Mentor Insights: Financial Models with Vinod Keni

As part of the POWERED Accelerator’s residential mentoring programme, we invited highly accomplished corporate financial executive Vinod Keni to elaborate on a few essentials of financial modelling based on his extensive experience in the finance sector, both in the US and India.


Most entrepreneurs have the necessary technical know-how to run a business, engaging with varied aspects of the industry they’re in. Although they may specialise in a certain field, it goes without saying that an entrepreneur is involved in every part of their company and business. To enable them to hone their skills under certain integral sectors of a business, we invited industry experts from various fields as part of our residential mentoring programme. The following is a snippet of what goes down as part of our mentoring sessions.

Financial Models in a Nutshell

Vinod aimed to explore the big question that no one can seem to answer. Financial models is a highly complex topic containing various sectors and sub sectors, thereby making it hard to delve into the intricacies of the subject. Vinod went on to simplify some of the topics that come under financial models that he felt startups should address.

Providing a general overview of what a financial model could contain, he goes on to state that, as a business owner, a financial model entails one’s customer base, product pricing, product cost, profit and value estimates, etc. It usually takes more than one iteration and won’t be possible to generate overnight. As an entrepreneur, the driving force to generate a good financial model would be to keep the main focus on profit, while negating overly-optimistic assumptions that naturally tend to arise.

Assessing your Addressable Market

One key aspect of a financial model would be to understand one’s addressable market. Vinod goes on to state a hypothetical situation in which, say the target market is 1 crore. Realistically, one could expect only 100 or 150 thousand consumers to be interested in their product which is the addressable market, this is amidst other competitors in the market. Further dividing the addressable market, considering various other factors as well, what’s left is only a certain percentage, for purposes of this example let’s say that number equals 15,000, which ends up being the potential customer base. Here the underlying question then becomes, how does one achieve that rise from 0 to 15,000?

He says that an entrepreneur’s assumptions on the total addressable market must always be tested, reports from various industry bigwigs combined with the entrepreneur’s assumptions would enable them to understand their market base. A great example would be that of Microsoft, wherein they got a base product out, which they kept refining with updates and grabbed their customer’s interest. This brings us to the understanding that while building and refining your financial model, the most important stakeholder tends to be the customer. The success of a business is largely, if not solely based on the customer’s choices and propositions. Hence, an entrepreneur needs to keep availing feedback from the customer as these factors keep changing constantly. Furthermore, value addition noticed by the customer takes time because the customer may not see the value in the product unless they actually use it for a certain amount of time, gaining practical experience. Few customers may see value and the rest may not, this is the reason it is not possible to capture the entire addressable market.


The Cost of Doing Business

Vinod thinks that the key to getting one’s numbers correct is to be realistic, to know that the predictions made in the first year are bound to be wrong and overtime a financial model can be perfected to a certain degree.

The term being self-explanatory, the first thing one needs to assess while generating their financial model is the source from which they are going to procure funds to invest in their business. Understanding the investment size and the different kinds of finance sources there are would enable an entrepreneur to substantiate the way they approach these sources. One must also consider the financial cost of business, this would entail the interest involved if the investment is from a borrowed source. One such factor is equity money – the interest that is charged as part of raising capital. Non-Traditional sources usually charge 18% – 24% whereas FinTech SMEs would charge from 16% – 32%. These costs eat into profit margins and make a product unviable.

Apart from financial cost, another factor to consider is the product cost that your business entails. Vinod thinks that it is always beneficial to talk to one’s suppliers, that way the entrepreneur has a better position to refine their product when they have more information. He goes on to state that, as far as the energy sector goes, a lot of hardware goes into the making of products and more often than not, that hardware is specialised. This adds to the input cost which further escalates the product cost. The lack of economies of scale would further put a strain on the entrepreneur and the way to resolve this would be to figure out the optimum quantity of production that would balance out with the cost of production. Another factor that plays a significant role in the product cost is the cost of selling. Sales costs give an entrepreneur insight on whether they can settle for a deal that offers lower margins or walk away.


