Venture Catalysts - India's Largest Integrated Incubator

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Startups are built by dreams and hard work. However, they also need mentorships and capital to rise to the sky. Most of the early stage startups in India do not have access to knowledge and advice from experts. That is why many Indian startups fail. Venture Catalysts is a venture capital firm. They provide all the support that an entrepreneur needs to get his/her startup to where they wanted.

We interviewed the cofounder of Venture Catalysts, Dr. Apoorva Ranjan Sharma to get all the information about their company. We covered everything about Venture Catalysts in this article. Read about their their vision and mission to their future plans, hiring strategy and much more:

Vision and mission

Venture Catalyst is India’s first and largest integrated incubator. The core idea behind Venture Catalysts is to invest – whether capital, effort or time – in people and their ideas. The company focus on developing and mentoring promising early stage startup ideas into viable business propositions that create an impact on local, national, and global levels. Venture Catalysts provides capital investment, mentorship and business networking, exposure, corporate partnerships, etc. They do it by implementing an integrated approach to incubation, mentorship, and investment. For all these goals, they have three key initiatives: 9Unicorns, Venture Catalysts, and 9Syndicate.

Their mission is to become the largest and most impactful startup incubator in the Asian market. In the US, the top-10 stocks listed on exchanges such as NASDAQ are heavily dominated by tech companies. They aim to replicate this in India and Asia at large.

On the other hand, their vision is to implement their formula of success on a global level. They want to emerge as the world’s largest and most active early-stage integrated incubator.

Venture Catalysts' second target audience after startups, is investors. They keep networking with both existing angels and HNIs looking to support ventures with their capital and networks. They provide them with access to curated early-stage startups from multiple sectors to invest in, along with portfolio management services. After the investment, the team manage their portfolio and secure high-value exit opportunities delivering multifold returns for the investors.

For the last 4 years, Venture Catalysts has been the largest and most active early-stage player in India. With their growing global footprint, they are also present in high-growth markets such as the UK, Singapore, the Middle-East, etc.

Industry details

In 2019, the Indian startup sector raised funds worth $14.5 billion across 1,185 financing rounds. And $6.9 billion of it were secured by early stage startups only. Depending on the scenario, these investments are typically spread out over 350-500 deals worth $500,000 - $2 million each. As Venture Catalysts makes 55-70 investments annually, they capture 11% to 20% of those early stage startups.

Venture Catalysts - Starting up

The founder, Dr. Apoorva Ranjan Sharma, noticed a major gap in the startup industry. He saw that there is a lack of an integrated, growth-oriented approach to startup incubation. Early-stage ventures did not have any visibility over capital networks. They did not know how venture capital moves, which investors to pitch to, or how to pitch to them. There was also limited or no access to the right set of mentors. Mentors are important to help startups identify existing and emerging gaps, address business challenges, and plan growth trajectory.

These were major challenges. Most of the entrepreneurs ended up diluting their startups’ equity by the time they reached the second or third round of funding. The reason was their lack of visibility over capital flows. It hurt their long-term valuation and growth prospects. In the absence of the relevant guidance, many startups also couldn’t strike the much-needed balance between the speed and sustainability; they either scaled too quickly by burning cash or failed to grow fast enough to stay ahead of their competitors.

To address these challenges, Dr. Apoorva Ranjan came up with an approach that combined angel investments with gap-based mentorship and networking at the seed stage. His goal was to build an integrated incubator that not only provides investment and capital visibility to promising early-stage startups but also connect them with founders of Unicorn/Soonicorn companies, top industry leaders, and corporate CXOs for key learning and growth opportunities.

Dr. Apoorva doesn't believe that the geography limits the ideas. For him, it is just as likely that a valuable startup such as Beardo emerges from the city of Ahmedabad as it is that something like ConfirmTKT emerges from Bengaluru. So, he wanted to move beyond the conventional startup hubs of Bengaluru, Mumbai, New Delhi, Chennai, and Hyderabad. He wanted to identify and nurture high-potential startup ideas in tier-2 and tier-3 markets.

Further, his ideas was to capitalize on the growing interest in the startup landscape. He networked with HNIs and business class in these regions by bringing them on board as investors, advisors, and mentors.

