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Where do founders of 100 Indian unicorns come from? IIT Delhi tops list, IIMs nurtured many too

More than 50% of founders of start-ups worth over $1 billion are IIT graduates. IIT Delhi conducive to start-ups thanks to networking & academic support, says alumni alumni association ex-chief.

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New Delhi: On 5 May, India got its 100th unicorn, Open, a neobanking fintech portal, in a milestone lauded by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Unicorns are start-ups valued at over $1 billion — and in India, firms founded by IIT graduates make up more than half this growing herd.

Unicorns in India include household names like Flipkart, Bigbasket, Byju’s, Paytm, Swiggy, Zerodha, Slice, Grofers, Snapdeal, Ola, Oyo and MakeMyTrip. Research conducted by ThePrint, and a study of a consolidated list shared by IIT Delhi’s alumni network, have revealed that nearly 85 per cent of the founders of these start-ups have studied engineering.

Specifically, over 50 per cent graduated from the various Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) across the country. Of these, a majority — 30 people — are from IIT Delhi, followed by IIT Bombay, which accounts for 18 start-up founders, and IIT Kanpur, which accounts for 16. A few are also IIT Kharagpur and IIT Madras alumni.

According to Rohit Koshy, former president of the IIT Delhi Alumni Association and co-chair of the PanIIT Global Conference 2021, the environment at IIT Delhi is conducive for start-ups thanks to the network it has created over the years.

Speaking to ThePrint, Koshy said: “IIT Delhi, unlike IIT Kanpur and Madras, is unique in that a lot of us from here do our MBAs and enter the civil services. So, the access that we have to the civil service community is pretty big. Also, Delhi being the capital gives a lot of advantage to its students. Most of the start-ups are based out of either Delhi, Mumbai or Bengaluru. Since Bengaluru doesn’t have an IIT, Delhi alumni go and set up their start-ups over there.”

The institute, added Koshy, also supports the start-up culture academically. “The compulsion to do a project in B. Tech during the eighth semester has been done away with, so a lot of students take that semester to either work with a start-up or start one of their own,” he said.

A programme offering students a minor in entrepreneurship also helps students get acquainted with the start-up culture, said Koshy.

There’s also an initiative by the Union government, the National Innovation and Startup Policy 2019 for Students and Faculty, that aims to promote start-ups and build an “entrepreneurial mindset” among students.

Former IIT Delhi director V. Ramgopal Rao had shared a list of unicorn start-ups last month on Twitter, pointing that a large number had IIT Delhi alumni behind them.

Unicorn founders from IIT Delhi include e-commerce website Flipkart’s founders Binny Bansal and Sachin Bansal; restaurant aggregator and food delivery company Zomato’s Deepinder Goyal, Gaurav Gupta and Pankaj Chaddah; e-commerce site Meesho’s Vidit Aatrey and Sanjeev Barnwal; and fintech payment solution provider Pine Labs’ Rajul Garg and Tarun Upadhyay.

Delhivery’s co-founder Kapil Bharti, too, is from IIT Delhi. He co-founded the logistics service along with Bhavesh Manglani from the Dhirubhai Ambani Institute of Information and Communication Technology in Gandhinagar, Mohit Tandon from IIT Kanpur, Sahil Barua from the National Institute of Technology, Karnataka and Suraj Saharan from IIT Bombay.

According to a report titled, “Decoding India’s 100 Unicorns”, released by media platform Inc24 in May, 23 of the 100 Unicorns are in the e-commerce sector, followed by fintech (21), enterprise tech (19), computer services (9), media and entertainment (7), edtech (6), logistics (5), healthcare (4), travel tech (2), transport tech (2), clean tech (1) and real estate tech (1). It adds that a majority of these acquired the unicorn status after 2020.

Also read: Zomato, Flipkart, Paytm — flush with unicorns, India’s tech moment arrives

Other IITs not far behind…

Several notable unicorns, ThePrint found, have IIT Bombay alumni as founders, such as Ola Cabs, by Ankit Bhati and Bhavish Aggarwal; CitiusTech, an IT healthcare platform, by Jagdish Moorjani and Rizwan Koita; and BillDesk by Karthik Ganapathy of IIT Bombay, along with Ajay Kaushal of IIT Madras and Srinivasu M.N. of RKM Vivekananda College, Chennai.

The ones started by IIT Kanpur alumni are logistics service Rivigo, founded by Deepak Garg from IIT Kanpur along with Gazal Kalra from IIT Delhi; Glance, an AI-based software company, by Naveen Tewari; social media platform ShareChat, by Ankush Sachdeva, Bhanu Pratap Singh and Farid Ahsan; and Urban Company, by Abhiraj Singh Bhal and Varun Khaitan of IIT Kanpur, along with Raghav Chandra from the University of California, Berkeley.

…and if not IITs, then IIMs

ThePrint found that graduates of Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) also make up a significant section of unicorn founders — nearly 20 of those who didn’t attend an IIT had a postgraduate degree from one of the IIMs.

Falguni Nayar, the founder of e-commerce beauty and personal care brand Nykaa, is an alumna of IIM Ahmedabad. Supam Maheshwari, co-founder of FirstCry, an e-commerce brand for baby products, also did his postgraduation from IIM Ahmedabad after getting a degree in engineering from the Delhi College of Engineering (now known as Delhi Technological University).

The unicorns without either IIT or IIM alumni at the helm include PayTM, founded by Akshay Khanna and Vijay Shekhar Sharma — both alumni of the Delhi College of Engineering — and Unacademy by Gaurav Munjal, a graduate of the Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies, Hemesh Singh and Sachin Gupta from Motilal Nehru National Institute of Technology and Roman Saini from the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS).

(Edited by Zinnia Ray Chaudhuri)

Also read: India’s senior citizens are an untapped group. For startups, they can mean new business


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