Suresh Narasimha - Building a deep-technology startup
Updated: Sep 2, 2021
Name of the company: CoCreate Ventures
What can CoCreate do for you? : It cuts checks for technology based ideas that are transforming
Recommended books: The Bhagvad Geetha and the Mahabharatha
Suresh Narasimha has the distinction of being one of the first entrepreneurs to build a deep-technology
company in India. He has since become a transformation expert with CoCreate Ventures, set up in 2017,
and is also running the PES University Venture studio, which helps students make their technology and
business ideas gain scale. Suresh believes that if we cannot build great companies out of campuses,
then, there is no innovation in the country. Suresh also has more than 15 patents on Bluetooth
technology in his name and has built several ventures. He shares his journey with UpStream.Life (watch
the interview on theUpStreamLife.com) about building deep-tech businesses. Here are the excerpts of
Vishal Krishna: Suresh you have had a long entrepreneurial career, do let me know about all the
travails and learning from that journey?
Suresh Narasimha: I became an entrepreneur when I graduated in the nineties. We had launched a
bunch of companies to help blood banks and diagnostic labs in India. I got in to entrepreneurship
because I wanted to build a product company from India for the world. For me that aspiration stands
even today. When I built Telibrahma I raised my first round of funding in 2006 and then again in 2008.
Between 2004 and 2012 I probably made seven to twelve funding transactions for Telibrahma. When I
left Telibrahma, after a decade, I began mentoring startups and also started up again by setting up
MonkeyBox. I have also set up PESU Ventures and have mentored businesses such as Just Books. Your
question about Telibrahma, especially about it shaking up the media industry with immersive
experiences makes me think that in 2006 such an idea was necessary. But today the media may not
need such technology.
In 2008 a limited number of people had feature phones. Think about 2G connections, not everyone had
access to it back then. There were J2ME phones and it was an era when people did not even have
Symbian based phones. At the time when people had to download something they had to use
Bluetooth, even cameras started coming on to phones in 2007.
With these constraints Telibrahma had to identify revenue generating ideas. We did not think about the
burn and grow model. We had to get to alternative distribution models and adapt ourselves to growing
consumption in India as retail evolved. Brands were spending a lot of money in the media and we
decided to tap that segment as a revenue generator to sustain our technology. Across these places we
built a network using Bluetooth for download and exchange. We built a network away from the
operators. I never generated a single rupee out of telecom based value added services; in fact VAS
players used my network to make money.
This model of working with brands using our technology helped us get to $1 million revenues very fast.
That’s when the market starts sending you pseudo signals and as an entrepreneur you start believing
that you are the next Rupert Murdoch. You get carried away. That’s when we entered retail and we
started scaling phygital experiences, we launched augmented reality for media. The problem was we
had to build our own infrastructure and the rest is history, it became difficult to scale beyond a point
and I had to exit.
Vishal Krishna: What according to you is innovation and how should the entrepreneur approach it?
Suresh: Incremental innovation is not innovation. I learn a lot everyday as an entrepreneur. There are
three things that an entrepreneur has to go after. They have to understand the market, they have to
create a team and then they have to pick an idea. Unfortunately entrepreneurs think the idea matters
first. But, it really does not if there is no market for it. You also need an optimum financial structure.
Vishal Krishna: What does business transformation mean to you?
Suresh: I believe we did not capture the moment to do things differently during the corona pandemic.
During the Covid-19 pandemic we could have disrupted the healthcare, entertainment and the
education industry with technology. In the end of the day can teachers teach our children online all the
time; just look at our past and our Gurukul system, where there was a personal connect. In the old days
teachers taught concepts well. All the money going in to edtech has still not leveraged how to support
schools with better technology. It is essential for teachers to have great tools and support. But the
whole thing of edtech was about students using tablets and not the other way around. Here is why
business transformation matters for an entrepreneur. India is filled with aspiring SMB entrepreneurs
who business is being taken away by heavily funded startups.
The energy of these SMB companies is important for them to thrive. When I started Cocreate Ventures
in 2017 was to go after ideas that are unique and worth surviving. Our civilization has a lot of awareness
about reading and that’s how I picked up Just Books because I believed reading is a part of growing up
and building the mind. Then there is Adukale, a family based food company, which is a traditional
business, but with a lot of aspiration to grow their brand to national status. I love such ideas which
intrinsically have the cultural connections and also have the ability to make money at the same time.
Vishal Krishna: Why do family businesses fail to scale up?
Suresh: Families need to constantly think about the next ten years and they have to appreciate change.
Secondly their teams have to be ready to transform themselves for the next phase. The founders need
to balance the old and the new. Third point is they have to trust people that they work with and this
takes a little bit of time and they have to stick with an idea for at least a year. The experiment need not
be expensive, but, they have to attempt the change. This is my recommendation to family businesses.
Vishal Krishna: Define deep-tech, as there are several answers that come my way?
Suresh: A deep-tech business is a global business and is about transformative technologies. Look at the
USA and how startups and enterprises are looking at deep-technology. There are exits for founders for
their intellectual property. The technology is able to make impact. Indian founders with such ideas have
to take their deep tech ideas to countries like the USA as the ecosystem here is not yet cohesive. At
PESU Ventures I am trying to change this by working with students.
Deep-tech is about transformation and how businesses can scale. It is about technology that can be
difficult to build and when ready it can make great impact. People understand this very well. It is not
easy to build such technologies. Algorithms, data strategy and the way the technology provides utility is
the reason why founders of deep-tech raise money. Remember deep tech is not about consumers and
business users; it is about a transformational technology that is difficult to build. Deep-tech can be
embedded on to hardware or can replace the hardware too. The value is in acquisition of the
technology. This position makes it a deep technology company.