Startup founders share their journeys at an Indo-Canadian entrepreneurship exchange event
When Manmeet MagguPraneit’s nephew was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, the then engineering student set out to find a portable robotic product that could help his nephew walk. After failing to find a solution in the market, he decided to build his own – and that’s how Trexo Robotics was born.
“Watching Praneit walk is definitely the proudest moment of my life. This allowed us to carry out – for him – experiences that would not have been possible otherwise, ”said Maggu. “Our goal with this technology is to give every child who wants to walk the opportunity to walk.”
Maggu was one of four startup founders who discussed their entrepreneurial journey during the ICEE lecture series last week. The event was organized by the Indo-Canadian Entrepreneurship Exchange (ICEE), a new program offered by the University of Toronto in partnership with the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay (IIT Bombay) and the Society for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (SINE) incubator at IIT Bombay.
Moderated by Jon French, director of the U of T Entrepreneurship, the discussion also featured Ankit Mehta, CEO of India-based drone maker ideaForge; Vishakha Singh, Vice President of Non-Fungible Token (NFT) Market WazirX; and Saket Modi, co-founder and CEO of Safe Security, a Silicon Valley-based cybersecurity and data science startup.
The ICEE will create opportunities for students, entrepreneurs and faculty in Toronto and Mumbai – and generate high-impact research and innovation to address a range of challenges, French said. He added that the plans include “a two-week innovation bootcamp where entrepreneurs from Toronto and Mumbai can immerse themselves, integrate and be part of the local ecosystems in each of these two big cities.”
Participants will be able to connect with “the community of investors, nonprofits and foundations in each of these two communities – and also get to know other startups, have a workspace and be able to find out what it’s like in the two countries – and learn from each other as well, ”French said.
In his remarks, Maggu noted that the University of Toronto’s entrepreneurial ecosystem has played a key role in helping Trexo Robotics take its first steps.
After building and testing a first prototype of a robotic exoskeleton with Praneit, Maggu and a friend Rahul Oudasi co-founded Trexo Robotics in 2016 while Maggu was doing his MBA at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto and Udasi was completing his Masters in Engineering at the University of Toronto.
The company is a graduate of Rotman’s Creative Destruction Lab accelerator and has also received support from the Entrepreneurship Hatchery of the Faculty of Applied Sciences and Engineering, the Health Innovation Hub (H2i) of the Temerty Faculty of Medicine and of the Department of Computer Science Innovation. Laboratory (DCSIL). Trexo Robotics then followed the acceleration programs of Techstars and Y Combinator, based in the United States.
Today, the company’s exoskeletons are used in homes and hospitals around the world.
Manmeet Maggu’s nephew, Praneit, played a key role in the development of Trexo Robotics by testing the first prototypes of child-sized robotic exoskeletons, which are now in use in homes and hospitals around the world.
When asked how startup founders should decide which acceleration programs to enroll in, Maggu said it’s hard to go wrong with the University of Toronto’s programs.
“For programs that are part of a university – like CDL, Hatchery, H2i, and DCSIL – there are usually a lot of advantages and very few disadvantages to participating in these programs,” Maggu said. “You are really open to an incredible network of not only other founders, but also mentors and advisors, as well as future investors. “
Among the questions Maggu said he faced early in Trexo Robotics’ journey was how to balance social impact with running a scalable, income-generating business.
“I like to think of it like: how do you maximize the impact of your idea? Said Maggu. “Could we open up all of our code and designs and put them on the web? Will this maximize the impact? We quickly realized that it would do nothing at all.
“If you really want to maximize the reach of your product, you have to build a very successful business. You must have an IP; you need to be able to raise capital from the best venture capitalists in the world; you have to enlarge it; you need to have really good margins – so you can grow the business and expand its reach around the world. “
Mehta’s ideaForge company was incubated in IIT Bombay’s SINE program. He said his experience leading computer hardware projects on modest budgets while studying engineering prepared him for a career in entrepreneurship.
“The first prototype I built was 1,500 rupees [around $25 CAD] that I borrowed from a project my teacher was leading. From that point on, I spent almost $ 10,000 of my institute’s money on my ideas – I felt I was really privileged, ”he said.
“I thought I should take advantage of this privilege even though I knew that making material in India was going to be extremely difficult. I felt if it wasn’t us – then who else? “
Today, ideaForge is India’s largest manufacturer of drones for defense, homeland security, and industrial applications. It is also the first local company to develop vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) drones in India.
Modi, whose cybersecurity company Safe Security was also incubated at SINE, explained how being backed by a world-renowned higher education brand like IIT Bombay has helped him save time and attract attention from clients and potential investors at the start of the company’s development.
Today, Safe Security’s customers include Google, Facebook, British Telecom, Munich Re and KFC.
“There is a transfer of trust as a new startup because nobody knows your brand, nobody knows who you are, nobody knows what you are trying to do,” Modi said. “But by the time you say ‘I’m incubated at IIT Bombay’ – that just means you’ll probably get that first meeting, which a lot of people are trying to get.”
This is an advantage that entrepreneurs at the University of Toronto can relate to, French noted. “You still have to have the business and be able to preach, but [you can] leverage the brand of our respective institutions.
For Singh, who has acted and produced several films in India, the transition to entrepreneurship was a journey of self-discovery.
“Over the past few years, I’ve realized that I have a huge appetite for risk,” said the vice president of WazirX NFT Marketplace, a Bengaluru-based NFT platform for digital artists and creators.
Singh said entrepreneurship, like show business, is about hard work behind the scenes rather than glamor on the surface.
“Being an entrepreneur isn’t about glamor, it’s not about being ‘cool’… it’s thankless work until you get it right. And when you do, people tend to forget about the hard work you put in. “
As a young entrepreneur, Singh said she hopes to help change the culture of the startup workplace. “Previously, the culture of startups was to work 24/7, to be successful at all costs, to become a unicorn,” she said. “The pandemic has proven that none of this matters if we aren’t healthy, if we don’t take care of our mental health, and if we don’t spend time with family.
“I think it’s time for founders like us to change the culture of startups and focus on a healthy work-life balance, not only for ourselves, but also for our team members. “