13 Pune-Based Creative Startups You Should Know

It’s been a few months since Homegrown started its ‘creative entrepreneurship’ series [see our Mumbai & Delhi editions] and since its conception, it’s become clear that the spirit of innovation and filling market gaps is at an all-time high in the country. It’s a decidedly fearless attitude that binds all of them together, across cities, too. Unafraid to tread off the beaten path, Pune’s chosen lot have all taken the fabled ‘leap of faith’ and as you browse through their advice to budding entrepreneurs—refreshingly devoid of the usual clichés—it becomes apparent that all of them are action-led. It’s this which made us think, albeit intuitively, that these may just be some of the most interesting bunch of entrepreneurs we’ve seen yet.

For a relatively small city, they house a mind-boggling range of entrepreneurs; right from hand-crafted shoemaking to a vaguely socialist video production house to sports enthusiasts creating the infrastructure that they feel is lacking in the city. So here they are, chronicled and compartmentalized. Creative entrepreneurs from Pune who are choosing to be the change-makers, telling us about their journeys along the way.

I.    Cuero – Handcrafted Luxury

“With a vision to changing the way Indian men looked at shoes, and bringing them quality handmade leather (bespoke) products, Cuero (meaning leather in Spanish) was started in August, 2013.”

23-year-old Naman Ramesh Shah has always been very attuned to design and shoemaking. As a kid, he used to accompany his dad for his business meetings, implicitly in admiration of how smartly his dad dressed, matching his belt, watch strap and shoes. Decades after this, the defining point of his life came on a business trip to Dubai, when he noticed the great shoe quality a lot of the European men he met possessed, prompting him to question why most Indians don’t have access to the same.

He channelled his passion for shoes and the nuances of business he’d picked up working at a start-up (after rejecting a job offer from Google post-college) into the initiative. His long-term plan is to add other other aligned leather products to the portfolio, and increase Cuero’s output in terms of capacity.

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On Challenges: 

‘Making people aware that fine quality bespoke shoes can be made in India is quite the challenge in itself,’ says Naman. ‘Starting up a manufacturing unit which is purely handmade and reviving the age-old technique of shoemaking was another issue, in addition to finding the right skilled craftsmen for the kind of quality Cuero wanted to bring out into the Indian market.’

[Cuero also recently collaborated with The Quirk Box for the Lakme Fashion Week.]

Advice to budding entrepreneurs:

“Success is a journey, not a destination… and comes before ‘work’ only in the dictionary.”

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II.    Dark Reflections

“Dark Reflections is a brand that specialises in hand-made items like dreamcatchers, hippie jewellery, home décor, hair accessories (hair extensions, headbands) hair braiding, wind chimes and other knick-knacks.”

The brainchild of 24-year-old Siddhi Shah, the brand believes ‘in the primal roots of man, where each piece of unique tribal jewellery carries its own significance and meaning’. From Warriors to Druids, Dark Reflections tries to capture the essence of these ancient beings, to pass on the wisdom and positivity that go with them.

The range of the themes for the products vary from psychedelic to earthy, dark and neutral – capturing sun-sets, waterfalls, forests and deserts in a highly intuitive way through creative and unique designs. Based out of Nagar Road in Pune, Siddhi Shah runs an in-house store where she sells her creations. Inspired by her mother, an artist herself, she completed college and was raring to begin her own venture in the arts and crafts, where her heart always lay. A dreamcatcher she stumbled upon online really caught her fancy, and she made herself one with stuff that was lying around the house. She started making more and distributing it amongst her friends and the next thing she knew, she was getting requests as it helped them ward off bad dreams and also made for great bedroom décor.

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On Challenges:  

“Since dreamcatchers are an unheard of concept here in India, it was a bit of a challenge to get the word out when I started four years ago. People took their time in understanding and accepting the concept,” shares Siddhi. “The one thing I regret is not having been cautious of my work being plagiarized. I had a bad experience with a photographer who was doing a portfolio of my products, free of cost. She then went ahead and stole my designs and was making and selling my style of dreamcatchers.”

Advice to budding entrepreneurs:

“Create new things every day. Challenges and roadblocks are part and parcel of any business, but having a positive attitude is crucial.”

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III.    LMB Productions

“Constantly pushing the limits with the possibilities of video, LMB is now experimenting with 3D projection mapping to bring video from the virtual to the physical world.” 

LMB productions began after looking at the market where traditional production companies were too far removed from the end user. The idea, for them, is not just about selling an idea as much as sending a message and engaging the audience, it is coming up with fun ways of sending that message that really drives them and that’s the concept that the name of the company, Let’s Make Better, is derived from.