Venture Catalysts - The Service

Venture Catalysts, also known as VCats, has three initiatives – 9Unicorns, Venture Catalysts, and 9Syndicate. These initiatives are reinventing the early-stage startup investment landscape in India. By incubating the startups, they fill uptwo main gaps for them: financing and mentorship. Both of them lead any startup to a great success.

The USP of Venture Catalysts is their commitment to creating incremental entrepreneurial value through a high-impact combination of capital, mentoring, business networking, and corporate partnerships.

9Unicorns nurtures innovative startups at extremely nascent stages by investing INR 75 lakh to INR 1 crore per company. This investment is made when most of these startups are little more than high-potential ideas on a drawing board, driven by a passionate team. Through Venture Catalysts, they facilitate investments of INR 3-15 crore for its incubates, while 9Syndicate provides growth capital to the tune of INR 15-50 crore to startups.

Apart from investment, VCats provide invaluable learning, networking, and growth opportunities to the startups in their portfolio. To this end, they have brought on board veteran Unicorn and Soonicorn founders as mentors. They also provide entrepreneurs with access to senior business leaders and CXOs at top corporate organisations.

Venture Catalysts - Founders & Team

Dr. Apoorva Ranjan Sharma - Cofounder & President of Venture Catalysts

Dr. Apoorva Ranjan Sharma, Cofounder of Venture Catalysts
Dr. Apoorva Ranjan Sharma, Cofounder of Venture Catalysts

Dr. Apoorva Ranjan Sharma graduated as an engineer from HBTI, Kanpur, and completed his MBA in marketing and finance from Asia Pacific Institute of Management. He also pursued his doctorate in management and role of business incubators in the economic growth of India from Amity Business School in Noida. Dr. Apoorva also holds a diploma in mentoring startups from Haas School of Business, UC Berkeley.

He started his professional journey as a Project Manager at JSS Technology Incubator before joining as the General Manager of Amity Innovation Incubator, a position he held for 5 years. In May 2010, Dr. Apoorva joined as the Vice President of Indian Angel Network (IAN). Before launching Venture Catalysts, he was the Executive Vice President and Partner at VentureNursery for three and a half years between February 2012 and October 2015. He also became a charter member of TiE Global in November 2016 and have been serving as a member of its board since July 2018. At VCats, Dr. Apoorva is responsible for identifying valuable startups and managing the company’s investment strategies.

Anuj Golecha - Cofounder of Venture Catalysts
Anuj Golecha is a veteran Chartered Accountant certified by the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India, as well as a serial entrepreneur and angel investor. Anuj is the owner of Chanvim Plastics and Dezire Jewels. He is a current Partner at Banshi Jain and Associates (BJAA) – a position he’s served with distinction since 2004. He is also the owner of Samyakth Group and has invested in startups such as CoutLoot, Siftr, Beardo, Fynd, Innov8, PeeSafe, Rapid Retail, BharatPe, and Koinex.

Apart from being a part of the founding team at Venture Catalysts, Anuj has co-founded Samyakth Capital. It is India’s first hybrid growth fund that invests in and partners with companies that create lasting value for customers. At VCats, he spearheads the value addition to their network and also manages the pan-India expansion.

Anil Jain - Cofounder of Venture Catalysts & 9Unicorns
A seasoned businessperson and a finance industry veteran, Anil Jain is the co-founder of Wallfort Properties and has, since 2019, served as an advisor to PropCatalyst. He is also the co-founder of 9Unicorns, a unique idea-stage fund that is redefining early-stage investments and mentoring in India. In his role, Anil leverages his extensive industry experience and business contacts to add more credible people – investors, partners, and entrepreneurs – to the Venture Catalysts network.

Gaurav Jain - Cofounder of Venture Catalysts
Gaurav Jain is the think-tank of the company. He’s a technology expert who holds a Bachelor’s degree from IIT Roorkee. He also has a certification as a Chartered Financial Analyst from CFA Institute in the US. Gaurav also holds an MBA from Stanford University Graduate School of Business. Over the course of his career, he has worked as an Investment Banking Analyst with Credit Suisse, as an Associate with GenNext Ventures (the venture capital arm of Reliance Industries Ltd.), as a Product Manager (Chief Technology & Architecture Office) at Cisco, and as a Director of Product at AirDev. At Venture Catalysts, he is responsible for managing the end-to-end technological framework, deploying tech-led interventions to optimise existing workflows, and identifying how technology can make the processes more efficient.

