank CIC
- Dublin, Ireland – Ann Marie Duffin, NDRC
- Durham, USA – Adam Klein, American Underground
- Lagos, Nigeria – Shaina Silva, Generation Entreprise
- Milan, Italy – Rasa Strumskyte, Talent Garden
- Mumbai, India – Romil Shah, Headstart
- Salvador, Brazil – Rodrigo Paolilo, REDE+
- Seoul, South Korea – Sonia Lee, D.Camp
With patience and perseverance, Headstart Mumbai has grown now from being local to global and we’ve been actively contributing at every stage of startup cycle. There are many startup communities who have sprouted out of Headstart and I am proud to be their mentor and inspiration.
After launch of Startup India Standup India campaign by our Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi, we are happy to see the increase in number of startup ecosystem enablers and government bodies who are working towards the growth of Mumbai Startup ecosystem.
People are integral, Success is a by-product. I would like to express my personal thank you to each one of them for making this happen.
I am grateful to my parents who have always supported me in this journey and let me pursue my passion.
Thanks to Headstart Founders – Aditya Mishra, Netra Parikh, Amit Singh, Arpit Agarwal to have faith in me to lead Headstart Mumbai and providing continuous support throughout this journey.
I remember during my early days with Headstart when we could not get more crowd at Startup Saturday and would feel disappointed, Aditya Mishra guided me to not focus on numbers, but to try to help few startups and help few emerge as unicorns from Mumbai.
With increasing number of startup events across India, I felt that we were not creating much value and decided to give up but Amit Singh pursued me to continue with a vision to help startups who would create jobs and ultimately solve the unemployment in India and we would definitely create an impact.
Headstart Mumbai Influencers:
Annkur Agarwal and Himanshu Chanda were my inspiration to join Headstart Network Foundation and Rahul Chidgopkar was a great support to take Headstart Mumbai to the next level.
Headstart Mumbai Alumni:
Shivani Srivastava, Arun Kumar, Milita Datta, Karan Patel, Yuktie Jhangiani, Arti Agarwal, Darshana Dave, Bikash Sahoo, Navneet Jain, Sonal Kapoor, Nidhi – Thank you for your valuable contribution towards Headstart Mumbai.
Headstart Mumbai Venue Partner:
We would have not been able to achieve this milestone without the continuous support from Prof. M S Rao – Chairperson – Center for Entrepreneurship, SPJIMR. Prof. Rao and his team at SPJMIR are our biggest support and well-wishers.
Headstart Mumbai Current Team:
Rahul Shah joined Headstart Mumbai one year back and has done a commendable job as City Lead by bringing different innovative ideas on the table.
Yash Seth, Vibhav Gupta and Sakshi Korde are the new pillars of the Headstart Mumbai Chapter.
Nasscom 10000 Startups, Google Cloud Platform, Amazon AWS, Microsoft, MediaTek and IBM had extend us great support for our Headstart Insights series.
Headstart Mumbai Members and Attendees:
Thank you for being part of Headstart community and helping us to build such a huge network.
A special thanks to our partners who extended their support and helped us to grow:
TIE Mumbai, Rodinhoods, Unltd India, Villgro Foundation, Unitus Seed Funds, Let’s Venture, IBG, GBG Mumbai, Indian Networker, Zone Startups, SED, 91 Spring Board, Yourstory, INC42, SLP, I3N, 500 Startups, Startup Grind, Management Paradise, TLABS, Bombay Connect.
Finally, it would have not be possible without Founders of Startups who shared their startup journey stories and mentor startups from the Mumbai eco-system especially Kunal Shah – Freecharge, Sachin Oswal – Infibeam , Mahesh Murthy – Seed Fund, Vikram Vora – My Dentist, and Ajeet Khurana – Sine.
What Has Volunteering at Headstart Taught Me?
It has been a long journey with Headstart Network Foundation and volunteering at Headstart has taught me a lot to evolve as a better person.
- Gave me an opportunity to meet and network with startups around the world and learn a lot from their stories and experiences.
- Assisted me to grow as a Leader and Mentor.
- Helped to manage teams & events with minimum resources.
- Changed me from an introvert to the actual meaning of Romil. (In case you’re confused, scroll to the top)
- Helped my mind think of jugaads in difficult situations.
- Inspired me to derive innovative solutions to solve problems.
- Gave me an opportunity to meet interesting people and make friends across the world.
- Many startups succeeded and failed throughout the journey which taught me to fail fast and grow.
- Taught me to wear different hats such as that of a leader, a host, a mentor, a moderator, an advisor and many more.
- To develop skills, namely – technologies, business strategy, marketing, leadership, public speaking, networking, operations, planning and innovative thinking.
- To inspire and motivate others to fulfill their dreams.
- Recognition in the Mumbai startup ecosystem.
- Last but not the least to “Pay it forward!!”
This journey and experience with Headstart is more valuable than any monetary rewards. Headstart has made a significant contribution to my life and the entire Headstart family has been a great support at the pre-seed stage of my life.
We have achieved many key milestones at Headstart Network Foundation with presence in 15 cities across India. Today, Headstart Network Foundation is the largest network of early stage startups in India. It facilitates entrepreneurial learning, hiring, marketing insights and peer mentoring amongst the Startups and addresses their issues through initiatives such as:
Headstart Startup Saturdays
Headstart Co-Founder Search Program
Now with support from all startup ecosystem enablers in Mumbai, we aspire to grow both Mumbai Startup ecosystem and Headstart globally and produce great startups.
I would like to conclude on the note that it is not about an organization or community, but that it is more about our country’s future. So let’s collaborate to grow the entrepreneurial ecosystem in India and change the world through entrepreneurship.
Blog by Romil Shah, Headstart Mumbai
For more information on the speaker list and agenda for Mumbai’s Centennial Startup Saturday. Click here.
If you’re interested in volunteering for Headstart, click here.