“You have reached your destination,” the Emirates loudspeaker projected. “Welcome to Bangalore.” It was 4am and I was greeted by two classmates whom I had barely known before arriving in India to spend three weeks consulting with start-ups. But the flight attendant was wrong – the journey was just beginning.
A cacophony of sounds is the first thing that welcomes you to India: music playing in the streets, the relentless roar of traffic. Our first stop was tech hub Bengaluru, where the little army of eight of us – all members of the Booth class of 2017 – began our edition of BOOTHxINDIA, a student-led initiative to collaborate with start-ups across the globe. There we teamed up with Porter, a logistics start-up focused on becoming the Uber for intra-city cargo delivery, and Oodi, a product design company specializing in integrated web and mobile app solutions for businesses.
Each of us began the journey from different places but had the same “destination” in mind. We wanted deeper insight into the challenges and opportunities that entrepreneurs faced in developing nations. What we quickly realized is that many of the modern approaches to building and scaling start-ups do not yet work in India. How do you scale a business when most of a company’s customers don’t even have an email address? What advice do you give to a company when they have to compete with businesses that give kickbacks to their customers? As we dived deeper into India’s booming startup scene, we gained a richer understanding of these obstacles.
In New Delhi we partnered with Inficold, a company specializing in thermo-electric energy storage solutions, and Bira, one of India’s first craft brewers looking to expand into the US beer market. Subsequently in Mumbai, we collaborated with thriving, venture-backed home healthcare provider Care24. There we designed packages for critical disease management and constructed a pilot program for reducing insurance claims, learning the nuances of the Indian energy, food and beverage, and healthcare industries along the way.
BOOTHxINDIA was a tremendous experience to learn first-hand that being an entrepreneur meant navigating the detours -- protests in Bengaluru, chikungunya outbreaks in Delhi -- and building a path around them. We each boarded the plane back to Chicago with entirely new perspectives and an appreciation for what starting and scaling a business in an emerging market entails.
There’s a well-worn trope in literature where a scrappy band of individuals sets off on a journey, venturing into the unknown, and ends up learning more from one another than they had ever anticipated. We returned to Chicago having learned more from our classmates and from navigating the detours with them than we had ever anticipated, and with new clarity on why we call businesses “ventures.”
India, our adopted nation for those few weeks, is a country of contrasts. Luxurious hotels towering along the highway into New Delhi exist side by side with vast slums. What unites these contrasts, however, is the Indian people’s unwavering positivity and energy to build a better life. The people are what will take this country to new heights and make us want to come back, and we’re so grateful that BOOTHxINDIA gave us the opportunity to be a part of this.