The CoWrks Foundry is a rigorous 24-week business acceleration program to forge resilient, global companies. This intensive program has been carefully designed by learning experts from some of the best universities in the world, in partnership with industry experts. Over the course of the program, eight startups from our current cohort have been equipped with capital, and a diverse range of resources including industry experts providing targeted world-class mentorship to each startup, which have helped them gain a strong appeal in the marketplace.
On September 24th, The CoWrks Foundry’s third and most recent cohort draws to a close, culminating with Centre Stage — The CoWrks Foundry Demo Day. At Centre Stage, founders will present their products, ideas and business models to a curated audience of over 100 investors and industry leaders, with many others attending via a live stream.
Here’s a brief summary of our startups pitching at CentreStage:
Huviair: Huviair drives Industrial Productivity with Drone Data Intelligence that particularly caters to the construction industry. The company provides survey and workflow management with added analytics and intelligence. They already work with some of the biggest names in the industry — providing more accurate measurements, reduction in manpower, cost saving and increased safety at worksites.
Lockn: Lockn transforms workplaces and makes interaction between people and the environments enjoyable and frictionless by providing encrypted, remotely controlled smart access management solutions for urban spaces. Lockn Technologies has developed SIMSIM which is a hardware and software infrastructure that provides smartphone based secure and streamlined access.
Botspace: BotSpace lets enterprises build and deploy complex chatbots on Messenger, WhatsApp, Mobile and Web to automate customer service without coding, training or bot deployment knowledge. Enterprises can build a bot through botspace in less than 5 minutes and 45 clicks as opposed to other bot services that requires 8000+ clicks and a week’s time to be built.
Instoried: Instoried is an AI-based augmented writing tool that optimises emotions in content, thereby helping brands boost engagement and content productivity. With the Next Billion Users moving online, 500 million of them are Hindi users, with a mere 20% consuming content in English, thereby giving Instoried the first mover advantage in an untapped market.
Yogya: Yogya.ai is an Intelligent Learning Solution that enhances Employee Capabilities with 100% ROI. Yogya.ai identifies skill gaps and provides skill specific learning paths. With their intervention engine and one-of-a kind capability metric, they are already working with some of the most well known high growth organisations in the country to enhance the capabilities of their employees.
HappyLocate: Happylocate is a B2B focused model which help corporates automate and manage their end-to-end employee relocations over clicks for enhanced employee experience, process efficiency and cost savings. With 25+ verified movers and 16,000+ hotels already on their network, custom in-built approval flow, asset light operation model and a range of other benefits, Happylocate are already the exclusive relocation partners for some of the largest corporates in India.
Refresh: Refresh is a for-proﬁt social enterprise which up-cycles discarded clothing and waste fabric into sustainable up-market furnishing and decor items. Refresh aims to revolutionise the textile industry by reducing cloth wastage by 99%, reducing the carbon footprint, generating employment for rural women and promoting sustainable fashion through their wide range of unique products.
Bhorzvan: Bhorzvan is an EV platform providing ultra light, high performance customisable electric motors, motor controllers, battery management system and related electronics. Their highly efficient brushless motors with state-of-art power density ratios and extremely high reliability provide three times the power and cost a third of current motors in the market.
These companies are part of an ecosystem that supports startups by leveraging strong market access to 400+ enterprise clients across the CoWrks member network. Over the past year, The CoWrks Foundry has invested in a total of 24 startups, of which 12 are from our core program.
Our third batch has continued to benefit from our commitment towards building capacity in founders through actionable frameworks and tough practitioners. In the last six months, these companies have grown significantly in clientele, and their founders have grown to be resilient leaders.
The CoWrks Foundry was established as a revolutionary space where innovators can transform their unconventional ideas into resilient global companies. We do this through a targeted program that keeps the founder at the centre. We firmly believe that there is no one size that fits all, and we’re built to adapt and accelerate alongside our founders and their companies.