On a concluding note, Vinod mentioned that the scenario is vastly different while presenting to investors. Investors need a reason to reject the proposal and hence will do heavy research on the numbers. He went on to mention that at Artha Venture Capital Fund, they discount most entrepreneurs’ financial models by 50%. As consolation to the rather harsh-sounding reality check, he advised the entrepreneurs that while building and pitching their financial model, confidence is the key. They need to be able to justify their sales view and be able to back statements. Investors focus on a 3-to-5-year exit horizon as that is the period in which they expect returns.

Announcing the Top-Ten Startups Selected for the Programme

In a bid to accelerate the growth and presence of women entrepreneurs in the energy ecosystem, we at Zone Startups India launched the POWERED Accelerator Programme in partnership with Shell Foundation (the independent global charity), DFID India, and DST Government of India.

Humbled to have received over 130 applications, we are proud to announce our first cohort for the year. Ranging from breakthrough electric vehicle chargers to dehydrated food products to micro-finance lending, we have managed to gather a very diverse cohort that encompasses varied energy sub-sectors. The cohort will now go through a six-week residential accelerator programme which would entail mentoring sessions, peer-to-peer meets, workshops, case studies, industry investor connects and more, followed by a one-year post-programme support.

Shout-out to the media houses who covered the announcement – Inc42 | Business World Disrupt | Your Story | The Indian Web2 | The Indian Wire | Energy Next | E27 | Inventiva

The Cohort:

  • Simmi Sareen, Loans4SME
  • Srujana Raghupatruni, Cellerite Systems
  • Puspalata Pani, Kumidini Enterprise
  • Mousumi Medhi, HoneyComb Inventions
  • Amishi Parasrampuria, Upcycler’s Lab
  • Kavita Aggarwal, BluPrints
  • Ruchi Jain, Taru Naturals
  • Manvi Dhawan, Agnij-Adjustable Thermoelectric Power Generator
  • Neha Upadhyaya, Guna
  • Nidhi Pant, S4S Technologies


Here’s what some of them have to say about being selected as part of the POWERED Accelerator:

‘Bluprints feel very privileged and excited to be a part of all women entrepreneur network. It is not only very encouraging to be involved with such talented set of women leader but also gives us an opportunity learn & grow together. The interactive mentorship program is well designed, be it the selection of Mentors and the topics covered by them.’ – Kavita Aggarwal, Founder and CEO – BluPrints

‘Powered excited us with its approach of supporting the specific scaling-up needs of each business in the cohort, rather than a one-size-fits-all strategy. I’m looking forward to work with the Powered team over the next year on our growth plans, and equally excited to have this opportunity to spend time with and build a strong network with other women entrepreneurs in energy.’ – Simmi Sareen, Head – Loans4SME

Gavin McGillivray, Head of DFID India had intriguing insights to offer regarding POWERED – “We know that given the right opportunities, women can play a critical role across the energy-value chain. As energy enterprises scale-up in India they provide rural and low-income women with new opportunities to generate income and achieve greater economic empowerment.  Through the POWERED programme we will work towards building and strengthening the ecosystem for more women owned and managed businesses across the energy value chain. We are confident that women entrepreneurs in the sector, like the ones selected for the accelerator, will enable greater inclusion and sustainability towards a more energy secure and equitable future for all.” – Gavin McGillivray, Head – DFID India

Sam Parker, Director of Shell Foundation spoke proudly of the accelerator as part of the broader initiative – “Shell Foundation is excited and proud to see the first cohort of high quality female entrepreneurs come through the POWERED Accelerator programme. We believe the women have the potential to deliver long-term energy and mobility solutions that address market gaps and break down market barriers across the energy value chain. The Accelerator programme is one element of the POWERED initiative, which will deliver 5000 jobs, and support more than 100 enterprises impacting the lives of low-income women in rural and urban India.”

Our Director (Zone Startups India) Ajay Ramasubramaniam spoke about the wide-ranging efforts that went in to making this happen – “At the time of launching Powered Accelerator, we were not sure of the number of women-entrepreneur led startups in the extended energy sector. After 6-roadshows, and close to 2 months of extensive campaigning, we ended up getting more than 130 high-quality applications. The top-30 shortlists were high quality startups, and selecting only 11 from the same, was a tough task. We see the entire application pool as a part of a larger funnel of startups that presents us with an opportunity to build other interventions in this niche ecosystem. We have some great partners onboard, and we look forward to making the first cohort a grand success.”