The VCats Team
Venture Catalysts has a team of more than 45 professionals working full-time across different functions at Venture Catalysts. They also have a strong pan-India presence through 80+ regional and venture partners.

The structure at VCats, like most startups, is a horizontal hierarchy which promotes individual ownership and accountability. They are always open to new ideas from their team that can help them to do something new or bring efficiency to the existing process. Every year, the company provides a 15-day holiday around the Christmas-New Year period. This is in addition to the annual leave balance that all employees get.

This is why, when hiring new people, they ensure that the candidates are a good fit for the culture. They prefer recruiting people who are passionate and unstoppable and have high integrity and a team-first attitude. These traits are essential for building trust, whether with in-house team members or external stakeholders, which is a non-negotiable requirement in the field of investment.

Venture Catalysts Logo
Venture Catalysts Logo

The name, Venture Catalysts, reflects the vision behind the company, as does the tagline ‘India’s 1st Integrated Incubator’. A catalyst is something that accelerates the process and creates a new by-product without essentially changing itself. This is what the founders want to do for new-age ventures across India as an integrated incubator. They want to accelerate their growth and help them achieve scale and success at a much faster pace.

The logo and the colour scheme are derived from a mix of diverse value systems. The succulent plant is a symbol of wealth and prosperity across multiple cultures, while the triangle represents growth. The logo encapsulates both these aspects to highlight how they constantly strive to create greater value and growth. The pink visual scheme symbolises kumkum, a symbol of prosperity and harmony, which strengthens these subliminal messages.

Venture Catalysts - Launch

When asked about the launch and the initial days of Venture Catalysts, Dr. Apoorva said:

When launching Venture Catalysts, I knew that we could find several promising business ventures. The main bottleneck was to gain enough investors to invest a good amount of money in each startup. I relied on my social circles, including friends and family, to find the first 50 investors. As we went about strengthening the angel ecosystem, the market credibility of our founding team – including me and my co-founders – helped us attract the right investors during the early stage of our growth.

Venture Catalysts - Growth

The initial success of the company drew a lot of angel investors. They saw a significant interest amongst regional investor networks that wanted to collaborate with them to gain access to startups across India. This, in turn, has helped them to grow at an accelerated pace.

I’ve always believed that delivering results and value is the best way of attracting meaningful relationships – and the only growth strategy that matters is collaboration.
- Dr. Apoorva Ranjan Sharma - Cofounder & President of Venture Catalysts

Venture Catalysts - Challenges

The biggest challenge for the founder team was lack of knowledge about Angel investing. It is a vital factor whenever anything involves money, especially such huge sums. Angel investment, traditionally, has not been an easy game. When they started Venture Catalysts, the angel community in India was very small and extremely tightly-knit. There were also many HNIs and business people with surplus capital looking to make long-term investments in more sustainable asset classes, following the collapse of the sub-prime housing bubble and its impact on the global real estate market. Before they could get them on board as investors in startups, the team had to win their trust.

We did this by teaching the science of angel investing to regional investors. We helped them understand the process of startup valuation, investment, and exits. Additionally, we empowered them with the knowledge needed to identify which ventures and founding teams had growth potential, and which didn’t. We gave them knowledge & practical insights to better manage their startup portfolio and how they, as angels, could help guide their investees onto an accelerated growth trajectory. So far, we have conducted over 150 such investor masterclasses around the world – and it’s worked wonders when it comes to building trust.
- Dr. Apoorva Ranjan Sharma

Venture Catalysts  - Marketing

Venture Catalysts don't invest in big marketing campaigns. A relationship-building approach delivers much better dividends  for them. Especially in tier-2 and tier-3 markets where they have been strengthening their footprint and foresee the maximum growth potential. More and more HNIs and businesspeople in smaller towns and cities are now interested in startups as an asset class, potential growth drivers, and future business partners. They want to be angel investors for these upcoming ventures and are looking for avenues to do so.

These prospective angels trust the opinion of their peers. They value word-of-mouth recommendations. That is the reason, they saw exponential growth in tier-2 and tier-3 markets during the pandemic and brought on board more than 50 venture partners. Most of these new associations were driven by their relationship-building efforts in these regions. They came through references from their existing investors.