Our unique curriculum holistically re-engineers founders and their companies, focusing on building the former’s knowledge, skills, and mindsets while evolving a thriving community that stays engaged beyond our six months together. We support startups to stress test their ideas, teams, and business model, and level up.
The CoWrks Foundry Method:
1. Smart Capital and Tech Credits:
We invest in the range of $30K to $50K by way of convertible preferred shares and also offer up to $75K worth of technology credits across platforms like Amazon AWS, Google, and Recruiterflow- to support everything from data and documentation needs to hiring the first employees effectively.
We connect our startups with an elect group of veterans and industry experts to help them navigate rough waters, receive tough advice, and test for long term endurance. As a highly learner centric program, dedicated coaches are assigned based on the needs and progress of each startup. Founders have ongoing office hours and coaching conversations with their external coach, our panel of internal coaches, and program speakers.
We believe that access to diverse expertise matters, so apart from a dedicated coach, we also have a panel of external experts across all vertical and functional areas — enterprise sales, product building, branding and positioning, growth and scale, finance and legal. We vet our coaches extensively for quality, mindset, and articulation of learning.
Our commitment is towards building capacity in founders through actionable frameworks and tough practitioners, not gyaan or personal anecdotes that might not add value.
At The CoWrks Foundry, we believe in honest insights from the field. Every week, our startups get a chance to interact with real operators at the Founders’ Roundtable — an honest and intimate conversation around building companies for scale.
Our founders have the opportunity to liaise with these practitioners on matters ranging from successfully negotiating enterprise sales to hiring and managing their first sales team.
Despite a visible surge in India’s startup community, businesses in the Urban Tech, Enterprise Tech and Social Enterprise space face unique challenges. To begin with, there is a dearth of quality industry knowledge. The content of curriculum provided lacks depth and is rarely crafted by those in the know.
Designed for founders to identify and build the skills of highest leverage, the Startup Toolbox framework includes focused and technical workshops. The sessions are crafted to address pertinent pain points ranging from hiring the right talent to navigating investor conversations to building a great board.
Inspired by Hell Week, the rigorous regime that churns out the best Navy personnel in the world, The CoWrks Foundry puts founders’ mettle and endurance to test at regular intervals. Our founders are pushed out of their comfort zone with a combination of rigorous acid tests, design sprints, external expert juries, and real life negotiation scenarios.
Apart from peer and coach led learning, we curate exclusive spaces where our founders interact with the larger ecosystem
The Closed Circuit is a session tailored around solving challenges that hold promising businesses back from reaching their full potential. Startups have the opportunity to leverage practical industry-specific advice and personalised feedback from industry experts — right from hiring and legal, to product building and fundraising.
The Founders’ Conclave is a curated event that brings together founders across industries to share their knowledge and experiences. Here, we drive conversations towards what it takes to build sustainable global businesses that are resilient to any and all challenges.
Demo Day is held at the end of the 24-week intensive program. Startups that are part of the cohort have the opportunity to pitch their products, ideas and business models to a curated audience of venture capitalists, and prominent industry leaders.
5. Transformational Networks:
We go the extra mile to ensure we open doors and provide our startups with high-level access that will change the company’s growth trajectory. Apart from networking with fellow founders and the larger startup ecosystem, teams can leverage strong market access with warm, personalized introductions across the extensive CoWrks member network and coaches across our various international programs, and investors aligned to each domain.
6. Post Program Support:
We’re partners for the long haul. Our founders have the space to interact and support each other after our time together, through alumni groups, regular Founders’ Salons, access to our internal coaches, and exclusive event invites. Founders can pay it forward by becoming our next Entrepreneur Emeritus as well!
Being an entrepreneur can be a lonely and frustrating journey, and we believe that learning within a motivated, close-knit community can significantly ease challenges while accelerating one’s growth. The CoWrks Foundry’s growing network across programs, domains, and geographies paves the way for founders to be part of a vibrant, diverse alumni base and solve problems, access expertise, feel motivated and have fun, while gaining a sense of meaning and belonging in their work.
At The CoWrks Foundry, we believe companies can thrive through both the known and unknown when led by formidable founders who are self-aware, gritty, and highly skilled.