LMB has a very unique approach to their work – the members, Anurag Ramgopal(26), Mallareddy Gaddam(31), Ashish Pillai(24) and Jayraj Patil (23) – are also creating their own Individual Projects, from web shows to feature films in-house, besides commercial projects that they take up.

Their office is also a creative lab with an open door policy towards people coming in with ideas, to have some conversation over coffee (proper brew, no factory-made shit) jam or to just read (they have their own little library) and chill.

LMB Productions has recently expanded their reach to Hyderabad and hope to move into other cities as well in the coming years.

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Advice to budding entrepreneurs:

“A word of advice is, to finish the fight, if things are not working out, play it out till the very end. Most often than not, things do work out.” 

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IV.    Inkbrushnme Studios

“Inkbrushnme is Harshvardhan Kadam’s alter-ego, a travel studio.”

Harshvardhan Kadam started off as a comic book artist in 2007, when he registered the term ‘inbrushnme’ rather cluelessly, except for the knowledge that he wanted to draw. “Illustration is a beautiful river where one sees a union of various tributaries of visual arts, primarily fine arts and design, and its applications in this vulnerable industry is boundless,” he waxes lyrical.

The 29-year-old is the founder of Inkbrushnme Studios, a specialized studio for public art murals, character design and illustration. In its last seven years of existence, inkbrushnme has collaborated on animation, game design, advertising, restaurant design, graphic novels and publication projects because of its versatility across platforms.

Harshvardhan travels to various cities across the country to work. People seem to know inkbrushnme but they don’t generally know the face behind it, something he is happy about as people relate more to the creation, when the creator is invisible.

He divides his time between commercial projects and his personal project, Mythopolis, which re-interprets Indian myths and other stories in the contemporary times and encourages the younger generations to understand it beyond its stereotype. Under this, he makes massive street murals (street art) wherever he travels and digital paintings that tell stories from India’s rich literature and spiritual experiences. Check out a street art project he curated in Pune here.

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On Challenges: 

“Persistence and patience from the clients is a rare quality to ask for,” admits Harshvardhan. ‘Good art/design/music/performance can’t be produced in hours. My work is highly process-oriented and not a lot of people understand the importance to follow it. Especially with visual art, clients think it is just drawing but never really understand the meditation behind it and why a good piece of work costs that money it deserves! It’s a daily fight and burns up most of the creative juices.”

Advice to budding entrepreneurs:

“I always say, ‘Just draw.’ to students and enthusiasts who want to make comics or animation or illustration. If you can’t draw, this universe of arts will never welcome you. Money always follows good work.”

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V.    Hotfut Sports

“Hotfut Sports is a grassroots sports development company that has set up flexible and dynamic sports infrastructure in the city.”

Pavit Singh and Nikhil Dubois initially got together to set up a ground to play their Sunday football on. Incredibly aware of the lack of facilities for sports enthusiasts who wanted to play football in Pune. They then travelled for two months to explore what it was that other big cities in the world were doing differently, to tackle the same issue. What you see today at Hotfut is an amalgamation of these ideas bundled up and adapted to suit an Indian context.

Hotfut Sports is a grassroots sports development company that has set up flexible and dynamic sports infrastructure in the city, deployed in a package that is catering specifically towards Indian sports enthusiasts.

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The five verticals of Hotfut include their world-class sports arenas, their academy (education and grassroots coaching development with Arsenal soccer schools and South United FC as sports coaching and education partners) merchandise (with an exclusive Nike deal), event management (leagues, tournaments and corporate events) and their foundation, that is evidently the closest to Hotfut’s heart, with a firm belief in the power of sports to create better human beings.

They plan to transform the structure of sports development system in India and set up 100+ sports venues across India by 2018, with a local Hotfut in every major city. By creating interest and increasing participation in sports through Hotfut venues, they are essentially creating strong sports-centred communities.

On Challenges: 

“When we started out, we faced a lot of ridicule for investing so much money in a sport like football, which traditionally has been considered a poor man’s sport,” says 29-year-old Pavit Singh. “We were laughed at for even considering financial sustainability in sports (leave alone profitability). On a financial front I think funding was always an issue, like with any start-up.”

Advice to budding entrepreneurs:

“Effective planning, brave investing, voracious travelling and the courage to continue betting on yourself and your beliefs. Also, find what you were MEANT to do,  which is harder said than done, but if you do, have a grand vision for it.”

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VI.    Shradha Hedau Footwear Couture Pvt Ltd.

