11 March - Blog

The Gopalakrishnan-Deshpande Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, IIT Madras, has completed 18 cohorts of its flagship I-NCUBATE program. Almost every startup that participated in the eight-week program found it to be transformational. What happens during those eight weeks? A gist:

The I-NCUBATE program caters to early-stage, science-based startups emanating from STEM research labs across India. The program equips startup founders to look beyond their innovation and assess the market potential for their product. Each cohort brings together about 10 startup teams, to undertake a Customer Discovery exercise for their innovation. The teams are selected after a detailed interview.

The applicants explain their research idea or innovation, and its potential social or business impact, to the GDC team during the interview. Our alumni are working in diverse fields – from Artificial Intelligence to agrobiotechnology to healthcare. Invariably, the startups tend to be focused on their technology or product development aspects while joining the program. They have little understanding about taking their research out into the market.

Once the teams are selected, every team is assigned an exclusive business mentor by GDC. The mentors are industry veterans with decades of corporate experience, handpicked by GDC. The mentors help the teams by accelerating their learning process and guiding them through the eight weeks of the program. Many startups that have gone forward in their journey continue to seek guidance from their GDC mentors.

The Learning Journey: I-NCUBATE follows a flipped-classroom approach. Participants are given learning material to study ahead of the classroom sessions, paving way for enhanced and informed interactions. On Day-1, concepts of Secondary Research, Market Types, and Customer Segments are explained. This helps teams define their core product or service, the problem they aim to solve, and the assumptions they have about their potential customers.

In the beginning, most participants are of the assumption that every individual facing a problem is actively seeking a solution – ergo, a potential customer. The participants are sensitised to validate that assumption, while also defining their Customer Segment. Day-2 introduces them to Value Proposition Canvas, methods to sift facts from assumptions, the importance of validating assumptions through Customer Discovery interviews, etc. Participants conduct mock interviews among themselves to better understand the art of gaining insights from conversations.

The startups begin their Customer Discovery exercise soon after the first two days of classroom sessions. This involves identifying the stakeholders and conducting exploratory interviews. The teams are forbidden from discussing their solution to avoid Confirmation Bias. Online workshops 3 & 4 prodded the teams to test their core assumptions and frame their business hypothesis. Every Friday, the teams convene online to discuss their learnings. Through the week, they work closely with GDC instructors and mentors to refine their takeaways from conversations with stakeholders.

By the midpoint of the program, the learnings are substantial. Startups that validate their assumptions continue to study the chosen Customer Segment. Those that invalidated them realise that they are targeting the wrong segment, go back to the drawing board and begin with a fresh segment.

At the end of eight weeks, the teams realise that their Customer Discovery journey has not ended. It has just begun. The I-NCUBATE program has equipped them to test the waters before taking the big plunge. At FINALE, the teams present their learning journey to key stakeholders in the ecosystem – corporate executives, investors, academics, and policymakers.    

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