India’s richest religious group thinks the startup boom can make it even richer

At a time when American and Chinese investors are seeking supremacy over its booming startup ecosystem, India’s richest religious community has forayed into the sector, funding and nurturing entrepreneurship.

The Jain International Trade Organisation (JITO), a network of influential industrialists, entrepreneurs, and professionals from the Jain community, hosted an Investor Pitch Day in Mumbai earlier this month. The idea was to connect startups with its 150-member JITO Angel Network (JAN).

At the event, seven startups secured close to $3 million (Rs19.4 crore) in all. A third of this amount went to just two entities: daily commute mobile-tech firm Zophop and bike rental company Onn Bikes.

Last November, JITO had held another such event in Mumbai, and then in Delhi where around 10 startups participated. After the Mumbai event this month, it held one in Chennai, too. The organisation now plans to host two such events every quarter going forward.

“We are trying to build an ecosystem where every youth with a worthwhile business idea can implement it with the help of buddy entrepreneurs,” Narendra Shyamsukha, chairman of JITO Incubation and Innovation Foundation (JIIF), a subsidiary of JITO, told Quartz. Shyamsukha is the founder and chairman of vocational training institute ICA Edu Skills.

JITO was founded 10 years ago as a non-governmental organisation (NGO) and engaged in social service, education, and business networking. Today, it has over 60 chapters across India with over 6,000 industrialists, entrepreneurs, and professionals as members.

Beyond funding
Startups seeking JAN funding needn’t have Jain owners. “However we don’t invest in businesses which don’t abide by the Jain philosophy of ahimsa,” Shyamsukha said, referring to the religion’s fundamental principle of nonviolence or even the absence of desire to harm other life forms. So, for instance, businesses involving non-vegetarian food items and tobacco are out of reckoning.

Aside from pumping in funds, JAN also provides strategic support and mentorship.

To nurture upcoming talent, JITO set up an incubation centre in Mumbai in September 2017. The plan is to open such centres in six major cities. The Bengaluru and Delhi ones are set to open soon.

At such hubs, the organisation will handhold budding companies on various aspects of the business from human resources to legal to IT, and more. The incubated startups get access to workspace, training, marketing support, funding opportunities, as well as some free services and credit facilities.

The Jain community’s interest in India’s startups follows those of investors from the world over. For instance, Japanese investing giant Softbank has invested huge amounts in e-tailer Flipkart, mobile wallet Paytm, ride-hailing firm Ola, and many more. Chinese internet company Tencent and multinational Alibaba, too, are betting big on budding Indian firms.

“Money is available but do you take from the Jain foundation or a Stellaris or an Indian Angel Network? It depends a lot on what the antecedents are,” Ankur Nigam, a partner at management consulting firm KPMG, said. “Before picking an investor, startups need to ask ‘what else do you bring to the table?’”

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