“SHFC is basically about getting your dream pair of shoes in reality. In the near future, I aim to see a lot of people wearing their own dream pairs by SHFC.”

25-year-old Shradha Hedau has always harboured a deep love for shoes (like any other girl, she says) but not for the usual reasons. She was more interested in trying to figure out why they weren’t as comfortable as how good they looked, and innately curious of how they are made. The day she searched for a shoemaking course online was when her curiosity materialised into something tangible. After a gruelling 8-month course at the London College of Fashion, where she set her mind on learning about every nitty-gritty of the various aspects of shoemaking, she decided to take this up as a career.

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Their short-term aim is to get out the word of their arrival as a bespoke shoe designing company that uses authentic materials for every part of the handmade shoe.

On Challenges: 

“Like in any business, the starting phase is the toughest one,” shares Shradha. “You need to focus a lot more than usual and make sure that you don’t mess anything up – something will get messed up somewhere eventually, as it’s a part and parcel of forming a company. Mistakes should happen but the learning process should be fast. We are a very competitive generation, and it won’t take much time to get lost in the dust.”

Advice for budding entrepreneurs:

“Advice is a word which I would usually be less diplomatic with. But I’ll just say that, you should never stop following your dreams. Fashion, itself, is something which never goes out, so hard work and dedication towards it will pay off eventually.”

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VII.    Opiatum’s Rolling Canvas

Mixing street-art with silhouettes to bring unique and custom-made paintings that are fun and memorable, 28-year-old brushwork artist Pooja Shah created this intriguing brand after much nudging and prodding from friends and family in July, 2014. ORC uses a unique painting style which mashes various forms of art, a lot of colour, fun and silhouette-style paintings to bring customised artwork that can be painted on any surface.

Pooja has been painting for several years now, but under wraps, mostly gifting her paintings to loved ones. Initially very shy about her work, she was persuaded to test the waters by a friend by putting up one of her paintings on Facebook, after which she has been barraged with a flurry of requests. Her work received much solid appreciation, and she is glad to have been a part of special milestones in people’s lives, such as birthdays, weddings and anniversaries, thanks to her paintings.

Working a full-time job with a PR agency at present, become a full-time artist soon. The business is still at an infant stage, and Pooja would love to have one showcase of her work locally before 2014 is out, and to create a niche in the art world for herself one day.

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On Challenges:

“I think the biggest challenge for me at the moment is not having enough time to focus fully on developing my business,” says Pooja. “I am also managing all the back-end stuff like managing my social media presence, sending out shipments on time, buying the materials I need, etc. all on my own. I do feel spread really thin at times, but I love working for myself and my passion.”

Advice to budding entrepreneurs:

“My only advice to young people who would like to follow their creative aspirations is not to get insecure about their ability to be creative, and to take a leap in the deep end.” 

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VIII. Audionub

“Audionub decided to take the brave step in negating middlemen. To create an open marketplace where artists are completely independent of big record labels’ judgements.”

Akshay Tikhe and Ameya Adhyapak, co-founders of Audionub, a property of Mad Only Media Private Limited, honed its company’s core concept for close to three years.

Audionub traces its roots to a conversation about how the music scene has changed over the years with technology over a cup of coffee one night, as the co-founders discussed how the Planet Ms and Musicworlds were turning obsolete and how the state of artists kept faltering in terms of getting their due. While discussing an artist’s life cycle, they realised that there were existing, upcoming platforms that were milking the artist while promising them bigger and better futures, which worked more in the interest of those platforms with respect to economies of scale.

Thus, they decided to take the brave step in negating middlemen. To create an open marketplace where artists are completely independent of big record labels’ judgements, set their own prices, get an entire sum of every sale and keep the rights to their own music. A place where the creators are where they should be – at the nub.

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Currently open only to a closed set of artists who have come through initial registrations, they are going to be opening their doors soon to all artists and independent record labels to upload their music on their website. The uploaded content would be accessible to listeners all over the world shortly after that.

On Challenges: 

“There are a lot of challenges that we anticipate in terms of acquiring artists from several musical backgrounds,” says Ameya Adhyapak. “India, with its diversity, has got so much music dispersed in every corner and we aim to be impartial towards all genres.”

Advice to budding entrepreneurs:

“While choosing people to work with, make sure they share the same philosophy as you. Also, it’s okay to listen to advice that everyone gives you but it’s equally important to not get carried away. You have to pick and choose your own ‘best practices’. Learning is an iterative and incremental process and unlearning is a very major part of it. Finally, always keep the social impact of your endeavours in mind.”

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IX. Shotgun Media

“One internship-less winter, this lot made a docu-drama on cyber-crime for the Rotary Club of India and they realised that working together might really work out for them.”

