5 Hot Start-Ups to Watch in 2010

We sift through a crowd of new companies to bring you the ones we think you need to look out for next year

Published: Dec 31, 2009 08:58:54 AM IST
Updated: Dec 31, 2009 11:30:28 AM IST

1 Metahelix
Founders: K.K. Narayanan and Gautam Nadig

USP: First Indian company to develop its unique GM technology from scratch
Eight years ago, a few Ph.D-wielding Indian scientists quit their well-paying jobs in order to develop seeds, crops and farm technologies “from India, for India”. As 2010 begins, this profitable company is getting ready to challenge the multinational might in the genetically engineered seeds market.

Metahelix will aggressively sell to Indian farmers a new product it spent the better part of its eight-year history developing: Cotton seeds genetically modified (GM) with a gene segment (Cry 1C) that makes them resistant to two major cotton pests. Transgenic seeds account for about 90 percent of the Rs. 2,000-crore market for cotton seeds and Monsanto enjoys a dominating 95 percent of the GM market. But this isn’t just what Metahelix does. It has developed hybrid varieties and technologies in rice, maize, millets, brinjal and tomato. It even sells its seeds in other Asian countries. If Indian farmers take to its new BT-cotton seeds, the company may see a sharp inflection point in its growth.And, if and when the government allows food crops to use GM technology, beginning with brinjal, Metahelix could become the GM superstar from India.

Founder: Ravi Ghate

USP: First and only mover advantage; ballooning rural database
Once in a while, an ad for SMSONE will appear in a local newspaper in one of Maharashtra’s rural districts. Seeking to recruit a “community leader” or “mobile journalist”, the ad then lists out the preferred qualifications: 10th or 12th class failed; college dropout; financially backward; or just plain demoralised. We didn’t get that wrong. SMSONE was started in 2005 by a “12th-pass-Second-year-diploma-failed” entrepreneur, Ghate. It is an SMS community newsletter in rural and semi-urban areas that allows a few hundred to a few thousand people to receive valuable and local information, curated by a person in their midst. The curator compiles a database of roughly 1,000-1,500 mobile subscribers from his area, along with their basic demographic details. After getting an OK from the subscribers, this information is entered into SMSONE’s central database.

SMSONE acts as a facilitator, allowing the entrepreneurial instincts of the young person to figure out which SMS messages would interest his communities as well as local advertisers and establishments. Completely self-funded, SMSONE started in Maharashtra but is now expanding in the south. It plans to reach the majority of Indian mobile households by recruiting over 2 lakh unemployed youth to play journalist-entrepreneurs.

3 What’s On India
Founder: Atul Phadnis

USP: Indigenous solution for Indian TV watchers. Strong relationships with TV channels and cable and DTH operators
There are over 500 channels available on Indian TV today pulling over Rs. 8,800 crore in advertising money. Yet most of us watch barely a tenth of these most of the times. It is just too damn confusing to figure out what programme is playing one all of those 500 channels at any given point. This is the problem that What’s On India is trying to solve, and in the process make itself into India’s TV Guide.
The four-year-old company has built its own Electronic Programme Guide, which already reaches millions of subscribers through set top boxes of cable operators like Hathway and DEN, and DTH providers like Airtel Digital TV and BIG TV.

But with the impending launch of its TV guide as a 24x7 channel across various cable and DTH platforms in January 2010, What’s On India is looking to reach more than 20 million digital TV homes in the first half of the next year. The company will not just segregate available programming more effectively for viewers, it will also recommend programmes. Channels and other brands will also be able to advertise themselves on this new channel.

4 Redbus
Founder: Phanindra Sama

USP: Created the online bus ticket booking system in India. Positioned as a platform for centralised reservation system
The earliest company to target the inter-city bus travel market, is Redbus. The company aggregates tickets from close to 500 bus operators on its Web site (it earns Rs. 30-50 as commission per ticket from bus operators). Most bus operators do not have a computerised, real-time reservation system for their inventory, so Redbus has already launched a a centralised reservation system for bus tickets, just like for air tickets, and could see wide adoption in 2010.

Founders: Rahul Bhalchandra and Rajeev Bhopaiah

USP: Scalable, high-tech model in a mom-and-pop business
Their job is to make sure You Look Good, or YLG. Founded in March 2008, Bangalore-headquartered YLG Salon & Spa spent the first nine months of its life debating its business model on paper. It wanted a piece of the Rs. 5,000 crore Indian salon market, roughly 95 percent of which consists of neighbourhood aunty-style joints.

In 2009, YLG took its paper plans into the real world, opening its first salon in Bangalore in January. It added another 13 in the city during the year, fine-tuning various aspects like location, pricing, membership plans and staff training. An in-house academy imparts 6-12 week training courses to paying participants, many of whom become staff members later on. A centralised technology solution keeps track of skin and health profiles and past treatments for repeat customers, accessible from any store.

With many of its Bangalore salons now generating operational profits, YLG now wants to copy-paste its business model across India. It wants to set up 100 salons by 2011 and 500 within five years, according to Kanwal Singh of Helion Venture Capital, an investor in YLG.

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(This story appears in the 08 January, 2010 issue of Forbes India. You can buy our tablet version from Magzter.com. To visit our Archives, click here.)

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  • Brijesh Thakur

    I guess the red bus ticketing system for bus operators who lack centralised reservation system is a great idea. As that's a value creation but i guess its for buses which go to pune from Mumbai and sorts.

    on Jun 24, 2010
  • Rufina Fernandes

    SMS One / Ravi Ghate is a proud recipient of the NASSCOM Foundation Social Innovation Honour 2009. He truly is an emerging social entrepreneur and his solution is changing the lives of rural youth who are getting a great break through this mobile newsletter initiative. We wish him the very best and it's great that Forbes has shortlisted his initiative for all to notice and support.

    on Jan 4, 2010

    It' sgreat news on SMS one concept.<br /> definieetly useful for rural area, for various purposes like commodity marketing , alerts.

    on Jan 4, 2010
  • Swami

    Thanks for unearthing such promising new businesses. Wish these entrepreneurs the very best in the years ahead.

    on Jan 1, 2010
  • Isaac devasagayam

    smsone news is attractive. thanks

    on Jan 6, 2010
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