With most of India’s over 80 start-up incubators and accelerators located in Tier-I cities, entrepreneurs from semi-urban or rural areas were often forced to move to big cities to follow their dreams. Not any more; a new free mobile application could soon change the way these entrepreneurs interact with their larger ecosystem.
Africa-based Mara group’s Mara Mentor app, launched globally for iPhones and Android-based handsets in May this year, allows entrepreneurs to reach out to experts in their domains, discuss issues, get suggestions from their peer group, and connect with the right people who could help gain traction or investments. The app functions as a social networking platform, but only for start-ups. It also provides e-coaching sessions, mentor chats and radio shows.
Like other social networking platforms, Mara Mentor allows entrepreneurs to initiate discussions, upload status messages, photos or videos, and form groups with people of same interests.
“Clients wished to meet global mentors and each wanted more than one mentor. That is how we zeroed in on Mara Mentor as a mobile app,” said Ashish J Thakkar, founder & chief executive officer of Mara Group, whose family roots go back to the Gujarat of pre-Independence India.
The app has been developed by Mara Online, the technology arm of Africa-based Mara Foundation, a social enterprise that focuses on encouraging and supporting youth. Mara Online has research & development (R&D) centres in Bengaluru, Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa. The app currently has over half a million entrepreneurs, most of them in Africa. The number of Indian entrepreneurs on it, however, is still very low; the company did not disclose its user base in India. Also, the company did not discose its investment in preparing the app.
To ease the process of finding a mentor, the app classifies professions like information & communication technology, banking and investment. An entrepreneur could reach out to mentors by posting on their dashboards; the latter offer expert advice, making it a problem-solving platform.
Several Indian entrepreneurs already using the application believe it is a respite for them as it cuts down on efforts to qualify for an incubation centre.
“I always wanted proper guidance and someone to listen to my ideas and suggest what is right or wrong. With Mara Mentor, I am connected to a lot of mentors who are extremely helpful,” said Sumit Kumar, a Bengaluru-based technology consultant.
Others currently using the app as mentors include Gujarat-based Biplab Paul, who has come up with a cost-effective solution to water scarcity that provides a reliable system of irrigation; Amit Singh, founder of product development start-up WOW Labs and co-founder of Headstart Network, an initiative to promote & form an Indian ecosystem of entrepreneurs, start-ups, researchers, early adopters & investors; Unni Krishnan Koroth, CEO of Foradian Technologies, which launched the first font for the new rupee symbol; and Sunija Rishi, co-founder of network security firm Nevales Networks.
“In countries like India and those in Africa, people do not start on their own very easily. It is a problem with the attitude. Despite talent, people sometimes need others to validate their thoughts,” said Sneh Sharma, founder & CEO of Bengaluru-based all-girls creative agency Ittisa. She is one of the mentors using the app. “I am constantly engaged with mentees on the app and they are really talented people.”
Mara Mentor was originally launched five year ago as an offline programme, like other incubators, where entrepreneurs could meet mentors and get guidance. However, with a rapid growth in use of social media platforms, Mara Group decided to make the model mobile.