Conversation with Ankit Mehta, Co-founder and CEO Idea forge

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Q. So, you mentioned that the company was founded during your campus days in IIT Bombay, so can you please elaborate on that?

Yeah sure. So basically I was the eldest in my team as the other two were 2 yrs younger to my batch. We started off with this business as soon as we graduated from our college. We started this company in 2006 and I graduated in 2005.
We as a team got together in campus days only as we used to do lot of robotics stuff, we used to participate in many competitions together. Basically I was 2 years senior to my other two team mates, Aashish and Rahul. We had a graduating gap of a year as I was a dual degree student and they were B.tech students. After graduation I joined a job for 6months as Aashish and Rahul still had a year to go, but as soon as they graduated so I quit my job. So I came back to Mumbai, spend a year with them working on the business plan, on its prototype. Then in 2007 we registered the company and we started.

Q. How the idea came up of getting into robotics?

Robotics was pretty much a natural thing for us because IIT Bombay had a very exciting environment for Robotics. They used to hold this competition called ‘Yantriki’, which used to happen in IIT and we participated in Yantriki like every year. The first year it was a water polo competition, second year it was a tank pit that we had to cross. Every year Yantriki had something or the other very interesting for its students. It was started by Professor Amaranth in IIT Bombay. Also because of Yantriki there was a lot of interesting robotics environment in campus and personally we were always interested in mechanical engineering, mobile platforms and stuff like that, so basically we had natural inclination towards robotics. There loads of interesting competitions that used to come up during that time. There was a competition called ‘Robocon’, me and my team mates had participated in it and we won it in 2005 in India.

So Robotics was in our DNA in a way. We discovered the Quadroter configuration independently in 2004. We came up with that idea on our own because we were trying to make a mechanically simpler helicopter. Essentially a Quadroter is a far simpler machine than any other heavy machine that you see, and because of that mechanical simplicity we were very attracted towards making it, as we had done a study on wanting to make a simpler helicopter and we realised that it is one of the most complex devices ever made.

Q. So what typical support you got from IIT Bombay for your start-up?

We used to get funding, we could approach any department for help, we used to get access to labs, workshops, etc. I would rather say that in the name of start-up funding wasn’t that straightforward because while we did get incubated at IIT Bombay, we got a soft loan from KPBS. Our initial funding came from a company who used to make hands-free chargers, basically portable electronic machines. O in the beginning it was great fun to work for such a product and we even sold some tonnes of product too but somehow the product wasn’t getting that response which we had expected it to.

So because we had done so much in robotics in IIT and built Quadroter itself in campus, So IIT Bombay asked us to help them in making ‘data logers’ devices that would measure the initial parameters of each platform they were put on and by that measurement the idea was to find a way of creating an autopilot. So we were totally successful in making those ‘data-logers’ ant it was a natural stepping stone to making an autopilot.
There was this competition called AMERI 2008 and from scratch we made a Quadroter and we won a hovering category. That was a boost for the ecosystem DRDO also asked us to make an autopilot for their aircarfts. In 2008 we decided to nurture this opportunity as well. We began building an autopilot for them.
So this was our start-up journey story having begun from a different industry and pursuing a different career. Our entire promoter team came together and joined hands with my childhood friend Vipul Joshi.

Q. Who all are your current set of customers?

We have developed this platform to all our defence persons, to all our central armed police forces and also in several police hostels which they even used In Pathankot fight, Uttarakhand disaster, basically any large congregation.

Q. How easy or difficult was it to get government as their customers?

It was pretty challenging because inducting it ahead of many other modernization plans it was a very tough decision. Our simple philosophy was that for the ease with which we were able to manage our tasks was always commendable. For managing our aircraft we just had to manage our GPS locations so that it could go several kilometres away from the station.
We also trained personal armed forces on it who barely knew how to check e-mails. So the simplicity of the platform soared up forces in the need to showcase the country of our talents.

Q. Will you tell us about your current investors and how many rounds of funding have to you raised until now?

In 2015 we had raised a basic angel round. In 2015 only lot of opportunities began coming our way. Until Aug’16 we could raise a sizeable amount from our angel investors. The recent investment was from WRD, a US-India based fund.
So more than 10million dollar of investment has been raised so for.

Q. How big is the team at Idea forge?

About 125 people.

Q. What would be expansion plans for the coming year?

Hopefully we will be looking at significantly increasing our team size, technology as well as business development.

Q. Any anecdote which you would like to share with your readers.

Different journey we have been through in comparison to others in different industries. We actually had to go in for hard-core bootstrapping. We got to learn a lot. A very important thing that we learnt was never to make any rules as some circumstances provoke you and force you to break it to move ahead.
So in all it has been a nice experience all this long, we got suddenly highlighted and much talked about, nice PR we hot through our idea being used in the movie 3 Idiots, which came out to be our biggest achievement so far.