We support their journey in building innovative solutions to relevant problems, forging a sustainable and scalable business model. Our program leverages rigorous and tailored curriculum, customized mentorship and the expertise of industry and academic experts to help founders develop great teams and a robust global network.
Our secret sauce is a program that keeps our founders’ learning and leveling up at the centre. While there has never been a better time to be an Indian founder, they are faced with unique challenges that hold them back from realizing their full potential:
Our ethos and life experiences offer limited exposure outside our comfort zone. For instance, many American youngsters opt into Girl Scouts or summer jobs, learning invaluable selling, negotiation, and presentation skills, while building risk tolerance and contextual awareness. Contrast that with the average Indian childhood, often populated with safe, structured academic and extracurricular activities, and an emphasis on ‘tried and tested’ career paths, founders find it making it difficult to flout convention, stray off the beaten path, and defy conventional expectations from those around us.
Funders Not Founders
Founders who are deeply immersed in the context have realized the shortcomings of models simply ported over from the West and are leaning towards building solutions from ground up. This leaves them with the added responsibility of educating and advocating while selling and mobilizing. New, untested ideas and markets struggle to survive and feed into a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure and risk aversion.
When Jugaad Fails
As Paul Graham said, startups are fundamentally counterintuitive. He likens running a company to skiing, where leaning backward only makes you go faster, which is why skiing instructors exist in the first place.
The widely accepted Indian equivalent of ‘hacking it,’ jugaad, includes frugal innovation and a reliance on one’s intuition. But the counterintuitive nature of running a company means that often, jugaad fails to deliver, and brilliant, impactful ideas never see the light of day.
Jugaad has also become an unfortunate stand in for a lack of integrity and skill, a justification for questionable shortcuts. We’re here to change that.
We focus on building informed intuition and overall competence so you don’t have to rely on jugaad, luck, or gyaan to forge forward.
These are barriers that quickly become dealbreakers. We’re acutely aware of how they feed into designing a program that’s both cutting edge and contextual.
Which is why we’ve started from the ground up. With first principles deeply rooted in maximizing learning, both as an individual founder and as part of a close knit, curated community. We’ve deconstructed the fundamentals of the Competence Dogma and Communities of Practice- and reconstructed them into a unique, adaptive curriculum that will accelerate you and your company for the long haul.
The Competence Dogma and the Founder Learning Journey
We pride ourselves on our unique, founder centric curriculum, designed to build bulletproof basics with a keen awareness of yourself and your company. Let’s take a look at what that means.
When we start on any new task, or a known task in a new domain, we begin at the bottom of the competence pyramid. Our intuition is often wrong, our contextual awareness is low, and we’re painfully aware of our incompetence- and so is everyone else around us.
In any role transition, this feeling of incompetence lasts between 2-6 months. For a founder, it lasts for years, or maybe their entire career.
What’s worse? You’re blissfully unaware of all the mission critical blind spots that you and your company possess. This happens to everybody, no matter how self aware they feel. That’s why it’s called unconscious incompetence.
So what does one do? It can be overwhelming, the number of things that need to be done, that needed to be done yesterday, without knowing how to do them or where to begin learning those core skills. Should I learn how to size my market accurately or how to refine my business model? Why are my hundred prospecting emails failing to elicit a single response? How should my sales team look, and where will I find them?
At this stage, we don’t know what we don’t know. Feeling out of your depth is normal, natural, and oppressive. It’s crucial to have a mirror held to you and your company; becoming aware of your strengths and areas of development, and learning to prioritize them effectively, are some of the most important skills you’ll need to develop in order to succeed. We facilitate this (brutally honest) process with –
Our monthly acid tests, where we stress test everything from your negotiation and pitching skills to your business model. You’ll walk out with report cards with self, peer, and expert assessments so wrong intuition/ wrong analyses don’t trip you up,
Consistent feedback loops from internal and external coaches, designed to help you zoom out of the trenches and evaluate your blind spots,
Consistent external juries, who give you feedback and provide an additional frame of reference,
A needs analysis at the beginning, middle, and end of the program, designed to help us personalize and adapt to your areas of development.
