entrepreneur: Storm runners: Covid entrepreneurs hope to grow as pandemic abates

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When Covid-19 saw people rushing to their homes, vehicles stopping and businesses and offices closing, some found lightbulb moments in the once-in-a-century chaos. They founded companies in the middle of the pandemic.

Like Delhi-based Arham Partap Jain, 31, who saw trucks idling and then founded Trucknetic. He calls it “Uber for trucks,” an online logistics platform that connects shippers with carriers. “We want to be one of the biggest truck companies by 2025, without owning a single truck,” he says.

Jain is eager to raise funds and grow even as the pandemic appears to be subsiding. With over 200,000 fleet owners and 1,000 shippers, Trucknetic has a network of over one million trucks. Jain now plans to launch transport insurance for truckers who are often the sole breadwinners.

It is also looking to raise $10 million in a Series A funding round. We are talking to institutional investors and family offices and will close the round by December,” he said.

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Jain is one of thousands of people who have started a business during the pandemic, which has resulted in a tidal wave of entrepreneurial activity in the fields of logistics, education, networking services, conferences in line, fitness and beauty. The combination of easily accessible new technologies, funds and a work-from-home format has proven to be a catalyst for new ventures.

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And they found more and more customers online, whether for studies or purchases. About 1,55,300 new businesses were registered in India in 2020-21, compared to 1,22,700 businesses in 2019-20.

Indian startups raised over $42 billion in 1,583 deals in 2021, compared to $11.5 billion in funding in 924 deals in 2020. Venture capitalist funding in direct-to-consumer aggregators has multiplied by 30.

According to the latest report from Bain and Company, venture capital investments grew from $40 million in 2020 to $1.18 billion in 2021, helping create four new unicorns in the segment.

Rajani Sinha, chief economist, CareEdge Group, warns that traction is slowing for many online businesses born out of the pandemic, which are going hybrid. “We cannot paint all businesses with the same brush. Companies are moving to a hybrid format to adapt to current circumstances,” he says.

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Rajat Singhal, 35, went from running City Public School in Gurgaon to co-founding an online school called Cyboard during Covid. “Difficult times are the best to start a business because there is less competition for resources. He also sees new customer needs,” he says.

“Cyboard is a school without walls. We have classes up to VI. We are trying to obtain CBSE membership for classes X and XII. We have taught around 1,000 students online and will expand to 5,000 students from Ladakh to Dubai. He is looking to raise $4 million. With the end of the pandemic, Singhal also reopened the school offline.

With the economy in shambles and business sluggish, many fledgling entrepreneurs realized they could borrow capital at low interest rates and secure space for cheaper rent.

While the commercial rental rate increased by 3.8% YoY across India in 2019, it slowed down to 1.4% in 2020 and 0.3% in 2021. But rental rates have started to recover and grew by 1.2% in the first half of 2022. , yoy, says JLL India.

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For Jaspreet Dhingra, 42, the pandemic turned out to be the right time to start a networking club for small and medium-sized businesses. Dhingra left his position as an investment banker at HSBC to form the BANC (Business and Networking Club) in July 2020.

It is a platform where companies with an annual turnover ranging from 50 lakh to 500 crore can make contacts and grow their business through networking. “The challenge for SMEs is to increase turnover,” says Dhingra.

The business mantra is: if you get business by leveraging the power of your network, you win, and if you help someone get business, you get a referral commission. BANC receives a 10-15% commission for each trade and has handled nearly $8 million in trades.

His goal is to reach 50 million dollars in two years. She has clients in India, Canada, USA, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand and Oman.

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Even entrepreneurs have gone online. The Builders Club, a community of investors and startup founders, has proven to be a blessing during Covid-19.

Launched by Sohail Khan in November 2020, it has seen entrepreneurs from different parts of the world help each other to create products and businesses.

“Without Covid, we would never have gotten people to engage online and spend time in our community,” says Khan, 36. The club has approximately 25,000 members. “It’s a one-stop-shop for growing your startup,” he says.

The pandemic has accelerated the growth of online grocery stores. According to the Internet and Mobile Association of India and data analytics company Kantar, there are 692 million active internet users in India – 351 million (51%) in rural India and 341 million (49%) in urban India.

The report estimates that there will be 900 million internet users in India by 2025, driven by rural growth. About 346 million Indians are engaged in online transactions such as e-commerce and digital payments.

From 230 million in 2019, digital transactions have increased by 51% in two years. Meanwhile, 762 million are yet to adopt the internet, of which 63% are from rural India.

While rural and semi-urban areas remain largely untapped, Rozana, an e-commerce startup for rural India, aims to connect villagers to online shopping through a network of micro-entrepreneurs. Rozana has more than 10,000 partner villages or “saarthis”, which help customers place orders online and make last-mile delivery efficient.

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The startup serves 4,000-5,000 grams of panchayats and is working on a roadmap targeting 300 million customers over the next two to three years. “This platform will unlock the potential of the rural market, which contributes half of India’s GDP,” says Ankur Dahiya, co-founder of Rozana.

It raised $2.5 million in a funding round led by 3one4 Capital and European group IEG-Investment Banking.

Dipanjan Basu, Partner, Fireside Ventures, says consumer-led businesses have a “gold mine opportunity” in Tier 2 and -3 cities during Covid.

The pandemic has seen the online space for beauty grow. Ritika Sharma was one of those who rushed to grab him. In 2020, she created her company House of Beauty and launched the multi-retail format for beauty products, Boddess.

“As customers were apprehensive about going to stores, we brought them the store experience through Boddess. Crisis always brings hidden opportunities,” says Sharma, 35.

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Beauty is a resilient industry with generations of loyal customers. “We have seen a visible post-Covid shift towards high quality products, natural ingredients and brands with strong values,” she says. Boddess aims to make premium brands more accessible. “We will soon be disrupting beauty retail with experiential stores in select cities,” Sharma says.

Covid disrupted Shivangi Lahoty’s plans to move to Canada in March 2020. But that couldn’t stop the 29-year-old. As a designer, Lahoty has seen students who wanted to join fashion and design institutes like the National Institute of Design (NID) and the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) struggle to find the right mentorship.

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She launched DesignerShala in mid-2020. “We prepare students for design entrance exams,” she says. Working remotely for 18 months, they have just opened an office in Mumbai.

As they weather the storm, entrepreneurs are hoping that funds will follow and businesses will grow.

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