HT Media recently floated an accelerator to nurture entrepreneurs in the digital media and ad-tech space. It has joined hands with US-based investment firm North Base for the platform with an eye on funding about seven to eight ideas in the first batch. The men behind the concept Marcus W. Brauchli, managing partner, North Base Media and Rajiv Verma, chief executive officer, HT Media Ltd, talk to Techcircle.in on the media startup ecosystem, timing of the launch and future plans for the accelerator. Edited excerpts:
What does North Base bring to the platform? Can you tell us about North Base's track record of investing in media and ad tech startups?
Marcus W. Brauchli: North Base Media is a relatively young and specialised investment and advisory company. We focus on media and media-related technologies. We are in growth markets where we see certain conditions have created an environment where there is a possibility of real and significant growth in media technology, which in turn enable the media to connect better with the audience and advertisers.
Our investments so far have been broadly under two categories. The first is media and in this space we are investors in Rappler, which is a Philippines-based news site serving South-East Asia. It uses smart data analytics and technology to feed a very strong audience.
In Taiwan, we have invested in a company called The Newslands, an independent Chinese language news site outside of China which targets people in their twenties and thirties. It is very disciplined and focused on which is their core audience and uses technology to ensure that their platform is optimised for the kind of content they are delivering.
The other stream of our investment is in technology companies which enable and empower media. For example, we are investors with Piano Media, which is the largest digital content paywall company. We are also investors in cielo24 which provides media data solutions that help in contextual advertising.
In fact all our investments are good examples of the kind of things we would like to see here in India.
I am expecting many creative ideas to flow in and looking forward to it. India is a country for smart people who are ambitious to try and change the way things work.
How do you differentiate yourself from other accelerators in India?
Marcus: With focus and expertise. We are focusing on digital media. Between HT Media and North Base we have more experience that anybody else who is doing something similar.
Is there a dedicated fund for the platform?
Rajiv Verma: There will be a dedicated corpus for this but it is too early to zero in on a number. As you know this is the initial effort and in the beginning we will see how many and what kind of ideas flow in. Based on the kind of progress these ideas make, the corpus could always be grown â€“ capital at any point of time is not a problem. We will start with seven to eight ideas and our sweet spot would be $100 000 per startup.
Capital is not a constraint at the platform. It is the ideas that will determine what kind of capital they will attract. We expect our first batch to be off the ground in three months.
Does HT have dedicated staff for the accelerator? If so, who are leading the effort and what is their track record in the digital space?
Rajiv Verma: We have a few people who will dedicatedly provide support to all the entrepreneurs. Amit Garg who is the chief executive officer of our digital arm Firefly E-Ventures will be personally supervising it. Under him there would be a few people who will guide and nurture the companies.
How does HT Media plan to ensure that companies and technologies supported here would be able to work with other media companies in India?
Rajiv Verma: Let's say there is an entrepreneur who has a great idea and does not know how to go about it. If we think the idea has got legs, first and foremost, we help him with capital. We will help him with all our experience and expertise and refine the idea further to make it feasible.
Then the entrepreneur's entire go-to-market strategy begins, of connecting with media buyers or other large firms. An entrepreneur will run into several roadblocks and this is where we bring our equity and power to make sure he overcomes those roadblocks and makes it a success.
What is your sense on the Indian media startup ecosystem?
Rajiv Verma: First and foremost I believe we should try to do things we have where we have the right to win. We understand the media industry very well and we have assets and resources in the industry that can be brought to make an idea success.
Earlier, all professionals would stick to jobs as the only career opportunity. However, given what has happened in Silicon Valley and other parts of the world, entrepreneurship is also becoming an important career option.
Forces of technology are making it possible for ideas to become financially feasible and viable for people to become entrepreneurs. Given the fact that India is a young country and there is a lot of youth power, it is an added advantage. All this adds to the ecosystem. I think the time has come for an accelerator like this and the ecosystem will only develop and become larger and larger. So, we thought this is the right time for us to get into it.
Unfortunately, large companies like us are unable to see small ideas that have the potential to become large. Could Facebook and Twitter have been created by large companies like ours? Probably. At the same time, when it comes from outside there is a lot of passion and zeal which is hard to replicate. Therefore we thought we should partake and support such ideas.
How does HT plan to leverage its newsrooms for the platform?
Rajiv Verma: Everything at HT Media â€“ content, assets and capabilities will be made available to entrepreneurs as long as it is not interfering with our business. All our capabilities will be brought to make an initiative like this a success because we will have our skin in the game. So I think it will be a win-win situation for all.
Are you open to collaborating with a new media/venture capital firm to add value to the platform?
Rajiv Verma: We are completely open to that. As a matter of fact, there are conversations happening with some companies based outside of India. They could be VC funds as well as media companies. I don't exclude the possibility of partnering with VC or media firms. Suffice to say that there are people who have shown interest and we are definitely going to hold conversations with them.
Who kind of support North Base will extend to the startups? Who would be leading this in India?
Marcus: My partner Sasa Vucinic at North Base Media, our general counsel Stuart Karle and I will be there to help entrepreneurs.
We have a network of people we have worked closely with over the years. They help us with different media companies. Some people who work in our investments might come over here and share their experience with entrepreneurs on building companies in other markets.