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Reboot: ZipCash's Vivek Saxena is redefining the concept of an incubator

Reboot: ZipCash's Vivek Saxena is redefining the concept of an incubator
Vivek Saxena, co-founder of Digicita Venture Studio

As Vivek Saxena tells it, he predicted the future of payments a decade in advance. So why did he exit the digital payments industry just as it was coming into its own?

In 2015, ride-hailing major Ola bought a stake in Saxena’s ZipCash to integrate the offerings of the eight-year-old wallet provider. Saxena could have stayed on but he chose otherwise. With the benefit of hindsight, he attributed the decision to the knowledge that he had a knack for converting ideas into viable businesses.

“I realised what I really enjoyed the most was the idea of helping to build things,” said Saxena, who was a global business manager at Microsoft India before starting ZipCash. 

On leaving ZipCash, he initially wanted to focus on becoming an angel investor -- but with a twist. Instead of investing in the ideas of others, Saxena wanted to work on his own ideas and take them to the market before handpicking entrepreneurs to anchor the business.

“We wanted to create a platform that supported big and original ideas and had access to richer bench strength -- like Silicon Valley -- that consisted of experienced corporates who would help build large-scale viable businesses,” he told TechCircle. 

Unfortunately, however, the climate was not exactly favourable and Saxena’s plan ran the risk of being an idea ahead of its time. While the Indian startup ecosystem witnessed a funding boom in 2015, there were still major roadblocks such as below-par bench strength, scarcity of risk capital, lack of originality and insufficient incubation models.

So Saxena lay in wait as the ecosystem matured before getting his idea off the ground. After putting together the various pieces of the puzzle, he started Digicita Venture Studio in 2017 along with ZipCash co-founder Navin Pai and his former Microsoft colleague Deepak Choithramani. Their idea was to nurture fledgling ideas into businesses that disrupt at the intersection of social impact, innovation and technology.

Saxena claims that Digicita has transformed the traditional incubation model. Its team comes up with business ideas after spotting a market opportunity. They develop it right from the concept stage, invest their own capital, ready the prototype and then bring a co-founder on board to scale it up. Digicita invites participation from external investors only after successful market pilots. 

“We have turned the model around. We will put our money, our team and not wait for an entrepreneur to come along. Once we reach MVP (minimum viable product), that’s when we start looking to bring a co-founder on board.” Saxena added. 

While it was not part of the original blueprint, Digicita has on-boarded a few angel investors with an eye on expansion. However, it plans to retain a major stake in the businesses for the long term before exiting at an advanced stage of funding.

The Mumbai-based venture is currently bootstrapped, with around seven ideas in the pipeline. 

Among them is Thinkly, a community platform for exchanging ideas. Another is Smartify, an Internet of Things-based platform for smart communities, It is co-headed by Tushar Majethia, who looked after building the ICT infrastructure at smart-city project Palava.

Gizmojo, a subscription-based mobile handset library, is currently at the pilot stage. Mahadev Bhosale, a former director at IT firm Ingram Micro, and Renuka Sagade, who spearheaded e-commerce initiatives at lifestyle brands Raymond and Lavie, have been brought on board to head this venture. 

Digicita is presently targeting three or four innovations every year. “The idea is to really become a hub of innovation,” said Saxena. 

Besides his responsibilities at Digicita and angel investing, Saxena also serves as the chief executive officer of family firm Anuvi Chemicals Ltd, which caters to paint companies among others. 

As Saxena wades deeper into his second stint as an entrepreneur, he believes that funding and recognition are not a given. 

“It depends on the entrepreneur. If you’ve had a good exit, credibility improves. That changes everything. However, entrepreneurs often try to push for large valuations for their next venture. That becomes a problem,” he said.

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