New Beginnings with Safal Seed
November of 2018 saw the end of year one of Nepal Communitere’s I-Cube Business Incubation Program. The program ended with a successful Demo Day at Shanker Hotel, where 5 incubated startups networked and pitched their products and ideas to some 130 guests, receiving close to 40 Lakhs in pledged seed investments. The event also saw the launch of Nepal’s first ever seed fund: Safal Seed, a groundbreaking collaboration between Anterprerana, Safal Partners and Nepal Communitere.
Nepal Communitere has aimed since its inception to support innovation and entrepreneurship in the country and foster economic growth. It believes that creativity flourishes in scarcity, so a developing country like Nepal has a lot of untapped creativity. I-Cube is a realization of this aim and founding belief. Over the past one year , the program has helped grow bold businesses by providing entrepreneurs with monthly masterclasses, co-working space, and one-on-one strategic business coaching. It’s connected them to a network of industry experts and technical consultants.
Communitere supported 4 registered companies and 2 student engineering teams with one business practicing safe failure and deciding not to continue. Of the 3 graduating companies, there is 8byte Creative Studio’s app Kopila that tries to maximize preschoolers’ potential. Around the Corner Restaurant, in Bansbari, offering an escape from the pollution and noise of Kathmandu Valley and Orange Ball Pvt. Ltd providing pest control services. The 2 student teams Nova Tech and Light Up design smart greenhouse systems and LED-based garments and decorative items respectively.
In a roundtable discussion with I-Cube entrepreneurs, hosted as part of Nepal Communitere’s First Friday Speaker series, the I-Cubers reflected on their year-long journey, and its culmination in Demo Day. Rayzeena Sapkota of Light Up spoke about how the masterclasses taught them new concepts such as human-centered design, helping them restructure their path forward and think about their target customers. Orange Ball’s Biddha Jha spoke about how he realized that he assumed he didn’t need extra capital or finances when he joined I-Cube. Since joining the program he has better financial management and planning, and has recognized the need for investment only after joining I-Cube.
“We were quite nervous about the pitches, I mean we’re engineering students, not public speakers,” said Manisha of Light Up, “but we had been preparing for this for so long with all of our masterclasses and pitches. I feel that now I can go and network with anybody, and pitch my idea to anybody.”
Start-ups are seen as risky because they are based on bold ideas. The startup life demands a lot from its founders, and our I-Cubers faced many challenges as they built their businesses. Amit and Bibin, the co-founders of 8byte, recalled how at one point they realized they needed to completely change their product and approach or abandon the project altogether. I-Cube provided the support they needed to take the harder path to make difficult but necessary changes, and focus on growth. Light Up was grateful that I-Cube program coaches Anita and Anil supported them and guided them through trying times where the team was on the verge of breaking up.
This was I-Cube’s first year, yet its achievements are groundbreaking. It partnered with groups such as Safal Partners and Antarprerana to create Nepal’s first ever seed fund. During the launch of Safal Seeds at the I-Cube Demo Day, Mr. Ashutosh Tiwari of Safal Partners said Safal Seeds would bridge the gap between businesses and investors and provide administrative, communications, and legal support to startups, which often lack institutional support.
Mr. Satish Joshi, a pledged investor, said Safal Seeds is a pipeline for larger investments in Nepali startups. “There are large foreign and domestic organizations that invest in startups but an issue that’s always brought up is that there isn’t a pipeline. A pipeline comes from creating an ecosystem that allows these young entrepreneurs to take this plunge—that’s what I want to support. I want to see young people stay in the country and build upon their dreams.”
The end of I-Cube’s first year signals new beginnings. The three startups will now be managed by Safal Partners, and grow using their seed investment. Safal Seed will be a ray of hope for future Nepali entrepreneurs who are willing to take risks, and Nepalis who want to invest in other Nepalis. I-Cube will incubate the second cohort of entrepreneurs, 7 bold companies that will start their I-Cube journeys in December. Nepal Communitere will continue to support entrepreneurs by fostering new collaborations and strengthening its existing ones to stay true to its vision of creating an entrepreneurial ecosystem in Nepal.