Know more about our cohort:

  1. Simmi Sareen, Loans4SME

Simmi is a veteran in financial services with more than 19 years of experience in credit and lending. She is head of the Mumbai-based startup Loans4SME, which is an alternative lending platform that connects businesses with debt providers. They aim to help small businesses navigate the complexities of the lending market, all the while enabling lenders to invest in the right company. The next step is to create products and structures that expand supply of capital for renewable energy beyond the currently existing lenders.

  1. Srujana Raghupatruni, Cellerite Systems

Srujana is a postgraduate in Power Systems from IIT Delhi with 7 years’ experience in teaching Electrical Engineering to graduates and undergraduates. She is the Founder and CTO of Hyderabad-based startup Cellerite Systems that is developing an innovative Electric Vehicle charger that focuses on reducing the charging time of the vehicle, thereby increasing the travel range of these vehicles.


Puspalata has a Master’s Degree in Social Work (MSW) and Rural Management with 19 years of experience in youth leadership development. She is the Co-Founder of and manages operations at Odisha-based startup M/S Kumudini Enterprise, an organisation which is completely run by women, that aims to provide energy services and devices in rural communities, with a special focus on Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTGs). They also promote training and capacity building of the rural communities with an emphasis on the women in the community.

  1. Mousumi Medhi, HoneyComb Inventions

Mousumi has 8 years of experience in project management and holds an MBA Degree. She is the CEO of Mumbai-based startup HoneyComb Inventions which is aimed at enhancing the duration of power back up supplies of healthcare facilities.

  1. Amishi Parasrampuria, Upcycler’s Lab

Amishi has 4 years of experience as a social entrepreneur in the field of sustainability. She is the Founder of Mumbai-based startup Upcycler’s Lab, which makes sustainability-based learning tools for children above the age of five. They aim to create awareness and educate children on the need for sustainability in accordance with UN SDG 12 – Responsible Consumption and Production.

  1. Kavita Aggarwal, BluPrints

Kavita has core experience in Embedded Systems Design, in Building ATC and War-Room communication infrastructure for IAF. She also holds an MBA degree from University of Leeds and an MCA Degree from IMT, Ghaziabad. She is the Founder and CEO of Delhi-NCR-based BluPrints, an R&D Driven Embedded Systems Technology Company specializing in Retail-Tech and Fin-Tech Devices. One of the focuses being a system designed for electricity billing.

  1. Ruchi Jain, Taru Naturals

Ruchi holds a Master’s Degree in Environment Change and Management from Oxford University. She has also worked with the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, European Academies Sciences Council and as a Campaigner with 350.org and Indian Youth Climate Network. She is the Founder and CEO of Mumbai-based Taru Naturals, which is a network that connects farmer communities with clean technology and renewable energy. It is an ecosystem builder for small scale farmers, wherein they mobilise the village community to adopt sustainable methods of agriculture such as solar power pumps, solar dryers, etc.

  1. Manvi Dhawan, Agnij-Adjustable Thermoelectric Power Generator

Manvi has 2 years of experience in project management and systems engineering, she also holds a Master’s Degree in Aerospace Engineering from IIT Bombay. She is the CEO and CFO of Mumbai-based Agnij- Adjustable Thermoelectric Power Generator which is developing a product called Agnij. Agnij is a thermo-electric belt which can be placed around any heated vessel or chullahs to use waste heat.

  1. Neha Upadhyaya, Guna

Neha is an organic macrobiotic coach based in New Delhi. She is the Founder of New-Delhi based Guna, which trains rural women farmers in Ladakh and Sikkim to develop eco model villages through a focus on organic farming and the use of solar energy in post-harvest management by the use of solar dryers, solar pumps, etc.

  1. Nidhi Pant, S4S Technologies

Nidhi is a social entrepreneur who holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Chemical Engineering. She is one of the Co-Founders of Mumbai-based S4S Technologies and heads marketing and sales in the company. S4S Technologies manufactures solar dehydrators that is used by farmers for food preservation, they also provide the farmers market linkage to sell these dehydrated food products.

As part of the broader aim of the programme, the accelerator will also be organising ecosystem development activities, grand challenges, a one-week residential boot-camp, and an incubator for women in energy.