The human mind is very well defended, and fights to keep us feeling comfortable and competent (for more, go google cognitive dissonance). Breaking through our ironclad defensive routines can be tough. This process will feel excruciatingly difficult and disorienting, but it’s the quickest way to accelerate your learning trajectory.
Now that you know what you didn’t know, you’ve moved to conscious incompetence, and we step in with carefully crafted founders roundtables, targeted skill building workshops, and coaching support to help you consciously build the skills that you need.
(Note: We’re extremely choosy about our coaches and select for the best teachers/ practitioners so their inputs aren’t just gyaan or personal anecdotes. More on that later)
The rest is hard work and elbow grease. Repeating to remember, remembering to repeat. As you put your skills into practice and integrate them into your mental muscle memory, we’ll keep showing you the mirror to help you level up into unconscious, effortless competence.
The Founder Community (of Practice)
Every accelerator and incubator promises a “founder community” that will knock your socks off. But how does one craft such a community? What does that really mean, and why should you care- considering you’re already juggling multiple priorities and have enough friends?
At the Foundry, we curate a small, select group of ten(?) teams, chosen as much for their core mindsets as their business and product acumen. We look for resilience, humility, and a drive to constantly learn and grow.
While it’s good to get great founders into a room and get them talking, we go that extra mile to ensure you’re all learning and evolving together. That the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts. That we’re evolving not just as a group, but as a true community of practice.
A Community of Practice is a group of people who share a concern or passion for something they do, and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.
We take the right mix of founders and design spaces that go beyond feel good icebreakers and team building activities. Every Foundry platform includes design principles that help you make your thinking visible, get brutally honest peer feedback, build accountability and trust, and be vulnerable with each other about the things that keep you up at night. Whether it’s your weekly Momentum milestones or the monthly Acid Test report cards, you’ll emerge better, stronger, faster- and be each other’s biggest cheerleaders and critics. And you’ll keep those bonds and partnerships strong with our continuing high-touch alumni program.
We know that, as a founder, your time is an incredibly valuable resource. We work relentlessly to ensure that every hour you spend with us gives you 10x returns – as a learner, as a member of this vibrant and growing community, and as a founder building a global company.
Trying to build a business from scratch is tough. Trying to do it alone is even harder.
While brilliance and grit are integral components to building a resilient business, there is no substitute for experiential knowledge. The right advisors can be crucial to achieving long term sustainability. Having someone in your corner to guide you is an invaluable, and often underestimated, means to enduring success. Mentorship has been known to accelerate careers and enrich professional lives. In fact, most successful people, can attribute their achievements to the presence and guidance of a mentor.
And the rewards aren’t one-sided. Mentees gain powerful, first-hand perspective and insight which allows to develop the ability to react and adapt quickly to changing situations. Mentors, too, are able to reflect on their past successes and further their learning, while making an impact as they nurture promising minds and products.
At The CoWrks Foundry, we’re strong believers in the power of the mentor-mentee relationship. As we have studied the effectiveness of building strong mentorship associations, we have come to realize that, particularly in technology, the imparting of knowledge and advice usually takes the form of technical manuals, certifications. At best, mentoring relationships are loosely modeled on apprenticeships or collegial associations.
So, we’re re-calibrating the equation. We’ve modeled it on honest, intense coaching, rather than conventional mentoring. Through this relationship, we’ll be breaking through the surface to address thought patterns, evoke fresh inspiration, and unleash latent potential. Our aim is to cultivate personal conversations, by establishing connections built around shared interests, and mutual respect.
MEET YOUR MATCH
Finding the perfect match is critical. At the Foundry, we are of the firm belief that one size does not fit all. Persons on both ends of the spectrum struggle to find the right counterpart. Young founders are unable to make the right contacts, and even if they do, are hesitant to approach them. Mentors find it difficult to gauge the impact of their advice and without measurable outcomes, may find the whole exercise futile.
