Brandeis Sends Five Early Stage Startups to Smart Fifty Competition in India With $6,000 Each

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WALTHAM, MA— Five companies will move forward in the inaugural Smart Fifty competition, an entrepreneurial competition looking to identify 50 startup companies from around the globe addressing India’s biggest socio-economic challenges.

Organized by Brandeis International Business School, in collaboration with TiE-Boston, a total of 16 finalists participated in the Boston International Round on Saturday. Out of 16, five companies in various stages of development were selected by a panel of five judges.

Prof. Debarshi Nandy (left) and TiE-Boston President Praveen Tailam. Photo: India New England News.

The five winners, each of whom will receive $6,000 and will now to move to next round in India, are:

PlenOptika Inc –

Sukriti Social Foundation –

Village Industrial Power Inc –

Nonspec –

Girls Health Champions –

These five companies will join 45 others from different parts of the world in a boot camp at IIM Calcutta from where the top 10 will be selected to move to the finals in New Delhi which is will be held March 25. The top 10 will get funding up to $1.5 million and assured incubation space at IIM-Calcutta Innovation Park.

“It is a great event to include next generation of bright people to solve the day to day problems and participate in the progress. So far may people wondered how they can contribute to our motherland. We all owe a great debt for what we got. This is a great vehicle to solve the problems of India and contribute,” said Subu Kota, who served as one of the five judges. “We should do these events more often and give opportunity for young people to participate and own it. Now they got a platform to speak and contribute.”

Brandeis International Business School partnered with IIM Calcutta Innovation Park and the Government of India’s Department of Science and Technology in the search of solutions to transform India. The competition focuses on aspiring and early-stage startups working on solutions in learning, sustainability, agriculture, health, fintech and big data, and smart living.

Vinit Nijhawan, one of the five judges, said he was delighted that IIM Calcutta and Brandeis University conceived of this program.

“The quality of the presentations was phenomenal and it was difficult to come to a consensus on the top five. I believe the companies the judges picked will do well in the on-going competitions,” said Mr. Nijhawan.

“This was the inaugural Smart Fifty event and I’m thrilled that Brandeis University was a part of it. We at Brandeis International Business School see it as part of our mission and core values to engage in activities internationally, and it was great to partner with IIM-Calcutta and TiE-Boston to organize the international round at Boston,” said Debarshi Nandy, Associate Professor and MSF Program Director at Brandeis International Business School. “We were thrilled to get so many high quality applications and it was difficult for the initial panel of judges to screen them down to the top 16 that participated in the finals.”

He said 16 top teams were all fantastic and in many ways they all contribute to the fascinating entrepreneurial ecosystem that exists in the United States.

“These are companies that have a strong focus in the US market, solving critical problems that are as much applicable globally in many countries. In this sense, this was a great event for us to host, given our core mission to engage with companies and start-ups globally,” said Mr. Nandy. “We are proud to be part of the Smart Fifty and look forward to expanding this event in the years ahead.”

He said Brandeis would be happy to work with all these companies through its Consulting Field Projects to help them expand in ways that they want: business development, innovation, financing, and corporate strategy etc.

The five judges for the Boston round were:

Daniel Bergstresser:

Daniel Bergstresser is a finance and economics professor at Brandeis University and an expert in entrepreneurial finance.  Prior to his role at Brandeis, he was as a professor at Harvard Business School and has also worked as head of the European credit research group at Barclays Global Investors and has served in consulting roles for a wide variety of startup and well-established companies.  He has an undergraduate degree from Stanford and a PhD in economics from MIT. ”

Subu Kota:

Mr. Subu Kota,CEO and Chairman of The Boston Group, brings more than 40 years of entrepreneurial wisdom with broad experience ranging from Information Technology Consulting, e-Learning Services and Pharmaceuticals Research and Manufacturing. Mr. Kota is a serial entrepreneur and has been involved in start-ups in various sectors. Mr. Kota is charter membership of TiE, Boston and served as an adviser to the dean of Kennedy School of Government, at Harvard University.

Venkat Maroju:

Venkat Maroju is CEO  and founder of SourceTrace Systems – a company that has become a global leader in providing software solutions to agriculture and allied sectors. Prior to joining SourceTrace, Venkat had founded Factum Ventures, a holding company in India that set up and promoted new business ventures in sustainable agriculture, microfinance and renewable energy. Venkat holds an MBA from MIT Sloan School of Management and was a Sloan Fellow at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He holds a Ph.D. in Engineering from Old Dominion University, Norfolk, Virginia and Masters in Engineering from Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore.

Vinit Nijhawan:

Vinit is an entrepreneur, investor and now teaching entrepreneurship at Boston University. Vinit was President of TiE-Boston and a TiE Global trustee.

Jack Swartz:

Partner at Converge Ventures, a Boston based seed and early stage fund, providing capital and connections for tech entrepreneurs. Partner in S&S Investments, an equity fund that specializes in providing coaching and funding to technology start-ups.


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