Kicked off two years ago, Shotgun Media is a collaborative effort by five partners, each of whom specialises in one facet of video production. The company started taking on work when Sumedh Natu, Soham Hundekar, Saiyam Wakchaure, Nikhil Iyer and Siddharth Sharma were still in college in what they deem ‘a bit of a gamble’, as they all had different careers in mind, ranging from event management to journalism. One internship-less winter, the lot made a docu-drama on cyber-crime for the Rotary Club of India. They were paid a small fortune for the same, and they realised that working together might really work out for them. Starting off with small projects covering local gigs, shooting at malls and picking up whatever work they could find, they have come into their own, with a marked inclination towards music-related video content, having worked with names like NH7, All India Bakchod, Salim-Sulaiman, Zila Khan to name a few.

In the midst of the rush of working on their own, earning money and getting to meet people, they landed a deal with NH7 and, subsequently, an advertising agency in Pune that marked the beginning of their major projects.

shotgun-media

“We really owe OML for most of our success out there,” says Sumedh Natu. ”They’ve been incredibly supportive and mentored us. We were kids for them then. They gave us good work, the kind of work we felt like working all night on. We were learning how to write, shoot, direct and edit all on our own, through a combination of trial and error, Youtube tutorials and friends in the industry.”

On Challenges:

“It was hard managing work battling college assignments and attendance issues. At some point, it came down to making a choice of just not caring what our parents, peers and ill-wishers said against the entire idea. People thought we’d break apart after college, but we stuck through.“

[Shotgun has travelled around India, and are currently training and providing work to college juniors and are, today, a recognizable team in the industry.]

Advice to budding entrepreneurs:

“I’d tell any entrepreneur out there to just get out and do what he has in mind. The worst thing that can happen is failing. For us, while the others were discussing how the colour temperature affects the look of your shots in class, we were out there figuring it out ourselves. There’s no replacement for that. You just have to keep trying at what you do.”

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X.   Raskala

“Each pair being hand painted, with a lot of love and care, Raskala cheekily guarantees that you will never walk into a place where you will see someone wearing the same shoes as you are. They are planning to start selling their unique products online soon.”

Raskala first started off in 2010 as two friends, Pranav Mote and Vedashree Bankar (20 and 18 years of age at the time), who loved making art, sitting at home and painting shoes. Since then, they have painted everything from Gabbar Singh to Powerpuff girls, Drake, lingerie (a custom order for someone’s girlfriend) to more ethnic things like henna designs and sari shoes. In the first year of Raskala, they grew from a team of two, to having one employee and interns every couple of months. At the end of this year, they also started thinking about the bigger picture for Raskala.

Pranav and Vedashree decided to move to Goa for 4 months, where they set up stalls at different Bazaars like the Saturday Night market and also conducted some interactive shoes painting workshops at BITS Pilani, Goa and IIT Guwahati.

raskala

Today, they have set up their own little office in Pune, where they started experimenting with different materials on shoes, designs of sari shoes, jute on shoes, and even little hamster shoes which have little springs on the eyes so that they move every time the person walks.

On Challenges: 

“Right from making sure our shoes and paint whole sellers take us seriously- and not treat us like college students – to talking to our customers and making sure the shoe sizes fit right, and get delivered, every stage was pretty challenging. In Goa, most of our customers were tourists who had very little time – which gave us very little time to paint and deliver them their order.”

Advice to budding entrepreneurs: 

“Figure out what you love and be ready to live it! You aren’t going to have a fixed work schedule when you are starting something of your own. You might have to go to bed with paint all over your fingers, but it’s going to be worth it because you are doing what you totally love! Don’t stop, keep going!”

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XI. studioHAUS

“The brand reflects my personality and my thirst for contemporary design. My goal is to have my design in every household. The power to influence someone’s lifestyle and provide them with objects that emotionally stir is probably the most important thing to me.”

studioHAUS is a creative design studio focusing on architecture, interior and product design. A collaborative space of thinkers, designers and architects, led by 26-year-old design enthusiast Kunaal Seolekar, the studio offers tailored experiences when it comes to furniture and art, designing creations of value, beauty and functionality.

“Along with architecture and interiors, I have been working on my own line of home furnishings including furniture, custom designed rugs and household products under the brand of HAUS of Kyhaan,” shares Kunaal. 

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According to Kunaal, some of the biggest challenges they faced were finding like-minded people to join the studioHAUS team, and building trust in an audience unaware of the designer’s potential in skill and talent.