Venture Catalysts - Current Scenario

Operating locations

Venture Catalysts is headquartered in Mumbai and present in more than 36 cities across India through dedicated offices as well as regional and venture partners. They also have cutting-edge incubation centres in over 10 cities. Moreover, they are currently planning a capacity expansion to build more incubation centres across the country.

In addition to that, they are also present in London and are in the process of establishing offices in Singapore, Hong Kong, Dubai, Saudi Arabia, and the US.

User base and notable partners

At present, VCats have more than 4,500 investors associated with the VCats community and have invested in over 100 startups. They also have 80+ regional and venture partners on a pan-India level to provide them with deeper market penetration in tier-2 and tier-3 cities. They have also partnered with JPIA, one of the most reputed investment firms in London.

Growth metrics

VCats completed 16 deals in the first year of their operations, 33 in the second, 59 in the third, and 63 in the fourth. In 2020, despite the market being in upheaval following the COVID-19 outbreak, they remain on track to close 70 deals. Their incubates have secured around $150 million in syndication value so far.

Even though the first and the second year were their investment phase, they still secured a lucrative exit opportunity in the second year. The third year of operations saw this number jump to seven. Last year, they secured around 25 exits. All of these exit opportunities delivered multifold returns on the original investments.

Venture Catalysts - Funding

The company raised an undisclosed amount of funding to expand its geographical reach throughout India and other countries. They are still using those funds to acquire better people and make a network of investors and startups.

Venture Catalysts - Advisors and mentors

Ritesh Agarwal (Founder & CEO – OYO Rooms) has recently joined their board of advisors and will be investing in and mentoring emerging startups in the VCats' portfolio. Some other prominent mentor names are Vishal Maheshwari (Country Head – Vuclip India Pvt. Ltd.), Ankush Tiwari (CTO – Mobilia), Daud Ali (Managing Partner – Peacock Industries), Samir Shah (Managing Principal – Sattva Investment), Anand Ladsariya, and Abhishek Bhagat (Managing Partner – Chryseum Advisors) on their advisory board.

Venture Catalysts - Acquisitions and mergers

VCats acquired Incubate Hub, a corporate venturing platform, earlier in 2020. Aimed at plugging the white space between the corporate innovation market and startups, IncubateHub provides corporate players with access to curated solutions and services by new-age ventures.

On the one hand, this helps corporate entities bolster their innovation trajectory while, on the other, it allows the incubates to develop, pilot, and validate their ideas. Doing so significantly shortens the process of generating proof of concepts as well as the time to market while accelerating product development and capacity building.

Venture Catalysts - Competitors

I feel that, for a player as differentiated as Venture Catalysts, there are no competitors – only future collaborators.
- Dr. Apoorva Ranjan Sharma

VCats avoid competing with other funds, accelerators, or incubators. Instead, they choose to focus on identifying and building on mutual synergies towards a common end-goal - driving entrepreneurial growth and realising the untapped startup potential in both emerging and developed economies.

Venture Catalysts - Tools

For the management of their internal operations, the team uses an internal app developed by Gaurav Jain, one of the co-founders.

Venture Catalysts - Recognition and Achievements

VCats was recently named as the world’s seventh-largest integrated incubator, as well as one of the most active early-stage investors and incubators globally, by Crunchbase. Moreover, The Economic Times has named Venture Catalysts as the No.1 early-stage investor and incubator in India.

For its contribution to the startup ecosystem, Venture Catalysts was recently felicitated as the most active early-stage player by distinguished industry doyens such as Mr. Ratan Tata and Mr. Narayan Murthy.

Venture Catalysts - Future plans

In terms of business expansion, the company is looking at increasing its global footprint. They will continue to penetrate deeper into emerging tier-2/tier-3 markets across India. Internationally, VCats is targeting three key geographies: Southeast Asia, Europe (through London), and the Middle-East (through Dubai and Saudi Arabia). The startup ecosystem in these areas is growing at a rapid pace. By 2023, VCats want to complete 500 early-stage deals every year. Going by their current growth rate, they will reach their target.

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About Lakshya Singh

I am a visionary content creator and internet researcher.
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