Zone Startups India will continue accepting applications for the next cohort on the website of the POWERED Accelerator – powered.org.in/accelerator/

POWERED Grand Launch in Mumbai – Panellist Insights

At the Grand Launch of POWERED in Mumbai we witnessed intriguing insights by a panel of industry experts on “#EqualEnergy – How and why women participation in energy space needs to be increased”

What are the barriers in securing energy in emerging economies?

Challenges faced in the energy sector differ from country to country. However, the highest-affected always tend to be the low-income groups of society who lack basic facilities or energy access due to the lack of comprehensive infrastructure which leads to a higher cost to serve the customer. The energy industry in itself tends to be a marginal business in terms of profits with a remote consumer base and heightened challenges, with the issue not being to get the customer to pay as much as it’s reaching the customer. As stated by Nishant, another factor that comes into play is the ‘regulatory environment’ which is ‘absolutely conducive to allowing the new business ideas and innovations to come in.’ Apart from this, cheaper finance and a system that would enable one to gain better access to appropriate technologies would lead to more transformative ideas.

What are the various strategies and models that have been adopted in India to overcome these barriers and get the industry to be more gender inclusive?

In the agro-based economy of rural India, traditional means of generating energy is to burn agricultural waste, a by-product of farming. There is a need to develop technology that would enable us to convert this energy into more useful forms of sustainable mobility and energy access. Statistically this energy is generated by women thereby, reconciling the common objective between energy access and women in energy. Looking at Bihar and Jharkhand as a model, success stories show that they pay as much as 20 rupees a unit for such energy, usage being for a few hours in a day. We need disruptive thinking from policy makers and the government to make models and ecosystems that would eventually lead to an exchange of this form of energy for better forms such as power, heat, cooling, storage refrigeration, and biofuels for mobility such as Bio-CNG, Bio-Ethanol, Bio-Diesel, etc. This would lead to a larger form of energy access and thereby a commodity to be created, while having women as an integral part of it because they then become the source of such kind of energy.

Capacity Building, Skilling, and Empowerment of Entrepreneurs

Gayatri thinks that in a country as diverse as India, with a huge population, despite there being plenty of initiatives that have been introduced through corporate and government initiatives, we have two wide spectrums, wherein one has access to a wide expanse of knowledge in the form of the internet and on the other hand there are roughly 250 million people without even access to something as basic as energy. This breaks down to issues of accessibility and un-sustainable availability. Any technical assistance hereby provided to women entrepreneurs in the form of models or an ecosystem has to be specifically catered to the needs varying from sector to sector, across the country.

At this point it is common knowledge that women entrepreneurs are discriminated against, prospective motherhood being the conclusive bias. Harsha Mukherjee cites from personal experience where she was faced with such circumstances while she was trying to acquire funds for starting her own business, quite literally being told that she, a woman, ‘would have babies’ and ‘would leave the business’.  She feels that in order for a woman to be really empowered, she needs to be able to have knowledge of enterprise management and she should have a certain degree of financial literacy which would enable her to take her company to the next level. She also states that although there are corporates (like Birla and Bajaj) who do run programmes to support rural women entrepreneurs and help uplift them, the measures taken by these firms are not enough as meagre sums of five or six thousand rupees would not suffice in the larger scheme of things.

Policy-Implementation in finance

Monish goes on to say that funding requirements don’t cease at inception or any particular stage of the entrepreneurial journey. Rather than supporting an individual company, we need to create an ecosystem where individual companies can thrive from. The ecosystem should comprise of a company secretary, a CFO, a go-to market, and empower them to be able to go around places. This is a more viable option than creating support for one company which could either be successful or not, with most being unsuccessful.

Gayatri sheds light on the rural scenario; with no landholding, women in rural areas don’t have collateral, which acts as a prerequisite to obtaining a government loan thereby further deferring last mile goals despite the efforts of empowerment initiatives. The key to addressing this issue would be to deviate from conventional methods of providing financial assistance and focus on technical assistance or a grant that would help finance reach the last mile.