On Challenges: 

“Having studied design at Parsons New York, I come from a different design thought process,” says Kunaal. “Initially it took time to identify the talent, work with them and train them to have a universal design aesthetic.”

Advice to budding entrepreneurs:

“Design is an ongoing process, you must keep yourself updated with what’s happening in the world. Experiment with ideas to innovate and stand out from the rest. Always be practical, professional and precise. Those three points are important as they are the only things that differentiate the real world from design school days. But most importantly be true to yourself, believe in your work and enjoy what you are creating.”

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XII. Happy Feet F.A.

Started by three football enthusiasts, Ryan Godinho, Atish Ganguly and Vidur Mehmi in September, 2011, Happy Feet’s goal is to to try and promote the game of football and see it coming off the backburner, in India. Happy Feet F.A. started with training 14 students at the Police Wireless Headquarters (Pashan) three years ago, and as of today, it is training over 130 students per week.

They work out of a few centres in Pune namely, Mt. Carmel School (Lullanagar), Shivaji Nagar Police grounds and Hotfut Arenas, Mundhwa, conducting quarterly programmes for students between the age group of 5-17 years.

They also work with a neurological disorder rehabilitation centre called Stride, where they work with children suffering from ADHD, through the use of sports therapy. Happy Feet conducts weekly training programmes with a NGO called Happy House, and has sponsored 13 children of Teach For India to take part in all of our training and residential programmes.

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“Getting the grounds honestly the only real challenge we faced,” says Vidur Mehmi. “We’re trained footballers and coaches, and we have our own creativity when it comes to football, but grounds are expensive so there was a lot of running around we did, as we approached a bunch of institutes for the same.”

Advice to budding entrepreneurs:

“Always remember to play hard. If you have an idea that needs to be worked on, just get off your ass and do it.”

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XIII. Garden Studios

“Garden Studios is creating serviced apartments with a difference.” 
22-year-old Karan Gopal Sherwani’s mission, with the project, is to provide travellers with the unique experience of living in an ambiance that is serene and homely, dispensing firmly of the ‘shady’ tag generally associated with serviced apartments, with each room having its unique design representing a flower.
His family property in Koregaon Park, Lane 5, has been done up beautifully, and is now teeming with greenery and natural beauty.
Shewani’s long-term plan are to find more beautiful locations, and offer other such similar experiences for travellers, tourists, or anyone who’s looking for a getaway, the best vibe possible.
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On Challenges: 
“The place does require maintenance from time to time, and it’s important that this is done in a timely manner,” says Shewani.
Advice to budding entrepreneurs: “My advice to all the young creative entrepreneurs out there would be that this is the prime of our life and this is the time where we achieve all our goals and all the things we dream of. This is when we have the maximum amount of energy and enthusiasm and least amount of responsibilities. So be fearless, and go after whatever it is that you want.”———————————-xxxx———————————-

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[Special mention]

Viman Talkies 

“The film club is an initiative that has come up with the novel idea of charging a nominal fee (currently Rs 50) for screening an independent film, the proceeds of which will go to the filmmaker.”

Technically not a startup, we felt compelled to give Viman Talkies, a film club, a shout out anyway.  Brainchild of media college students from Symbiosis Institute of Media and Communication, it is an attempt at fixing the indie film distribution system, ‘which is quite clearly broken’.

The project is inspired by Aniket Dasgupta and Swathy Sethumadhavan’s documentary about the indie film scene in India, ‘The Other Way’, in which all the featured filmmakers seemed to be saying one thing – the indie film scene in our country is really taking off but distribution is a problem no one seems to have an answer for, so far.

Since the students have the privilege of access to quality screening rooms and a captive audience of film buffs, Viman Talkies attempts to create a space for filmmakers and film fans whom the multiplexes have consistently ignored.

“The way it works in our country is that if you make a film and you don’t know a Kapoor or a Chopra or a Khan (or these days, a Kashyap) it most likely won’t get a release, regardless of its merits,” explains Visvak. “If by some chance it does get released it will get a horrible time slot, no promotion, insane pricing and be out of the theatres in a week.”

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Their short-term and long-term goals, they say, boil down to the simple, decisive act of screening great films, and trying to get as many people involved in the movement.

“Working on Viman Talkies alongside college coursework and other projects has been a little demanding, but that is something that everyone on the team was prepared for when we got into this, so it hasn’t really bothered us much,” says Sen.

Advice to budding entrepreneurs:

“I don’t feel like I am in a position where I can offer advice to others. Creative entrepreneurs or otherwise, everyone should do whatever it is that makes sense to them.”

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 Words: Aditi Dharmadhikari

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