At The CoWrks Foundry, we devote time to quality research while seeking out the right fit. While it would seem simple and straightforward to approach established mentors with enormous titles, we have seen that does little good in the long run. It leads to a lack of time commitment and results in generic advice to the mentee. Instead, we seek accomplished individuals with practical experience, and in-depth industry expertise. We also ensure that the experience gap is between 5 and 10 years so that the mentor is experienced, but still aware of the current startup landscape and can easily relate to the mentee. We will have a cohort of tailored industry coaches with commendable knowledge in their fields, whether product, revenue, scale or design.
When we form mentor-mentee relationships over the course of the program, we pay special attention to the specifics. For instance, if a startup is facing a problem while designing their product, we will match that startup to a mentor with practical experience in tackling the same issue, who has achieved success in this area and can offer tried and tested tools & tips. This will help the mentor and mentee develop a strong, lasting rapport.
HOW IT WILL WORK
Ideally, the mentee is expected to take initiative, by clearly explaining the problem that they are facing to the mentor. The mentor will respond by elaborating on their approach to tackling a similar challenge. The mentee will then add nuances to the situation, for instance, how conditions may be different, based on their specific business. In light of this context, the mentor may then provide additional suggestions or advice.
In order to forge a successful partnership, consistency is critical. Mentors and mentees will meet twice a month, on alternate weeks. The first session will be an hour long and the rest of the sessions will last for about 30–45 minutes.
The role of the mentee is not passive. Unless a mentee is deeply committed, before long, the relationship will start to become very one-sided. Right from the first session, the mentee will be charged with the responsibility of bringing the mentor up to speed with their startup’s journey and goals, while developing a detailed agenda for their subsequent sessions.
A mentee will be required to put in the effort of preparing for the meetings with a list of specific questions and discussion points that they will need to share with their mentors beforehand. While it may seem tempting for the mentor to cover as much ground as possible. This will however, limit depth of discussion for each topic, and provide little or no ultimate value. It is instead advisable to stick to 2–3 key discussion points and address those in detail.
Mentees will need to display openness — providing as much information as possible about flaws and vulnerabilities will help to improve the whole process and create a better outcome. That said, be specific with your mentor about the problem and challenge you want to tackle. This will help your mentor give you targeted solutions, rather than off-the-cuff advice.
If a mentee is able to inspire, educate and display diligence, their mentor will naturally be willing to make a huge investment in the mentee. Unless a mentee is focused and committed, it is not a worthwhile use of a mentor’s valuable time.
While we insist that both mentor and mentee meet in person at the first session, the following sessions can be arranged to both parties’ convenience.
In order to gain maximum momentum from this partnership, we’ve compiled a list of these basic ground rules to maximize benefit for both sides of the equation:
Take the time to discuss the finer details about one another, particularly career goals, dreams, fears and lifestyle.
Invest time in thorough preparation for each session.
Prepare a checklist or presentation deck for each meeting.
Intentionally keep the content for each meeting incredibly focused. This will help with diving into each focus point in detail, without veering off course.
Encourage mentees to develop their own insight by asking the right questions.
Share practical examples from personal history.
Give actionable, measurable advice rather than homework.
Measure effectiveness by evaluating progress at each meeting.
Provide positive feedback, alongside critique.
Making mentorship work is no easy feat, but we’ve invested a lot of time and research into creating the right framework, because we know that this is a priceless resource that, unfortunately, most high-potential startup founders lack. If you’ve chosen The CoWrks Foundry, your business and your personal goals are in expert hands.
Powerful storytelling impacts the success of a brand. Names like Google, Apple, Lego have become industry icons because of their penchant for storytelling. As an entrepreneur/founder it is not enough to rely on your product or business offering. Building a brand requires traversing beyond what’s written in the copy on your website, the text in a brochure or the presentation used to pitch to investors or customers. Your story isn’t just what you tell people it’s what distinguishes you from the noise out there.