There are plenty of drawbacks when it comes to collateral-based finance. Neither can a startup provided a hundred percent collateral and hypothetically, even if banks were to take 200% collateral, the banking system in India is such that there’s still a chance that the money would be irrecoverable. The solution to this would be to have a risk hedge fund; there exist institutions that can hedge the risk for banks, these institutions can provide a business model in terms of a corporate or balance sheet guarantee that would leverage easier access to finance. Also, inclusive access for women has to be segregated and not looked at as a whole. There is a need to focus via targeting wherein if you are targeting rural energy access the challenge is to procure funding from investors who don’t necessarily look at such areas as potential business markets. That’s where the role of an incubator as an enabler comes in, to bridge that gap between a source of finance (corporates, investors, etc.) and a startup. Policy development and training mechanisms should be developed at various levels, given that women entrepreneurs are not a homogenous group.

The panel discussion concluded with questions from the audience, one specifically pertaining to the core objective of the POWERED Programme, with regards to reduction of power consumption in data centres and the like. Ajay went on to state that the kind of companies that we’re looking for when seeing energy in the broader domain is focused at anything that satisfies the criteria of the sustainable development goals. Infrastructure, specifically, innovations – product innovation, business model innovation, process innovation which could contribute to energy as a whole, either directly or indirectly. In some cases, the product or idea would directly be inclined towards energy and in some there would be no direct connection to energy at all. The pilot opportunities and mentoring provided would most definitely vary from company to company, thereby generating a view of a broader spectrum of women entrepreneurs in the industry.

#WomenInEnergy: The What, Why, and How

The convergence of the UN’s SDG5 and SDG7 and how these have an impact on the overall growth of a nation

The energy sector’s lopsidedness with regards to gender is as evident as the sun’s role with regard to solar energy. Traditionally, a male-dominated industry, the energy space has gone into stagnation in the past few decades. While addressing the need for sustainable energy and universal energy access, there is a major misstep with the role of women. The female workforce is an untapped resource which could contribute to tremendous growth of the industry. They are the most primal users in the consumer chain, and hence have insight on the requirements and solutions pertaining to the lack of universal access to energy. There is a growing trend with the presence of women in sustainable ventures and innovations taking scale. As noted by most industry experts, the lack of gender diversity in the industry contributes to a deficit in newer innovations and ideas.

The big question is, why women entrepreneurs should be brought to the forefront of the energy ecosystem? Well apart from achieving gender equality and universal sustenance, the energy sector specifically, has seen a rise in the number of women in the industry as well as the sector’s growth go in tandem. A study conducted by Cloverpop Inc showed,  businesses that include women in the decision-making process had a better outcome in their plans 73% of the time as compared to all-male teams who succeeded at 58%. These trends in the industry are still at a budding stage and are yet to bloom into a full-scale shift in the workings of the industry. Here, the cause and effect remain the same, the lack of women in top leadership positions leads to a scarcity of mentors and guides for women to rise in an organisation from the ground-up. In a study conducted by Ernst & Young, the findings showed that in the global power and utilities sector, only 5% of board executives and 16% of board members comprised of women, in the year 2015.

In a country like India, with a large segment of the population living in rural areas without access to energy, let alone clean energy, the government aims to substantiate this need by aiming to achieve a massive target – 175 GW of renewable energy across India by 2022, which would in turn create around 3,30,000 job opportunities, a number of which could enhance the livelihoods of women in these areas. Going along these lines, another statement that coincides with the objective of gender diversity is that India can increase its GDP to up to 60% by 2025 by enabling more women to participate in its workforce, stated in a 2015 study by the McKinsey Global Institute. This goes to prove the progress furthered by just employing more women.

The only way to resolve these issues and ensure the growth of the industry and thereby even the nation is for Governments, Stakeholders, and Investors to provide a platform to enable the inclusion of more women in the energy space. This brings us to the focal point of this blog; POWERED, an entrepreneurship development programme is one such initiative which aims to scout for women innovators and entrepreneurs in the energy value chain, support them by creating a multi-level ecosystem which would enable their businesses to scale. How does this work? In partnership with Shell Foundation, DFID India (Govt of UK), DST (Govt of India) and Zone Startups India, the programme is organising workshops, an accelerator programme, residential boot-camps, grand challenges, and seed investments among others, with the ultimate goal to increase economic empowerment of women-owned businesses in the energy space.

If you are a woman innovator/entrepreneur in an energy-related venture, we want to hear from you. The programme is now accepting applications till 18th June, 2018 at bit.ly/POWERED-apply-now. We encourage women entrepreneurs to apply and help take this initiative further towards building a brighter future for all.



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