Back in 2006-07, when we started Headstart, the startup ecosystem in India was at a very nascent stage. Techies were omnipresent but they didn’t want to work in small no name companies (aka startups). Media wasn’t interested in covering startups. Seed capital was non existent. VC firms had just started setting up shop in the country. Founders who had built successful tech companies were elusive.
The founding members at Headstart were passionate organisers of unconferences called Barcamps in Bangalore, India. We observed that almost every startup that demoed at a Barcamp (some of them very promising) folded within a year. So we decided to do something about it. We brainstormed, debated, fantasised and ended up with a list of things that needed to be done. It looked something like 1. Connect different stake holders of the ecosystem together 2. Get senior entrepreneurs to mentor the next generation 3. Make startups cool to work in 4. Make funding accessible to early stage entrepreneurs and a few more points in descending order of priority.
We started with doing a conference named “HeadStart” in 2007 that got all stakeholders of the startup ecosystem together. We had 10 promising startups demoing to an audience comprising of early adopters, investors, influencers, media, academicians and startup enthusiasts. That event saw a footfall of about 2500 people over 2 days. Media took notice. We then started having small closed door sessions with startup founders where we would get experts to give the startup feedback on their product and positioning. We expanded on this to include networking and stories of how successful founders had gone about building their current businesses. These events subsequently became known as Startup Saturdays. Since there weren’t any seed stage funds or active angel groups, we tied up with big corporations to get into joint ventures with early stage startups. We co-created an incubator at India’s leading tech university – IISc and a bunch of other initiatives. All of this was done in a completely voluntary capacity.
We used to passionately discuss what we could do to change India and subsequently the world with entrepreneurship in our private mailing list called – wings-of-fire. By 2009, we had outgrown ourselves. Some of our team members had moved to different cities and continued these initiatives there. We then decided to form a not for profit organisation and gave two suggestions for the name – Headstart Network or Headstart Foundation. The clerk sitting in the Registrar of Companies decided to call it Headstart Network Foundation, and that’s what we are today!
Since then we have expanded to 23 cities across India. We have created over 20 different initiatives to add value to early stage startups in the country. Most of them have been spectacular failures, but some have made a dent in the local and national ecosystem too. Startup Saturdays are among the most popular startup events in the country today and have crossed their centennial edition (100 consecutive months) in several cities. Companies that made their first / early stage demos at our initiatives have cumulatively added over 20 Billion USD to the Indian economy and created over 400,000 jobs. We would never know the exact number but we guess we have facilitated the creation of about 10,000 new ventures (not all of them startups) and facilitated over a 150,000 direct connections through our online and offline channels.
We continue to be volunteer run. Today we are a team of nearly 150 volunteers and just 1 employee (who we fondly call our full time volunteer), all passionately contributing to the ecosystem.