We invited the Ex-Creative Head of Urban Ladder, Gowri Kishore for a Founders’ Roundtable with our startups at The CoWrks Foundry. Gowri is widely known in the industry for helping entrepreneurs and renowned organizations tell great brand stories and connect with their customers. Her work spans startups and decades-old brands across B2B and B2C helping them establish and garner loyalty.
What does it take to craft compelling brand stories? Here’s what Gowri Kishore shared with us at the Founders’ Roundtable.
What are the nuances of creating a compelling brand story?
A good brand story has 4 legs, so to speak:
The values are at the brand’s core: What does the founder believe in? What is his (and therefore, the brand’s) world view? What is right and wrong according to this world view? Defining these values will help define what the brand stands for and be the filter for all decisions, big and small.
The narrative is basically the story you, as the brand, tell the world. It is what goes on your website, sales deck, packaging, email, or social media which tell potential customers what problem you are solving and how you can help.
How you tell this story is what defines your brand’s personality and voice. Take, for instance, Ola and Uber. They do pretty much the same things for you but they have very different personalities; they talk to you differently and evoke very different emotional responses in you, the customer. This personality is expressed through not just ‘what is said’ but also ‘how it is said’: the words, the visuals, the UX, everything.
Last, but perhaps most important, is the community that a brand builds around itself. Who are your people? Focus on finding them and building your tribe right from day one: they are the ones who resonate with your values, understand the way you talk, will try your products first, and tell the world about you.
Indian companies, especially B2B business face a lot of hurdles. What is your view on the challenges faced by them?
For one, you rarely hear success stories of homegrown B2B startups apart from the rare SaaS company like Freshworks that has made it big. For instance, how many know of Udaan, Bizongo, or Grey Orange? These are all well-funded B2B startups trying to solve interesting problems in innovative ways and yet, they are hardly known compared to a Flipkart, Cure.fit, or Ola.
To me, this is a problem because B2B ends up being seen as the unglamorous cousin of B2C and there aren’t enough entrepreneurs out there thinking of B2B solutions in different spaces.
For those who are in this space, there are so few well-documented stories about B2B successes and failures, experiments, and innovations to learn from.
What’s the most important lesson you have learned from your time at Urban Ladder that you share when advising founders?
My 3+ years at Urban Ladder have taught me that authenticity is the backbone of any good brand.
Values are not what one puts down in the vision statement or make up as part of a brand narrative. They come from a fundamental set of beliefs that everyone lives and breathes: not just the early team but everyone who’s hired later, no matter how big the company gets.
A good brand story takes shape when this foundation is strong and has the ring of authenticity, which comes only when the brand’s actions and decisions match the values it espouses.
At UL, honesty and transparency is one of our core values and we have gone to great lengths to stay true to it. We have raised a return request and taken back furniture from a customer’s house because we spotted an issue during assembly that even the customer had not.
Before scheduled price increases, we have proactively reached out to customers and those with items in their cart to give them a heads-up. These have obviously come at a cost to UL but we have always let our values guide us.
Before any decision is made, the question that is asked is “Is this the right customer answer?” That is what has set us apart from competitors and which keeps our customers coming back to us, even forgiving the mistakes we make sometimes.
What are your views on startup accelerators fostering an ecosystem that boosts entrepreneurial growth in India?
Today, to start up on one’s own is no longer seen as foolhardy (except sometimes by immediate family!) because there are enough opportunities out there to be ‘discovered’ and supported and funded.
A few years ago, we were talking about incubators; now, we talk about accelerators. This is more than just a shift in terminology: it is in the value these firms offer to startups. Angels and VCs come in often with the mindset of evaluating pitches and backing the good ideas — which is great, but most early stage startups need more than just funding.
Often there is the spark of a good idea somewhere but because these are first-time entrepreneurs or they are too close to the problem, their approach to the problem may not be right. What they need is the benefit of wisdom and experience, intensive and hands-on mentorship, especially at the early stage to get things off the ground and put in place a customer acquisition engine.
This is what accelerators are trying to solve for and I think that’s a very positive shift.