Delhi- A three-day long event beginning March 24 in Uttar Pradesh had promised budding entrepreneurs a platform to connect with potential investors and industry experts for funding. The lineup of speakers included Elon Musk, Sundar Pichai, Masayoshi Son along with venture capitalists from Sequoia and Tiger Global.
Scores of entrepreneurs who paid Rs 6,999- Rs 25,000 to attend what was supposed to be the "world's biggest startup-funding event" in Greater Noida found out that there was no Tesla, Google or SoftBank’s CEO. None of the investors that the organisers had claimed would be attending the event were there.
A case has been registered against the organisers - Luke Talwar and Ajay Chaudhary under Indian Penal Code (IPC) sections 420 (Cheating and dishonestly inducing delivery of property) and 406 (Punishment for criminal breach of trust).
What Happened At The Event?
Raj Suthar, founder of tech startup Growcify, traveled from Jodhpur to attend the convention. “People paid a minimum of Rs 8,000 to attend, thinking that there would be thousands of investors,” he told Decode. “We were promised the world's biggest investment platform, but not a single famous business person was present,” he said.
Ragumanyu Taneja, a Delhi-based lawyer had also gone to attend the event. When he reached, it was already chaotic. “The police were on the stage while participants who felt cheated were screaming. The organisers had bragged about the presence of investors and other prominent figures in their promotions. None of them were actually present there,” he said.
Taneja had attended the event hoping to find a mentor for his start-up. The lawyer said that the UP police personnel present there handed A4 size papers to protesting participants to file their complaints. But some participants were reluctant to do so, the lawyer added.
Taneja then told the attendees that this was a “matter of breach of trust”. Finally, he persuaded 17 participants to register a complaint against the organisers with Greater Noida’s Gautam Budh Nagar Police Station.
The Station House Officer of the police station, however, said that after the disturbance on the first day the event went on peacefully for three days. He said that the initial disturbance was “because of the impatience among some participants”.
“The participants were furious after learning that Union Minister Nitin Gadkari won't come to the event in person and would interact online instead. That too did not happen. This did not go down well with the attendees; they staged a protest. We controlled the situation and registered a case,” the officer told Decode.
“There were not many investors present at the event as promised, but it was not a scam either,” he said adding that investigations are underway.
What Had The Event Promised?
The event organisers had announced that 1,500 investors, 9,000 angel investors, India's leading banks, and 75,000 start-ups would be present, making it a highly anticipated event.
On their website, the World Startup Convention featured financial content creator Ankur Warikoo, author Chetan Bhagat, MBA ChaiWala founder Paafull Billore, and motivational speaker and entrepreneur Raj Shamani, promoting the event.
The header of the website includes photos of Union minister Nitin Gadkari, Deputy Chief Minister of UP Keshav Prasad Maurya, Minister of UP Jaswant Singh Saini- they have been listed as speakers and panelists for the event.
The event tickets cost up to Rs 25,000 and over 2000 people had booked them. The event that was originally scheduled from January 14 to 16 had been postponed till March. Attendees flew in from cities like Nashik, Chennai, and Surat, spending amounts for registration, stay and travel.
Organised by Luke Talwar and Arjun Chaudhary, the co-founders of the World Startup Convention “aimed to provide a platform for budding entrepreneurs to connect with potential investors and industry experts” for funding.
After the videos and posts of the protest went viral, hashtags like #Startupscam #wewantourmoneyback was used on Twitter. All promoters, especially Warikoo and Bhagat were mocked and questioned on Twitter for their involvement in the advertising about it.
In January, the co-founders had met Gadkari, India's Union Minister of Road Transport and Highways at his official residence and briefed about the World Startup Convention, which was framed as one of the largest and most prestigious Startup Festivals in India.
But Gadkari wasn’t present at the event.
The Promoters Of The Event
Following the online backlash, the event's co-founder defended the startup convention. In an interview with the Indian Express, Chaudhary said, “There were a lot of prestigious investors and when they saw the drama, they immediately left”.
In a promotional video, Warikoo says, “1,500 + venture capitalists, 9,000 Angel investors, 75,000 + start-ups. All leading banks of India under one roof. Get funding and mentorship for your start-up and network with the best folk out there. Book your tickets to the World Start-up Convention”. Chetan Bhagat says, “Biggest mistake an entrepreneur can make is to not recognise a good opportunity. The World Start-up Convention is happening in Noida where you can get funding in three days, pitch your ideas at the event. There are limited slots of tickets available, book your slot now.”
Suthar told Decode that many attendees booked their tickets based on the endorsements of big names like Warikoo, Bhagat, and Paafull. Seeing such well-known figures promoting the event gave them a sense of authenticity and credibility. However, upon arrival, Suthar and others quickly realised that the promises made in the advertisements were untrue.
“It was a real letdown,” he said.
Warikoo, with 2.2 million followers on Instagram, refuted any direct involvement with the event. He told Decode in an email that he had done an Instagram collab reel on January 19 where he spoke about the importance of funding for a startup and how this event could be a good opportunity to explore the same.
“The terms of the collaboration were clear that my video will not be used for promoting the event. However, I realized that this was not respected. While they took down ads of the video when we asked them to, the video was and is still being used on their website and in all of their communication,” he said, adding that in January he had distanced himself from the event. “It is really tragic to see how the event eventually ended up. It showed promise and could have genuinely helped founders if done the right way,” he expressed.
Decode reached out to Bhagat and Paafull via emails for comment. The story will be updated if and when they respond.
Shatur said he will find it difficult to trust such opportunities again. Funding is essential for entrepreneurs, and they are always searching for it. This one experience of a 'fraud' event has left him disappointed.